Sunday, December 12, 2010

This one's going out of the park...

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, picking the right people for a cast, that is to say, people that actually get along, is nearly as important as picking the right people for the play itself. A bad apple or two in a cast over a long run can really disrupt morale. Been there, done that.

Of course, it's nearly an impossible thing to do. It would be nice if people came into the auditon and said, "Listen, I'm putting on my best face here today because it's an audition. But once you cast me, I'll do everything within my power to poison the show and make the other actors miserable." No, hardly ever see that.

It's a roll of the dice. On the other hand, sometimes, quite accidentally, a show is cast in such a way that the cast almost immediately becomes a sort of self-supporting family. I've seen that, too, and when it happens it's truly a beautiful thing.

Over the years, I've learned the best thing to do is stay out of it. It's easier to do this if one can go home every night after the show. If one happens to live in the same city, that is. For years, I would be jobbed out from NYC to various cities up and down the East Coast. In those situations, it's a little more difficult to rise above the bickering and silliness inside a cast because everyone is always together. And a national tour, of which I've done a couple, too, is even harder.

There's an old and tired one-liner in the business, mostly repeated by stage managers, I've found, that goes like this: "Wanna hear an actor bitch? Hire him." Unfortunately, it's all too true sometimes.

Case in point...I once did a two-show summer season with a very good LORT Theater in Virginia. The first show of the Summer was the Kaufman and Hart Pulitzer Prize-winner, 'You Can't Take it with You.' Strangest damn thing - the cast, almost immediately, was at each other's throats. Nearly everyone hated the director (not me, however, because the director was one of my oldest and closest friends), they didn't like each other, they found the show itself tedious. Three actors, over the course of the rehearsal period, were shipped back to NY and replaced. By the time the play opened and started running, it was the most flagrant case of 'upstaging' I believe I've ever seen. Absolute chaos on stage. A nightly, ego-laden horror show. I was very unhappy during that run. I would go back to my hotel room every night, uncork a bottle of scotch and try and forget the play I was doing.

As it turned out, I was the only 'hold over' into the next show of the summer, which was the wonderful musical, '1776.' This was the first time I'd done it (I later did it again in Florida). Twenty three actors hauled in from NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles to do it. Twenty one guys, two girls (the wives of Jefferson and Adams). One would think this would be the show that had internal strife because of the number of people and the disproportionate ratio of guys and girls. Not so. This cast turned out to be one of my favorite casts of over 100 professional shows I did over my career. Everyone got along famously. The guys played poker nearly every night. We took trips to Civil War Battlefields on our dark days. We hung out for drinks after the show. Several love affairs blossomed. To this day, I remember that cast and show very fondly.

So it really is a crap shoot. Hopefully, regardless of the interactions among the cast, the audience is blissfully ignorant. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. That ambiguous term 'chemistry' comes into play. It's not tangible but an audience can sometimes feel it.

Okay. Done with that. Last night I suffered a bit of insomnia, a recurring theme in my life since I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes some months back. Doesn't happen often anymore, but it still does now and then. So I stayed up and watched, back to back, 'White Christmas' and 'Holiday Inn.' And was happy as a clam. Bing Crosby was one charming mofo. Big ears and all. There I was, sitting on the couch with Franny and Zooey on either side of me, choking up at the end of both movies. Fortunately, Angie had already gone to bed so I didn't have to pretend to drop something on the floor so I could wipe my eyes.

Another long rehearsal today. I'm chomping at the bit. I love this play. I'm awed by the music. I'm entranced by the talent surrounding me. I adore the director's approach to it. Great musical director. Wonderful staff all around. This one is going out of the park, folks.

See you tomorrow.

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