Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Casting and Comments

Posted by Bruce Miller
As I’ve mentioned before, I read and appreciate Dave Timberline’s informative blog, http://www.richmondvatheater.blogspot.com/. A lot of important theatrical issues and perceptions are raised and discussed on his electronic bulletin board.

Recently Dave hosted some interesting and well intentioned chat about casting in Richmond theatres. It all began when an anonymous commenter reported on remarks made by an unnamed director at the start of an unnamed audition. In his remarks, the director asserted that his unnamed theatre was open to newcomers. The anonymous commenter suggested that these remarks were somewhat disingenuous, noting that when the auditions were over, a well-known Richmond star was cast in one of the leading roles and a talented newcomer was overlooked.

This initial comment was followed by a lot of dialogue about whether or not the anonymous commenter should have stated these opinions anonymously since they could be perceived as being critical of the director, the theatre, and/or the actor cast.

It’s all good.

Now I’m going to pull a Warren Beatty. At least I’ve always heard it’s a Warren Beatty. When in 1973 Carly Simon wrote and sang, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,” Warren Beatty, one of Ms Simon’s former romantic interests, called to thank her for the song.

After reading all the chat about the unnamed director, I’m pretty sure it’s me and that the unnamed auditions being alluded to were the recent auditions for Shirley Valentine and Driving Miss Daisy. If I’m wrong, I’m sorry. If I’m right, then I guess I am that vain. Now, if I only looked like or had the talent of Warren Beatty.

Before the auditions for Shirley V and Driving Miss D, several actors called to ask if roles had been pre-cast. When I told them “no,” they expressed disbelief. Several had heard from the “best of sources” that Irene Ziegler was playing Shirley and Betty Ann Grove was playing Daisy. It’s no surprise to anyone that I love Irene Ziegler and Betty Ann Grove, and both women have ably owned these roles in the past. But I assured all comers that the roles had not been pre-cast for the 2008 productions.

That can’t be true, some actors intimated. No theatre would pick shows like these without having someone in mind for the demanding roles of Shirley and Daisy. There are some actors we’re interested in seeing, I intimated right back, but no roles have been pre-cast. Everyone has an equal shot. Please come.

That was the truth.

Before the auditions began, I was pleased to see a large turnout and several new faces in the crowd. I’m humbled by large turnouts and new faces.

I made a few welcoming remarks and thanked people for coming to the auditions, particularly the new people. I reiterated that all roles were open. I stated what I believe to be the truth, that Barksdale theatre and every other theatre in town welcome newcomers, and frequently cast newcomers. I acknowledged that we also cast Richmond’s best actors on a continuing basis, because of their talent.

When the auditions were over, four actors were cast. Two of the four (Jill Bari Steinberg and Jim Bynum) will be acting at Hanover Tavern for the first time. The third actor (Garet Chester) will be appearing at Hanover Tavern for the first time since 1976. The fourth (Joy Williams) will be reappearing at the Tavern after a starring gig there two and a half years ago.

All four were cast because I thought they were the ones best suited to the roles. I feel really blessed to have these four wonderful actors in the two shows.

The anonymous commenter on Dave’s blog notes that there was a very talented actor from out-of-town who auditioned for one of these four roles, and that there was considerable buzz about this actor’s talent. That is completely true. That actor’s talent did not go unnoticed. And let me extend that thought, if I may. There were several very talented actors there, all of whom were top contenders for the parts. None of their talents went unnoticed.

As several folks mentioned on Dave’s blog, there is a lot more involved in a casting decision than what may be perceived listening to three audition speeches.

Scripts call for specific physical types, which some actors meet and others don’t, no matter how well they may read.

Budgets allow for certain expenditures that enable the employment of some actors and discourage the employment of others, based on their financial requirements.

Ticket sale goals encourage the casting of actors who have earned positive name recognition in the Greater Richmond marketplace—and I stress the word “earned.”

Barksdale accepts its responsibility to professional actors who have earned (there's that word again) their place in Greater Richmond’s top tier, and who may not stay in Richmond if they can't find professional employment opportunities.

To me, all of this supports my contention that:
1 newcomers are welcome and frequently cast
2 Richmond’s best actors are cast over and over again because they are Richmond’s best actors

If newcomers fail to come to auditions because they think they have no chance, Richmond theatre will suffer. If our most talented veterans leave Richmond because they can’t find enough employment, Richmond theatre will suffer. In an attempt to address these conflicting realities, producers juggle to the best of their abilities.

As a final note, Guys and Dolls is currently employing 26 actors. Thirteen of them are acting with Barksdale for the first time.

--Bruce Miller

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

And I have also been in casting conferences where the perfect person for the role has noted that they have a conflict, which just happens to be tech week. Oops - on to other choices!

Janine Serresseque said...

Lets not forget that it is a director's prerogative to cast whomever he wants. He should not have to worry about using an actor many times over if he believes that actor is talented, good to work with and can sell tickets. He is under no obligation to cast you, even if you've auditioned for him nineteen times. The actors in Richmond who really work a lot have all earned that status in our community. They have worked hard to build a reputation of being capable and excellent to work with. It's beyond mere popularity.

Anonymous said...

You have to admit, though... directors will either cast people they know or call people they know to play a part...

It's not all the time.. but you have to admit it happens from time to time as I feel did with a lot of places this summer.

Frank Creasy said...

The reality of auditions at Barksdale and Theatre IV is that they enjoy a rich talent pool. Many times I've auditioned and found most of the folks I respect the most in Richmond acting are up against me for the same roles. I often feel it's a virtual "who's who" of acting in Richmond at a Barksdale audition! Add to that the talent Barksdale can draw from outside the area, and talent becomes just one factor in difficult casting decisions. I don't envy Bruce or the directors who work at Barksdale - I've been told on more than one occasion that the show could have been cast two or three times over, and been cast very well. Having seen the competition, I don't doubt it one bit.

It is true, however, that directors would naturally select actors who have proven their mettle in previous productions, established themselves as audience favorites, and also established their reputations through the rehearsals and production run as someone who is pleasant and professional to work with. All of us want to work with people who produce quality results AND make our lives more pleasant. Theatre is no exception in that regard.

In the final analysis, casting is part talent, part type, and perhaps some gut feeling. Acting is hard enough, I don't envy the directors' job!

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Anonymous said...

Directors will cast who they are comfortable with and that isn't necessarily a good or bad thing.

I couldn't imagine putting up a show, especially one in an area that not many people go to, and casting an unknown for such a huge role.

Not that you couldn't or wouldn't per say, but lets be real here! As a producer you want to have the strongest team behind you on and off the stage. A person can have an amazing audition and just not hack in during the rehearsal process.

I wouldn't risk casting something like a one-person show with short rehearsal time with an unknown talent if someone else auditioned who is 1) a name draw, 2) experienced enough, and 3) gave a great audition was in attendence. It doesn't take a genious to figure it out.

I am sure the "other brillant actor" will grace Barksdale's stage in the near future if this person was a brillant as one says. In fact I hope so. It was a pleasant surprise to see "Guys and Dolls" and see all the new, young faces on that stage.

Keep it up Bruce!

eraserhead said...

As a possible "newcomer," I appreciated your insight, Mr. Miller. Acting is a craft and one needs to work at the craft. Hot shot newcomers from out of town are a special case, but local newcomers need to take advantage of training and volunteer activities with local troupes, and not just audition and walk away if not cast. It would be helpful if theatres offered more training, apprenticeship,and understudy opportunities to nuture newcomers willing to work at acting without renumeratiobn.

Anonymous said...

I simply cannot let this go unresponded to a previous response made the following statement.

Janine Serresseque said...

"Lets not forget that it is a director's prerogative to cast whomever he wants"

At the recent audtions for Driving Miss Daisy and Shirley Valentine that I attended neither of the actual "directors" were even at the audition. Therefore it can only be acertained that Bruce Miller who ran the auditions made the decision and then found directors willing to accept his choices of performers.

I have been involved in the Richmond theatre community for over 15 years and to be honest continue to see the same actors cast over and over. Are they talented? Yes as they provide a constant professional level of performance and one that Bruce or others can market to the public. Richmond theatre audiences love to be able to identify with "who" they saw in a show as opposed to what the show actually was. With that in mind I feel that Richmond theaters continue to play it safe in casting. Even a bad play with a marketable name on the marquee can be successful in Richmond. However are we not failing to grow and educate the audiences? Time after time talented actors are past over to ensure an audience. Now this may all be my opinion and we all know what they say about opinions. I just felt these things had to be said.

Anonymous said...

I simply cannot let this go unresponded to a previous response made the following statement.

Janine Serresseque said...

"Lets not forget that it is a director's prerogative to cast whomever he wants"

At the recent audtions for Driving Miss Daisy and Shirley Valentine that I attended neither of the actual "directors" were even at the audition. Therefore it can only be acertained that Bruce Miller who ran the auditions made the decision and then found directors willing to accept his choices of performers.

I have been involved in the Richmond theatre community for over 15 years and to be honest continue to see the same actors cast over and over. Are they talented? Yes as they provide a constant professional level of performance and one that Bruce or others can market to the public. Richmond theatre audiences love to be able to identify with "who" they saw in a show as opposed to what the show actually was. With that in mind I feel that Richmond theaters continue to play it safe in casting. Even a bad play with a marketable name on the marquee can be successful in Richmond. However are we not failing to grow and educate the audiences? Time after time talented actors are past over to ensure an audience. Now this may all be my opinion and we all know what they say about opinions. I just felt these things had to be said.

Anonymous said...

I simply cannot let this go unresponded to a previous response made the following statement.

Janine Serresseque said...

"Lets not forget that it is a director's prerogative to cast whomever he wants"

At the recent audtions for Driving Miss Daisy and Shirley Valentine that I attended neither of the actual "directors" were even at the audition. Therefore it can only be acertained that Bruce Miller who ran the auditions made the decision and then found directors willing to accept his choices of performers.

I have been involved in the Richmond theatre community for over 15 years and to be honest continue to see the same actors cast over and over. Are they talented? Yes as they provide a constant professional level of performance and one that Bruce or others can market to the public. Richmond theatre audiences love to be able to identify with "who" they saw in a show as opposed to what the show actually was. With that in mind I feel that Richmond theaters continue to play it safe in casting. Even a bad play with a marketable name on the marquee can be successful in Richmond. However are we not failing to grow and educate the audiences? Time after time talented actors are past over to ensure an audience. Now this may all be my opinion and we all know what they say about opinions. I just felt these things had to be said.

Bruce Miller said...

Dear Anonymous,

You're right about one of the shows and wrong about the other.

Amy Berlin, the director of "Shirley Valentine," was not at the audition. I decided to cast the actress first before hiring the director. This is not the first time that we've cast a leading actor before hiring the director, and it won't be the last.

You're wrong about Joe Pabst and "Driving Miss Daisy." Joe was there for the entire "Daisy" audition. He and I had talked days before the auditions about his interest in either playing Boolie or directing. We decided to let him come to the auditions and read for Boolie and then talk afterward.

After the auditions, we agreed that he would direct. This happened before any of the actors were cast.