Not-even-Media Thursday… AYL: on auditions and callbacks

Because I know, I KNOW, that I’ll be too exhausted to write an entry Thursday morning following Wednesday night’s callbacks for As You Like It, I’m pre-writing this prior to said callbacks.

Now yesterday’s entry had what some felt was a cryptic graphic:

Well, let me explain what it is and how we got there… let’s talk a little about methodology.

NOTE: this is not the only way to do it… hell, I’m not even sure this is a way to do it… it’s just my way of doing it.

First, for auditions, I don’t have auditioners read with one another for evaluation. I can’t do it. I can’t focus on one person… I end up seeing them as a combo, looking at chemistry… if there’s a wide disparity in performance, talent, charisma, stage presence, whatever, then I–and I know this is obviously a shortcoming for me–end up seeing the person at the low end a little higher than they should be and the person at the high end a little lower. I want to avoid that as much as necessary. So I bring in audition readers to take the stage with the auditioners, that way I can focus just on the matter at hand.

I tell the auditioners to be bold, make choices, be big… if it’s too big, I’ll tell them to reign it back, but it’s easier to go in that direction than the other. I also warn them that they may not make it through the scene before I stop them, because I’ll want to tweak something in their performance. What I’m really doing here is figuring out if they can take direction and how well they can take it.

Then I take some really rough, almost meaningless-later, notes…the main one is just a notation if I want to call them back, either for that role or another (if they’ve checked the box saying they’re willing to take another role).

Now, I’m a visual guy. That’s my quirk. I need to see things.

So I built that board above. Big circle for the most important character (Rosalind, natch), increasingly smaller (increasingly smaller? Man, that sounds wrong) circles for more minor characters, with lines drawn between circle to denote important relationships. Now beginning Monday morning, between the sessions, I started using cut up Post-It notes to write the names of actors and putting them in the circles if I was considering calling them back. I err on the side of generosity… if I even THINK I want them back, they go on the board.

So immediately after Monday’s auditions, we quickly add Post-Its for the that night’s actors. Then we start slowly taking them names off the board. A couple of rules: I want actors to be called back for as few roles as possible (three at the very most, two is ok, one if at all possible); I want no more than four actors called back for any one role.

Those two rules make the process brutal. But it’s necessary. Giving an actor too many roles to read on callback night is unfair to them and the characters. Having too many actors vying for the same role makes for an ungodly long night for all (again, unfair to the actors).

So, we–producer Laura, the readers that were there assisting, and I–pulled the Post-Its off, one by one, discussing the merits of each performance…and that took more than an hour.

Laura then on Tuesday emailed all–both those called back and those not–letting them know of our decision, with those called back receiving their sides in the email. [though it seems now that there was a bit of a snafu on that… in the future, I’ll be bcc’ed on those emails so that I can follow up on any “issues”]

Now, as for callbacks, after gathering them all together and giving them a introductory speech (intros, game-plan, etc), I call up the actors in groups…the three-person scenes with the most important characters (Rosalind/Celia/Orlando, Rosalind/Celia/Touchstone, Rosalind/Silvius/Phoebe), alternating with those scenes with supporting characters (Orlando/Senior/Jaques, Oliver/Charles, Orlando/Adam, Touchstone/William, Touchstone/Audrey). The alternation simultaneously give folks time to rest and feel part of the process (so that it’s not so Rosalind-centric). The back-and-forth gives me a chance look at combinations and start to whittle them down. It’s at this point that I’m looking at chemistry and look. Then if comes down to two candidates for a role, I can then put them in back-to-back scenes with their most important scene partner (hopefully I’ve been able to finalize my position on that one already).

Then once I’ve seen all I think I need to see, I can dismiss the actors, thanking them, and saying we’ll be sending out notices on such-and-such a date.

They leave, and we finalize the casting… or, you know, cry.

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