We’re holding them this Saturday and Sunday (the 10th and 11th) and they’re scary, scary, scary things.
We’re all scared when we come to these things: the director, the actor, even the tech people and team. The costumer’s dreading how difficult it may be to find clothes for all these people – especially the unusually tall ones. The directors are fretting as to whether they’ll find enough actors to fill their shows – and whether they’ll find just the right one to fill that all-important role.
And actors? Well, they’re just terrified.
For directors it’s an event that is both sad and exciting: exciting because here is where we actually build our cast – the people who will turn the characters in the script into real people on the stage. It’s an instinct thing: you’ve got your character in your head and you’re trying to find. You roll the dice when you make your choice, and it’s a vital one. The guy you thought was brilliant on stage, who turns out to be as charismatic as an empty Amazon box, can kill your show before you’ve started.
A brilliant or lucky choice? That one brilliant performer can inspire an inexperienced or lackluster cast to become magic!
As an actor and director I’ve been on both sides of the tryout thing. As a director I’ve made both great and horrible choices. When I was a student director at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, for instance, I directed Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story” as an independent study course. In the show, Peter is a quiet, mild-mannered guy sitting in Central Park. He is confronted by the highly animated Jerry – a misfit in the world who has been unable to connect with anyone in the world… and he’s desperate, as a last act, to force Peter into connecting with him in a startling way. Jerry’s part includes a five-page speech, and if your Jerry is dull, your show (and my grade) will be a disaster.
I selected, as Jerry, a friend whose personality was Jerry—he was lively, a guy of boundless energy with a piercing and knowing gaze. But, when he hit the stage, something happened to my good pal: his personality melted away and he became as effervescent as roadkill. His movements were awkward, his voice a dead monotone… and as far as how well he worked with his fellow performer? One night he gazed at him a moment then sheepishly declared that his beard reminded him of (close your kids’ ears, folks) pubic hair.
Happily, he was kind enough to back out and I found another young actor who was downright brilliant.
One difficulty for both directors and actors are people who can be brilliant on stage but who simply don’t audition well. I never landed a part in a play in college because I simply froze during auditions. I needed to warm up a bit to find a character, and you don’t have a chance to do that during a cold read, when an assistant hands you a script and gives you two minutes to look it over.
You’re standing there, being judged by a potential stranger and you may well be facing an auditorium where other actors are watching and waiting to read for the same part. Possibly you were just down there and listened to another actor do a wonderful job on the part you wanted.
How do you deal with that? I think succeeding in tryouts really is an emotional trick. You have to find a way to shut out everyone but the director – and maybe even him or her. Focus on the lines—on the character. And, if you’re reading with someone, focus on that character, as well. And notice that I said that character, not that reader.
Don’t think of it as being judged for what you’re doing (even though, let’s admit it, you are): block out everything but that character you are becoming – think of it as putting on a mask. There are lots of things you can do from behind a mask that you can’t do when you aren’t wearing one.
Actually, that’s my key for any performance or lecture I do, because I’m actually a dedicated introvert.
And don’t forget, we’re all watching you to see if we can fit you in. But we’re not judging in any dark or mordant way. We want to fit you in; we want to see you do a great job!
Tryouts for “Bushwhackers” is set for 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., February 10 and 6 to 8 p.m. February 11 at the Orringer Auditorium at New Bern’s Craven Community College.
We’re looking for a dozen or so people to become the mountain folk of North Carolina in one of its most dramatic days – the Civil War. On our web page (under the “Bushwhackers” link: http://www/NCHistoryTheater.org/Bushwhackers) you’ll find a portion of the actual script and pdfs and mpeg files of a couple of songs. We want you to try out and give it your best! Work up a song that you feel showcases your ability and style, and if you wish look up, on line, such characters as Zebulon Vance and Keith and Malinda Blalock (that latter whose story we’re telling) to get a hint of what they were like.
We hope to see you there.