Update: Theater Alliance has just announced our cast (and our design team). Very excited!
In my experience, auditions are harder for playwrights than for everyone else in the room.
Okay, so, I’m speaking as someone with very little experience actually auditioning for anything. (Three auditions, three call-backs, two booked gigs…then I retired. I’m like a gambler who pulled the slot machine once, won a few bucks, and walked out of the casino, forever to remain ahead of the house. Safe, but boring.) I do actually know how hard it is, though, really. It’s just hard in a different way for those of us who write.
You see… by the time the audition process begins, when we’re asked (if we’re lucky) to submit the names of actors we’d like to see considered, we feel like we know these characters. We’ve seen them in our heads for months and months and months, if not longer. They’re deeply familiar, if not members of the mental family. So when a theater asks us “Is there anyone you’d like us to call in?”, our instinct is to answer I’ve already cast the thing in my head. Can you reach into my brain and grab those people? Thanks. And when actors do start walking into the room and auditioning, you have to fight the urge to think You don’t look anything like him or She doesn’t say that line that way or This is wrong, all wrong, please, can’t anybody else see the same things I see? It’s hard.
Mercifully, we are not only creatures of instinct. We remember to think, and our individualistic creative energies are trumped (as they should be) by a strong collaborative impulse. We begin to see each actor on his or her own terms, and we begin to listen carefully to others’ impressions of each reading, and slowly… slowly… our vision begins to expand. At a bare minimum, hearing the same lines read over and over again by different performers, we start to find new dead spots inside them. If we let the actors work, we start to see more in the lines than we ever imagined on our own. And if we really give ourselves over to the process, we discover elements in our work that we never realized were there. The whole thing is revelatory.
The audition process for REALS has been modestly complicated by the fact that when writing the play, I had four specific actors in mind… none of whom, for a variety of reasons, are able to do the show. (I didn’t actually work with them in any way during script development, though one of them did do a reading of an early draft; they simply lived in my brain while I drafted the text.) Those four people were staggeringly hard to dismiss from my imagination before I walked into the audition room; I almost couldn’t imagine anyone else.
But the truth is… I got over it. I more than got over it: I brought new people into my brain. (Yes, it’s crowded in there, but we have fun!) And as we worked, the play started to become a revivified thing: less a stone sculpture I’d carved on my own than an animated installation made of organic parts that will soon start growing and evolving. (A golem?) It’s already become more than just *my* play: I can feel it. We’re all now in service of something bigger than all of us.
One clear bit of evidence in support of that transition: the fact that although I imagined four white characters while I was writing (for no particular reason, really, other than the initial paucity of my own imagination), we ended up casting actors of color in three of those roles. This didn’t happen by accident, of course. We collectively decided that we wanted to have a “colorblind” casting process (a less appropriate term I cannot imagine), which meant that we actively solicited auditions from a diverse collection of actors. Of course, at the end of the day we chose the four performers (from among many talented options) who were best suited to tell the story we wanted to tell. The fact that those four folks were racially diverse was only possible because we created the conditions in which we’d be likely to find diverse talent.
Finally, I want to share my great thanks to those who did audition. We saw so many really skilled actors, some of whom are my friends and some of whom I’ve even worked with before. You were all very impressive, and I really don’t know how I’d manage to do what you all do. The truth is: I know it’s really hard. Yes, harder for you than it is for me, much harder, despite my attention-grabbing opening line in this blog post. And I’m very, very grateful for the window into your soul that you open up when you read my lines to me, often more than once. It’s a genuine gift.