Friday, October 28, 2016

Lights, camera, action - by Stephen Signor

Auditions for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest were recently held at the Windham Town Hall. This production, directed by Rob Juergens piqued my interest because I loved watching this iconic film. I decided to attend the auditions, as a writer first and actor second. As the latter I failed. To be honest, the last time I acted was over a half century ago; well on a stage anyway if you get my drift.
Anyway, this was a cold reading. I had no idea what a cold reading was and even now I am not sure if I had I would have tried out. My guess was this type of casting was done to weed out, in the interest of time, those who have little or no experience. 

Reading cold simply means reading from the script without memorizing the lines. If this wasn’t difficult enough I was given the task of reading for the part of McMurphy, the lead role played by Jack Nicholson. Perhaps this was due to the fact that my scalp is follicly challenged. I’ll never know. What I do know is, or rather what I learned was, that reading doesn’t mean just reading. 

Entering the door of the town hall, I was entering a portal into another realm. Thankfully the individual who was handing out the forms to fill out was pleasant and with a sense of humor. 

“I do not usually do this sort of thing so I am not sure what I am doing,” said Gail White. White is on the board of directors of the Windham Center Stage Theater and through her children, former producer of children’s productions. This would snap me, albeit temporarily, back into reality.

While sitting in the waiting area I had the opportunity to dwell on the advice given to me by an experienced actor waiting for his opportunity to shine. “The best advice I can give you is just relax. Easier said than done (tell me about it) I know, but it helps,” said 44-year-old Randy Hunt, who just moved to the area in May from Bangor. “I used to get nervous about auditions, but I pretty much got over it. If it happens, it happens. There are plenty of shows out there, especially in this area,” he continued.

“Try to make as much eye contact as possible while reading and don’t make it sound as if you are reading from a book,” Hunt advised. Sounds easy enough, I thought. I’ve read in front of a congregation before and on a professional level when in an upper management position. However, the intimidation factor in those situations is non-existent. It’s all a state of mind. Yet I could not help look at the panel of three individuals sitting behind a table critiquing and knowing this is an attempt to do something they knew I have basically never done before. 
After the fact I received the same insight, with a little extra, from Juergens. “For new people the best things they can do are relax, have fun, let it loose and swing for the fences. If you can, get a small part in a large play.” 

Auditions are also often a hit-or-miss type of thing. “Straight shows are different than musicals, and sometimes it depends on the actual show. Apparently there was a lot of interest in Cuckoo’s Nest; the turnout was very strong. There were a lot of veteran and talented auditioners. There were only a couple of first-time actors,” said Juergens

This can make casting challenging. “Casting is very tricky. Voice is an important quality-especially when I know we are not using microphones. So I look for volume and diction, as well as tone. A flat, monotonous reading is a bad sign, even on a cold reading. I also look for some type of characterization, so that I can see if the auditioners can bury themselves in a role. When I get caught up in a reading I know that I am hearing something good. And sometimes I just guess,” continued Juergens.

How much one should expect to dedicate depends on the show. “Musicals add singing and dancing so they are larger commitments. Smaller cast shows tend to focus the rehearsal process. At any rate, two to three rehearsals a week is common, with more as you get into the week before the show, commonly called Hell Week, Heck Week or Tech Week,” Juergens added.

Besides the obvious, the benefits of being a cast member can be enriching. “Casts become like families. Something about the shared creative process draws people together. Acting is also great for anyone who has to deal with the public, since it improves volume and diction. It is also a nice way to give to the community. And lastly it’s just a lot of fun,” concluded Juergens.

As I was leaving and telling those waiting to read about the outcome of my performance, and I use that term loosely, I thought about the lobotomy the character I was reading for endured. I felt I had just gone through that procedure and all I could do was smile. I told those in the lobby waiting to break a leg and when the door closed behind me I began to laugh aloud. I was happy my day job was secure.

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