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.