Friday, March 19, 2010

Hickory, Dickory, Dock...

Long round of auditions last night for Praying Small. A lot of good actors. A little female heavy, but a few really fine male actors, too. Oddly, I am thankful I don't have these decisions to make. They are all firmly on Victor's shoulders. I will be interested to see what direction he goes. Early in this process, that is to say, a week or so ago, I told him I was taking off all my other hats and only wearing my "actor's hat." I meant it. The tough decisions are in his court.

I was reminded again why I detest auditions. Of course, they are necessary. But I don't like them. And I'll tell you why. Because the whole process is not designed to find the best actor for the job. It is designed to find the actor that can do something in thirty or forty seconds that will impress. That's like bringing in a bunch of professional singers and see who can sing a high C. Although singing a high C may be impressive, it is hardly the litmus test for a good singer.

Just watch American Idol on any given night. The contestant that can get up on stage and do something extraordinary within the time given gets all the accolades. The singer that gets up and sings a quiet, reflective, fine interpretation of a piece of music is considered sub-par. It's frustrating.

That's a microcosm of all auditions.

The trick is, and Victor, to his credit, did this a lot last night, is to see who can take direction. Even if it has nothing to do with the play itself.

I've always been annoyed with actors that give the same performance at the initial read-thru that they give on opening night. No growth.

I'm reminded of Robert DeNiro. Apparently Mr. DeNiro has a mild form of dyslexia. So his initial readings are stumbling and halting and filled with pauses. He has gone on record to say how badly his auditions were in his early days in New York.

So auditions have virtually nothing to do with finding the best actor. Again, the director's job, and it's a tough one, is to try and look past that. To find out who can really act and who is good at "impressing."

I remember working with Wilford Brimly years ago. Not a good reader. In fact, nearly illiterate. I never asked him, but I'd love to know how he ever got a break to begin with years ago in the seventies when he was doing all those films with Redford and Newman. But give him a little time to work on it, a little time to listen to the lines out loud, and as history has recorded, he gives on occasion an absolutely sublime and simple performance.

So how do we find out who's best for a role? I confess to not having a clue. What often happens is the director has to depend on what he's seen the actor do before. But what if he's never seen anything?

An actor came in last night and gave a dismal reading. Not a very good audition at all. Another actor followed him and read the same scenes. He gave a wonderful audition. But his past work has been pedestrian at best. The first actor has given some stellar performances. A really great reputation and resume. What to do? Go with the actor that gave the best audition, the one that really "impressed?" Or go with the actor with the proven track record that didn't read well? I don't know. And thankfully, I don't have to decide.

But in the end, these are great problems to have. In fact, they're really academic questions anyway. The play is going forward. Victor has a plethora of talent to choose from. I am busy working on lines and wearing my actor hat. The theatre and the company firmly behind the production. It's all good.

There's a story, possibly apocryphal, of Brando auditioning for the Lunts early in his career. He was about twenty-two or so. Hadn't yet made his name with Streetcar. Even then, of course, Brando was a renegade. The story goes that the famous Lunts were casting another tour of a frothy, bedroom comedy, the kind of fare they were known for. Brando's agent, inexplicably, had submitted him for one of the small, frothy roles. The auditions were held in one of those cavernous Broadway theaters in New York. When he walked onstage with the "side" Alfred Lunt asked him to start when he was ready. Brando looked at the script for awhile and then stared into the huge, echoing, dark theater. "Hickory Dickory Dock, The Mouse Ran Up The Clock. Don't you realize there are people fucking dying of starvation in India right now?" And he walked off. Arguably the finest actor of the twentieth century did not get the part.

See you tomorrow.