I showed up at DeMi Cafe Cafe (yes that’s not a typo) on July 28th at a little before 5:00 p.m. to set up for auditions that would begin at 5:20 p.m. Waiting for me was an actor friend who wanted to audition before she had to run off and teach a class. This is quite typical in the business and did not phase me at all.
I was happy to accommodate her and the next actor who showed up only to find that she couldn’t make two of the mandatory rehearsal dates — and therefore was more than likely unable to work on the show. The show is Legends (in ten minutes or less), the latest offering from New Play Cafe, featuring seven new plays by San Diego playwrights, served with beverages and dessert provided by DeMi Cafe Cafe. So now you’re all caught up.
Because the stakes were not as high, or maybe because the first two actors were wonderful, very talented people, our first audition read was excellent and set the tone for the rest of the evening. It was not to be so for Lizzie Silverman, NPC co-founder and co-producer of Legends… Lizzie had to contend with what only can be called uncontrolled chaos.
What happens on the call sheet and what happens in the audition room (or in this case patio) are two very different things. The call sheet is devised as actors respond to one of the various casting calls we put out, and request an audition time. Co-producer Jennie Olson Six fielded emails, calls, emails, and more emails, from actors and scheduled them in such a way that the directors (Kevin Six –also the author of this piece — and Bryant Hernandez) could see various combinations of actors reading from the scripts.
We needed to cast fifteen roles with as few as seven actors, so we needed some women to read with women and men, others to read with just women, and the men to read with men and women. Then actors showed up. Some early (good!), some late (not so good) and some not at all (never good). And the schedule went to heck.
We did get to see a lot of great actors, all of whom were graceful under these pressures and others, which included having to stay late, being excused while other actors were asked to stay, and darkening skies. We read our last two actors by flashlight, and it was great!
It was all great. Mostly great. Some of the tough parts were out of our control (casting constraints of the plays we chose, actors’ availability, etc.) and some were squarely in the control of the actors (talent, attitude, scheduling a time you could make, etc.).
It turned out that we cast everyone, who came to the audition, who we wanted. Oddly, when Bryant and I met, we put our casts together and came up with the exact same seven actors. Before that, we discussed two roles (we’re sharing actors in just about all of the plays) and came to the same conclusion about them. This seems like a miracle but, as Bryant said, “we were obviously on the same page.”
I thought I’d end with some advice to actors, which is for all actors everywhere and not just the ones we saw:
First, and foremost: when you enter an audition, you are doing so at the climax of the shift in power from playwright, to director, to actor. It is an exciting time and your job in the audition is to solve a problem. Namely, “Oh my God, who am I going to put in this role!?” While playwrights and directors have input in the audition and rehearsal process, the audition is the beginning of the end of our hold on the play and its characters. We are looking for salvation on that front and the actor who provides it gets the part.
Second: we don’t always hire the person who is the best actor and/or who had the best audition. We hire the person who fits several criteria, including the look and age of the actor and others in the play; ability to think; ability to bring something to the role that makes you alive; sometimes it’s faith in your ability to do something that is not in the script you’re reading; and trust has a lot to do with it.
Third — and this is as much advice to directors as it is to actors: people who don’t show up for auditions don’t show up to rehearsals and performances. People who come late to auditions (with times that they agreed upon), will be late for rehearsals and performances. This isn’t always a bad thing if rare but let’s face it, it’s why there are such things as one-hour call times for actors, because they have three jobs, two classes and a car that isn’t always the safest. Directors may forgive tardiness — especially if there is great talent, chemistry and a fit within the cast — but should understand that it’s something they will have continue doing — especially as the balance power continues to shift towards the actor.
Fourth: be nice. From the moment you enter audition, you are pretty much on your way to owning the role. This includes when you sign in, in our case, actors were dealing with producers in every step of the audition process. After you’ve been cast, much of the process for everyone but you is letting go — and we’ll need your help. The playwright wrote a role for you (and, if living, might just make changes based on questions you ask kindly — rarely based on suggestions and never based on demands); the director needs you to come to agreement on how you play your role; your fellow actors need, and should provide, support. There will be challenges on the way to owning your roll and directors hire actors who are nice and easy to work with in dealing with these them. Yes, you can buy some bad behavior back by being extremely talented and in demand, but, over time, I always choose actors who are easy to work with over talented actors who are troublesome.
So, just be nice and helpful; be gracious with your growing power; ask for help and suggestions instead of making demands; and be patient because getting cast in a role is a crap shoot, man.
More soon on this amazing process!