Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nobody Sucks... Except That Guy

Last week, Don Hall, Chicago-based actor, director, theatre-observer, and activist (and well-known enough in the theatrical blogosphere that I trust someone will correct me if I left anything out) has been posting a series on the audition process on his blog An Angry White Guy in Chicago. Having recently been in the position of casting actors for Total War, and like Hall, not being "institutionalized (meaning I didn't go to college to learn how to do this work)" I found myself nodding in agreement with much of what Hall and some of his other readers had to say:

2. Take some time and find out what the director is looking for - I'm happier than shit to tell you what we're up to and what you can do to get "the edge."

[...] I know within about fifteen seconds whether or not I can use you in my show - a good director knows in advance what he's looking for to some degree - and the only reason I let you get through that 2-minute monologue that somehow manages to be five minutes long is because you came all this way, there's no reason to be unnecessarily rude.

The bottom line is:

This means if you don't get called back, it isn't because you suck.

So if you did audition for the reading of Total War and didn't get the part: that's right: you didn't suck; you just weren't right for the role; you might have been right for a completely different role. In fact, since this was a staged reading, and I conducted my audtions in an informal, unorthodox manner, in a neighborhood coffeehouse (I simply didn't have the budget to rent out a space for auditions, though to be fair, I interviewed for my teaching gig with OpenAir Circus in the very same coffeehouse, and the informality seemed to encourage actors to volunteer their personal interest in the project) I might have liked you personally, even if I decided not to cast you.

* * *

As with every rule of social interaction (such as theatre-making) there is always a statistical outlier: in this case, it was someone who, despite having some talent, proceded to so alienate me during the audition that I would not even consider adjusting my sought-for preferences to accomodate his strengths. It all began when I received the following (yes, multiple) emails (Note that the name has been withheld for obvious reasons):

My voice has been described as deep, resonant, beautiful, and hilarious. I have been practicing for five years now and am able to express a wide range of personalities.


I feel that I would be perfect for the role of Duane McCormack. [...M]y writing has recieved significant praise from my honors professors so the role will come quite naturally to me.

Duane McCormack is a fictitious character, so the actor isn't actually expected to do any writing associated with the play. So while I appreciate that an actor might want to draw upon some aspect of their own life in order to relate to a character or to the themes of the play, this struck me as odd. Nonetheless, I sent a .pdf of the script along with a list of pages where Duane appears, concluding that this would be sufficient for the actor to judge for himself if the character is right for him and if so, provide hints as to how to approach the role.

So, in between meeting other actors at my table (which I rent by ordering espresso and bread pudding) our friend whose "voice has been described as deep, resonant, beautiful, and hilarious" shows up for his audition. His voice is indeed resonant and he has movie-star looks. Then he explains his interpretation into the character:

"Duane is a journalist; he's a truth-seeker."

This struck me as an odd misreading, so I suggested that "He is a student journalist but he's more defined by the attempt to keep his head above water while the comrades to which he's tethered are sinking than by any quest for truth."

The actor ignored my suggestion and read it his way. Not having a lot of actors auditioning for the role, I tried to consider if his interpretation added something I had not seen before (which had already occurred during the first staged reading.)

None of this would have been worth commenting upon until he started exhibiting the oddest behaviors. While I was flipping through the pages of my script to find the next bit of dialogue I wanted to hear him read, he put on his sunglasses, presented his profile and asked me if I saw his resemblance to Tom Cruise and Ashton Kutcher.

As I was conducting this audition in the oddest of places we were interupted when a young woman who had been a friend of a former roommate of mine, dropped by to say hello and asked about my cat. After the brief exchange of pleasantries and my explanation that I was conducting auditions, there was no exchange of email addresses, phone numbers, no words or gestures implying a hoped for future communication, which apparently the the actor missed, he slyly smiled and purred:

"A possible interest?"

He then launched into what must have been a rehearsed speech about how he was going to make my play great because he was going places, which, leaving aside the pathological narcissism, was simply insulting to the talents of the actors who had already volunteered to work on this project.

So, leaving aside his unsuitability for the role, I simply did not want to put my actors in a position of having to work with this guy.

So I sent the standard, diplomatic response:

It was a pleasure meeting you, but alas, I can't offer you the role of Duane. Thank you very much for taking the time to read with me.

To which he responded unexpectedly:

Hi Ian, (This is good, just read it)
Too bad, your production will suffer as a result of this unfathomably ignorant decision. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Can you see that put to rhythm? I can, because I much more gifted than you will ever be in your life. Again, I offer my condolences to your woefully inadequate conclusion.
Yours Truly,
The Great And Noble
[Name withheld]

In the end, I found Matthew Zahnzinger, who besides nailing the role, had the added bonus of already being in rehearsal with Mikey DiLoreto on the Factory Theatre's production of Kid Simple, and that's always a nice coincidence.

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