It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: “Right,” “Wrong,” and All Points In-Between

Dave Sikula pulls a double feature.

A couple of topics this time around.

Recently, I’ve read advice from various people about how actors should approach the audition process and the protocol thereof. At the time, that advice struck me as odd and unnecessary. Were actors really that clueless? I’ve seen (and done) a lot of auditions and the vast majority were perfectly fine. There were occasional odd ducks, but I’ve always seen those folks. I mean, the procedure should be perfectly simple: an actor comes in, says hello, gives their name and the play their piece is from, takes a moment to prepare, and delivers the goods. (As a side note, I almost always try to talk to the people who audition for me. I like to ask them about their monologue or song; their past credits or a director they’ve listed on their resume; where they’re from or went to school; anything to get more of a sense of the person than just listening to them do a monologue for two minutes. I know how nervous the audition process makes some people, and they’re usually more relaxed and “themselves” after they get it over with.)

All of those impressions changed a couple of weeks ago.

I was part of a group of directors who were holding general auditions for a local company. We were scheduled to see about 25 people, but of course four never showed up (I’ve never understood why you’d go to all the trouble of making an audition appointment and just not show, without even a phone call or email. Maybe you’ve gotten another gig in the meantime, but still, don’t leave us hanging. Personally, I wouldn’t hold being a no-show against an actor, but I’m sure there are some directors who would. But I digress …).

Of the folks who did show, the majority were very good. There were, of course, odd ducks: one person didn’t do a monologue so much as tell us a story about an occurrence in their past, and another just stood there and read a speech off a sheet of paper. (I mean, you can’t even be bothered to partially memorize it?)

But, almost to a person, the actors came in, kind of looked at us, walked to center stage, and just launched into their pieces without so much as a “hello.” Granted, they’d been introduced by the person running the audition, and we had their names on a sheet, but it’s a couple of weeks later, and I still have no idea what some of those monologues were.

Is there a reason for this? Nerves? Poor training? Lack of confidence? Something else? I’ve been genuinely baffled. I know I’d rather see a mediocre monologue by someone who has a personality, and who seems friendly and someone I’d like to work with than a brilliant piece by someone who comes in and seems embarrassed by the whole process. (They’ll probably both get callbacks, though, I have to admit.)

My advice? (And remember, this is worth the price you’re paying for it …) Come in, be as friendly as your nerves will allow, introduce yourself and your piece, prepare, deliver it boldly and with your own spin on it (let me see what you can do), don’t look the auditors in the eye (you’d be amazed how many people try to make eye contact), and thank us at the end. Do that and you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Moving on …

The landlord here recently wrote a post on Facebook (and this is my impression of his post) lamenting the way he felt people were overreacting to “No Man’s Land” at Berkeley Rep (and, by the way, to pick up a thread from last time, I did indeed stand at the end of the show – and did so willingly and happily. It was a marvelous experience to see the performance in close-up and really pick up on the nuances in the performances).

A lively discussion ensued – and is probably still going on – and I wanted to throw my two cents in. Personally, I was thrilled when I heard the production was coming to town; not because Stewart and McKellen have been in big budget movies (for example, I haven’t seen any of the “Lord of the Rings” movies and have no desire to), but because they’re world class actors (as are Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley) doing an interesting and difficult play. (Would I have seen the show if it were being done by local actors? Unless I knew them, probably not, so I’ll cop to that.)

But, for me, anyway, it’s not a matter of “ooh, someone I’ve seen in a movie is doing a play!” For example,  John Malkovich – a fine actor who’s starred in some wonderful (and terrible) films – is doing a show in Berkeley next year, and I have no interest in that, but I am looking forward to a number of shows at local companies this fall. It’s the potential combination of actors and script that attract me, not the idea of seeing a “star.” I’ve seen moving and profound performances in postage-stamp sized theatres by actors who will never become “famous” (some of which were in languages I couldn’t even understand – Georges Bigot’s quadruple-header of Richard II, Toby Belch, Orsino, and Prince Hal may be the greatest things I’ve ever seen, and they were all in French) and lousy performances by major names (if I never see performances as bad as Vanessa Redgrave and Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” I’ll consider myself very lucky).

And if people do go to see “No Man’s Land” because of the chance to see Jean-Luc Picard and Magneto, why is that a bad thing? Their exposure to a play that dense may baffle them, but it may also open whole new vistas for them and get them to see something for the “right” reasons, whatever those may be. Why is one experience more pure or legitimate than another? People are going to enjoy – or not enjoy – whatever they want and no amount of telling them they’re seeing a play for the “wrong” reasons is going to convince them otherwise.