I will forevermore remember the day of auditions as the day I lost the last of my sanity, such as it was. For one thing, I found out that there is one type of person who still believes in the power of community theater, and who always has. That type is the wannabe performer.
When I was planning for the auditions I was thinking along the lines of those oooooooold movies where a small group of friends need to raise money to save the farm, and somebody says, “Let’s give a show in the old barn!” Does anybody even remember those Andy Hardy movies? Or is Macy the only one who watches Turner Classic Movies? No way they keep a whole cable channel going for such a tiny viewership, right?
As soon as I got to the Community Center, which Red had rented for the day, I got flashed forward to ‘American Idol’. Red continued to swear up and down that I had final say on the casting, but he’d had somebody set up a table at the front of the room with three chairs for me, him and Rhonda and another one off to the side for Macy to sit in with the sign-in sheet on a clipboard. Paula Abdul forgive me for my first thoughts. Or should I say my first casting error? As soon as Macy called hopeful number one’s name and she stepped up and handed us a dinky little sheet of paper listing her experience, Rhonda must have started channeling Simon Cowell. She started to denigrate everything about the already-trembling young woman with sarcasm so heavy you couldn’t have lifted it with a mega-sized construction crane.
“I’m sure even Steve managed to make it clear in his casting call that this is not going to be a children’s show, dear. No doubt your teachers have told you that you’re very talented. What we’re looking for, though, is something more along the lines of adults who have some idea of what they’re doing.”
I guess Red was a little baffled by this at first, or at least he hadn’t come up with a game plan for dealing with it. I was prepared to defend myself and my choices, but I hadn’t foreseen the need to shield somebody else from Rhonda-the-Hun. It’s not like she’d ever before passed up taking shots at me to put her sights on another target.
Anyway, she glared at that pail, thin waif until she left without ever starting on the prepared piece I’d asked for in the advertisement. That’s what I found out I should do. I’d been doing some reading up of my own to learn about how you’re supposed to run an audition. I discovered that the actor should always be prepared, and should be able to audition by doing some little piece of a play they had rehearsed ahead of time.
The next four or five went down in quick succession before Red ever even got out a good “Now Rhonda Honey”. She just smiled sweetly at him and asked, “Do you see the number of people standing over there? We don’t have forever to get this done, you know, and we might as well weed out the plainly useless as quickly as we can, and spend our time on the ones that might be useful.”
“So you’re judging how useful they might be by looking at them?” I asked, locking eyes with her and giving her that slight smile that said ‘Don’t forget who’s in charge here.’
“These people have practically no experience!” She snorted and nodded at Macy to call the next person on the list. I held up a hand with the flat palm pointing toward Macy while I was slowly raising one eyebrow. Rhonda can’t do that, and it drives her nuts when I do.
“Experience and ability don’t have to go together,” I told her. “Even Alec Guinness started out as a rookie.”
“Sir Alec Guinness.” Rhonda’s tone made the unspoken ‘to you’ quite plain. “Besides, didn’t he come from a theatrical family?”
“Plenty of the greats didn’t. Name your actor, Rhonda. None of them were born with a shitload of experience.”
“We don’t have time to train people.” Her tone rose just the tiniest bit. Not enough for anyone who didn’t have my experience fighting this hellcat to notice, but she was starting to crack just the tiniest bit. I chose my wedge to shove into that crack.
“You see anybody sitting at this table that’s got experience? You really want the actors to be able to tell us we’re doing everything wrong? You want them to be running the show and making Red feel like **** because his play probably isn’t Broadway’s next smash hit?” I threw in the ‘probably’ to show Red that I wasn’t cutting down his writing ability.
“He has a good point there, Rhonda.” Red’s ever-present yellow pencil had made enough shadow rubbing around on his upper lip that it looked like he was trying to grow a mustache. “This is a purely amateur production. Why shouldn’t we all learn together?”
That wasn’t quite what I had in mind, either.
“I’m sure some experience in the cast would help us out, too. I just think we should not stress the past too much, and see what each person has to offer. See if they make us think of any one character in the play, perhaps. Get a feel for whether they might be able to contribute.”
I finally got that settled and we started again, this time letting each person do his or her little scene. Pretty soon I noticed Red had left off with the self-decoration and was scribbling away on the paper. I leaned over to look at what he was writing. He’d made a list of the characters he’d written and some of the people we’d seen. There were some lines running from one actor to one or two character names, but I noticed some of the characters were scratched out and he had notes beside the actor like “Makes a better best friend” or “talks more like a man in charge”.
Without looking up Red mumbled something about rewrites and improving the play. All I could think was that it would be hell trying to rehearse if Red never finished writing the script.
A blonde young man who looked like a taller, more bulky Leonardo DiCaprio had finished doing a Cheech & Chong routine where he played both parts and had me convinced he was really two actors. He was still standing there with a little grin on his face and one hand half lifted with the fingers twitching just a little.
“Did you have something else for us, Mr. Luce?” I gave him a bland smile so he didn’t get the idea I was too impressed.
“Please, call me Sherman. I was wondering if you were going to be pairing us up later to see how we work together? Because if the young lady who did the Tennessee Williams piece is familiar with ‘Glass Menagerie’ I’d like to try Tom to her Laura.”
I panicked. What sort of experience did this guy have? I looked for his resume… curriculum vitea; it was starting to look like I was going to have to improve my bluffing on theatrical terms pretty fast. Of course Rhonda had the guy’s sheet in her hands, and she was gazing at him like he was announcing the next coming. I could practically see the dollar signs in her eyes as she assessed the sort of draw Sherman would have due to both his looks and his talent.
I tried to tighten my grip before I lost control of this scene. “I’m not sure we’ll have time to get to that today. We do have quite a few more actors to audition, as you can see. Perhaps…”
“Pardon me for interrupting, but I just want to mention that I’ve seen some very successful group-style auditions.” Sherman flashed his smile at Red like he already had it figured out who was paying the bills. “I realize of course that it’s not the usual thing, but it would allow you to sort us out quite a bit faster.”
From Red’s expression, it looked like his appraisal of Sherman was a lot closer to Rhonda’s than to mine. “Just how would you go about these group auditions?” he asked while he was diligently scratching his left eyebrow with the pencil lead, making it look twice the size of the right one. “Like role playing in group therapy?”
The self-help books were raising their ugly heads again.
“That’s a great analogy for it.” Sherman was nodding his head. “You could set us a scene and give each person a goal, something contradictory to the other characters’ goals. Then let us run with it. Then you would really get the feel for not only what we can each contribute, but you’d see the various group dynamics and start to figure out how we would work together.”
Red was nodding his head sagely, and Rhonda was beaming. My stomach was somewhere near the Earth’s core.