Sunday, April 22, 2007

Those gruelling auditions

Well, in my last post I was saying what unalloyed fun it was to have a play in the 24:7 Theatre Festival, but today one particular angst kicks in.

Auditions. I am going to have to audition for a cast once again. Agonising for actors, and agonising for playwrights if they understand what the actors are going through.

To initiate the process, Dave and Amanda have asked us playwrights (or exec producers as we're grandly called) for word-pictures of our characters, so that they can circulate them at a gathering of people, including actors, who would like to be involved. Or the Cattle Market, as we hopeful actors muttered last year (last year I didn't enter a play, so tried my chances as an actor), waiting in queues to sell ourselves to playwrights and flap our CVs in their faces. This idea of circulating character breakdowns is a good one: it will save people my last year's experience, in which more than once I waited for up to half an hour to speak to a playwright only to be told there were no women in the play or that all the parts had been cast. Towards the end of the evening, a weary-looking playwright saw me coming, said he badly needed a pee and disappeared never to be seen again. Not good for one's ego, unless one is determinedly taking it all with a pinch of salt.

Well, lucky for me that I could (and not mind that I didn't get a part), since I'm not a trained actor with a professional CV, and acting is not my main thing, but it must have been harder for any of my fellow self-touts (in the main, new drama graduates) who had not yet developed the necessary thick skin. Of course, you didn't catch the veteran Manchester actors going through the process. 'I can't be bothered with it,' Denise Hope told me with distaste and pity when I staggered back to the drinks, but then of course she didn't need to: actors like Denise, Sue Jaynes and Mary-Ann Coburn have playwrights begging them to be in their plays or writing parts specifically for them (and, in the event, Denise was brilliant in Colin Carr's comedy, Divas and Double Glazing).

The actual auditions are difficult things. There's always an air of tension and formality which is at odds with the informality which usually rules in the sphere of drama. It always amazes me, and I can hardly ever believe it, when I read that famous actors have auditioned for parts in films or high-profile stage plays. Some pretty well-known actors did come to audition for my radio comedy drama series, The Circle (and how brilliantly they read before the director decided against them!), though the even more famous ones who took the parts in the end were simply offered them by the director. As a writer I've sat in on a few auditions, and can never feel good about it, knowing the feeling of exposure in facing that critical lineup of writer, director and/or producer, judging you not simply for your skill but for things out of your control and indeed unknown to you: the fit of your face to their concept of the character, your build, your quality of voice, or the matter of simply how you'd combine with the other actors up for other parts... And the worst thing is having to break it to the actors you haven't chosen, which once, as a 24:7 playwright, it was my duty to do.

One time I attended a whole-day audition for a theatre showcase in which a play of mine was featured. It was a kind of workshop in which all of the actors' skills were being extensively tested; they were put through their paces as a (huge) group, given trust games and exercises, while we writers and our designated directors sat around and watched. At the time I was in awe, and thought it pretty cutting-edge and much better than the formal individual 'interview' style, but a few years on I met one of the actors involved, and he told me how humiliated and used (and exhausted) all of the actors had felt, and from the way he spoke he was still smarting.

Maybe the independent film world is simply different, but I feel I should count my luck that I had such an easy time when I went for my first screen test last summer (for a small community film). I walked in, was greeted by a jolly crew (not one of them over 30), matily handed a cup of tea while I scanned the script and then shown through to the camera to read with another who turned out to be a member of the company, while the others settled down comfortably to watch. They put me at my ease and I didn't feel a twinge of nerves. (And to cap it all, they offered me the part!)

So now I've got to bite the bullet and organize auditions again. And here's my first call: the meeting for people who would like to be involved in 24:7 is to be held at Pure (in the Printworks, Manchester) on Monday 30th April from 7pm on. Anyone who would like to be involved - as an actor, director, stage manager or in any other capacity - is welcome. Personally, I'm looking for all of these. (No payment, I'm afraid, just a share of box-office profit.)

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