Month: August 2012

The Friday Free For All: The Audition Process

I’m still looking for a better name for my Friday posting then “The Friday Free For All” because I’m not giving anything away for free but my mind and posts.

And speaking of sharing my mind and thoughts, I was accused today in a British Lit class of “being too deep” obviously this girl hasn’t read any of my plays.

So until something better comes along, welcome to The Friday Free For All, where I will be discussing a play or musical I’ve seen or read, discussing the writing process, or going into thoughts about the art and craft of theater. Kind of whatever is on my mind regarding theater.

The Audition Process and Education

Twelve years removed from the first time I went to college, I recently went back to study English and Secondary Education. The purpose is to be, obviously, a teacher of English and Drama. I bring this up because my college recently held auditons for the Kander and Ebb musical Curtains, a fun musical set in the world of theater in the 1950s. And for the first time in nearly two decades of being involved in the theater, I wasn’t cast.

I understand not being cast, every show has limited parts and not every actor is suited for every role. It is obviously difficult for a woman to be cast in The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) or David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, since there are no parts for women or for a man to audition for Steel Magnolias since there are no parts for men. A show like Simon’s The Odd Couple only has a couple of female roles and a handful of male roles, there is no place to “create roles” for more actors, no matter how talented they are. Same with Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years or the Jones/Schmidt musical I Do! I Do!, both of which has a cast of two (one male, one female) and no room for expansion.

My point to this is, the reason I wasn’t cast, wasn’t because I was wrong for any roles or that I gave a bad audition, in fact in both instances it was the exact opposite. I wasn’t cast because “we decided to cast people that we’ve worked with from the music department”.

Hey, I understand, not a problem. Rep theaters are like that. Close knit communties where you work with the same people over and over again. Community theaters are like that as well. My issue with this is, if that is what you are doing, then don’t call it an “Open Audition”. Or if you do call it that, be prepared to expand your ensemble or cast people you weren’t expecting too.

As a writer/director, I’ve written shows where I’ve precast someone before pen ever touched paper (or finger to keyboard), but in those instances I’ve never held “open auditions”, I’ve gone to that actor and said “hey I’ve got a role for you, are you interested?” and we move from there. But I’ve also seen what happens when a young person takes a leap of faith and auditions for a show for the first time and they nail it. The first show I ever did in college was The Fantasticks (a show I’ve been in love with ever since), our Mortimer had never acted before and was brilliant. A shining star in a production with lots of shining stars. It was also a show that, due to it’s limited cast size, we created an ensemble for. And everyone that auditioned and accepted the role, was involved in. I can only imagine the frustration, embarrassment, lack of self worth attitude that a young artist might experience after not getting cast (especially when the statement “everyone will get cast” is made from an instructor/director) in a school production (whether that be in grade school, middle school, high school, or college). I had some of those feelings after getting cut and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years in a variety of roles. That’s why I try and keep the casts in the shows I write flexible so you can work in as many or as few “extra characters” as needed. In Allie In Wonderland, they are Playing Cards and CookieMen. In The Absolutely Real Story of Tom Sawyer as told by Becky Thatcher, they are just extra kids with lines (in fact the character of Mary in Tom Sawyer was written thanks to a young actor wanting to join our company about a week or two after rehearsals had started. My co-director/producer, an English teacher and grade school principal, couldn’t say no and I had to write more lines. The actor was amazing and perfect in the role and I can’t imagine the show without her).

I’m not suggesting we coddle actors during their education and give out roles or create roles where they aren’t there. As I’ve said above, there are plays wth male only casts and plays with female only casts. And some actors just aren’t right for roles. But far too often I’ve seen people with little or no experience fall deeply, madly in love with theater because they were “given” a part or without prior experience.

Directors, when you hold open auditions or are preparing your season, keep that in mind. My suggestion, depending on different factors (ages, type of theater [i.e. community, educational, rep, professional], gender), is to work up a variety of different shows for your season. Do some that are more “exclusive” then others and do some that are very open to everyone. But if you are doing a large cast, open audition musical in which an ensemble can be worked in, work it in and be ready to be surprised by who comes out.

Wednesdays With Will: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

In an effort to be more productive on my webpage, I’m going to devote Wednesdays and Fridays to the history and craft of theater. Why? I feel that as a dramatist it is important to look and study the works that came before. Wednesdays will be spent with William Shakespeare, probably the greatest English playwright of all time, if not not the important playwright in the history of the world. To accomplish this, I’m going to be spending time watching and reviewing various filmed on stage or filmed versions of The Bard’s plays. Fridays will be general theater . I may be reading a reviewing a play, or watching a filmed live on stage performance, or even going to a show and sharing the experience of watching it live on stage. I may be relating the experiences of working on a show or acting in a show. Fridays will be kind of a free for all.

So without further aideu, lets begin!

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (abridged)

So why did I choose this particular work for my premire Shakespeare review? Well let me abridge it for you, it’s great.

Still with me? Good. Now I might be a little biased, as I performed this in the summer of 2010 with one of my best friends. I’ve seen this show probably a dozen times, either on DVD or in person. And it never fails to make me laugh. I know almost every word of every line said. But the reason I think it’s an important piece comes because I have performed this show. In order to fully deliver the lines properly and know what makes them funny is because you have to know what Shakespeare is saying. You don’t have to know Shakespeare to appreciate it, because you can always laugh at someone mixing up Shakespeare with Hitler or a guy dressing in drag and throwing up on audience members. But what this show has is a genuine love of Shakespeare and that is what makes it important.

If you don’t know the show, well then you should watch it and as soon as possible, but let me give you a summery of the show. You have three guys who attempt to perform all of Shakespeare’s shows (and sonnents) in an hour and half. The results are often hilarious (Titus Andronicus as a cooking show! MacBeth in “genuine” Scottish accents! Hamlet…backwards), but also has moments of beautiful acting.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) stars members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company Austin Tichenor, Reed Martin, and Adam Long. Tichenor and Martin shift roles playing the straight man to Long’s antics. But they have their moments of comic timing (example: Tichenor’s delivery of the line “I Love My Willy” in perfect dry wit, or Martin’s ability to keep up with Long during Romeo and Juliet).

The original script was written by founding RSC members Adam Long, Jess Winfield, and Danial Singer with Martin and Tichenor contributing additional materials and shows an ability to condense Shakespeare’s prose and the meaning behind those words with timeless jokes and sight gags that wouldn’t be out of place in a vaudeville show. Winfield has gone on to write a Shakespeare themed novel entitled My Name Is Will that continues to demonstrate his love of The Bard.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is a must see for fans of William Shakespeare or fans of laughter and comedy. More information about The Reduced Shakespeare Company, how to purchase their DVDs (their The Complete History of America (abridged) has also been released on DVD and may be a future review for my Friday post), or where they are performing can be found at their website.