Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The night of the living auditioners

I've been trolling around the net the past few days looking for other like-minded theatre bloggers, and I can't seem to find very many. Sure, there are a few blogs that have existed about specific shows and are long out of date, and there are many actors/artists who proclaim a passing interest in theatre, but no dedicated theatre blogs. When I went to list my blog with this blog catalog thingy they didn't even have a theatre category! I even read a blog by someone (presumably an actor) lamenting that there weren't any really good theatre blogs out there. One thing that specifically tripped with me is that he was looking for insights not from the actor's point of view, but rather of the director, the producer, the people who run the business, not just work in it. He wanted to know the inner workings of a director's brain as he or she goes through a script, or how directors survive a casting call.

So, in the knowledget that there's at least one person out there (whom I forgot to leave a comment with, so he'll likely never read this) who wants to know, I decided that today I'd offer up some thoughts on how I prepare for and cope with auditions. Incidentally I will be holding some auditions this weekend...

The first thing to clear up is the common misconception that auditions somehow are or at least should be somewhat stressful. What is there to stress over? As actors you simply come in and get to entertain an audience (even though it's most often just one person and maybe the stage manager), who then will thank you for performing for them, and will consider having you entertain them for the next two weeks to 12 months (depending on whether you're summer stock, the Moscow Art Theatre, the shortest and longest rehearsal periods I know of - most theatres are in between). As a director you simply get to be entertained and then decide who would be the most entertaining group of people to spend the next part of your life working with.

Okay, I know that's an oversimplification - actors and directors put a lot of time and effort into preparing for auditions, because they do have a lot riding on them - for actors its the possibility of paid employment (or in the case of community theatre, getting out of the house more) - and for directors their casting choices are the most important acting-related decisions they have to make, and getting it right can mean the difference between a critical and box office hit or artistic and financial ruin. So yes, there's a lot riding on auditons, which is why there is so much time and effort put into them by everyone involved. And since everyone is prepared, no one should have anything to be worried about. The actors will give their best performances, the directors will make their best decisions, and the only reason why anyone should worry is because they haven't put the time and effort into their preparations that they should have, and are flying by the seat of their pants. While there are a very few people who thrive under these conditions, most of them have long since burnt out of the theatre scene and have moved on to other things.

As for how I "endure" the process as a director, I don't really see it as something tiresome. On the contrary, if I'm auditioning people I've never worked with before I can get very excited about an audition, as my mind has all sorts of new directions that it can race in. Before the auditions the characters in the script exist only in your head, but once I start seeing and hearing actors, even if they aren't doing material from the play, I start to make connections between characters in my head and bodies on the stage. And yes, it's sad but true, but some of the people I see this weekend will be cast in my head the moment they walk in the door - it just happens that the person is exactly how you picture a certain character, or there's something about them you just can't ignore. As actors, there's no way you can engineer this (coffee and donuts won't be refused, but it won't help), and as a director there's no way you can avoid this. Remember that "artistic and financial ruin" I talked about earlier? This is often the exact moment you start down that hill. You fall in love with an actor for a certain role and everything else they say and do (and sometimes the production itself) becomes mere background noise as you construct this perfect fantasy in your head of this one person's embodiment of your so-called "vision." (I hate that word, but that's for another posting)

I've seen it happen time and time again, and yes, I've been guilty of it myself. You get an actor who is just perfect for the part, but who can't learn lines, remember blocking, doesn't get along with the rest of the cast, is disruptive at rehearsals, has a torrid love affair with the Stage Manager, makes a fool of themselves with the cast after rehearsal at the bar, stops for a pee break in the middle of a scene, spills the director's coffee, swears in front the kids, laughs at inappropriate moments, fights with the costume department, won't help move the set in, breaks an expensive prop, eats the props...

I could go on for days, but you get the idea. So what's a smitten director to do? Well thank God for stage managers. They are largely immune to this disease, and can provide a valuable second opinion. As the director it's still ultimately my call, but you can be sure that this weekend I'll be turning to my stage manager a few times, if only to see the look on her face, and get some perspective. I think I'll also call upon my "inner" stage manager, that little voice inside of me that has been silent far too long. That little voice that you hear before you cross a busy road: "Stop, look and listen. Look again."

Bring out your dead.

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