Cowan Palace: Spooky Tales of Audition Costumes

Ashley’s teamed up with some Bay Area artists to chat about auditions and dressing for the part.

Halloween is just three days away and I’m sure you’ve been keeping busy thinking about costumes and perfecting your sexy Kim Davis outfit, ensuring your wig looks as intolerant as possible. But as October comes to a close so does our month’s design focus theme.


So I started to think about memorable costumes I’ve had the opportunity to wear in the past and my own attempts to “costume” myself for certain auditions. I gave myself bangs to look younger, I wore fingerless gloves to look edgy, and canceled an audition that sent me a follow up an hour before my time slot asking me to be ready to read my scene topless. Ah, so many stories so little time!

But I reached out to a few pals to see if they had any audition tales and they kindly were willing to share a few gems. It’s nice to know we’re all in this together, right?

Melinda Marks:
I showed up to callbacks for Doubt, and there were only three other women there. They were all wearing habits and rosary beads. Like, chatting merrily. In habits. At first I was mortified because I thought SURELY if these women were in HABITS I must have missed, like, a really important memo from the design team. I later found out they were ALL IN A SHOW TOGETHER and had just done it for funsies. I got that part, by the way.

Jan Gilbert: Right before I moved here, I played Yitzhak in a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, so I was ecstatic to see an audition notice for the production here in the city. In the process of booking an audition, the casting folk used the sentence: ‘If you would like to come dressed in any sort of character appropriate Drag, you are certainly welcome to.’ And yes, the word ‘Drag’ was capitalized.

Now, being an avid ‘always play dress up for auditions’ type of actor, I had already been taken aback by how casual auditions here seemed to be. Before moving here, I would never have DREAMED of wearing jeans to an audition. Or not wearing my hair down. Ever. But, seeing as they were inviting you to dress in character appropriate ‘Drag’…and seeing as I happened to still have the camo cargo pants I wore in the recent production in which I dressed like a man for most of the show, I took a leap, after much back and forth, pulled back my hair, threw on the pants, wrapped up with a trusty ace bandage and went for it.

When I got into the audition room, the director looked at me, held up my headshot and asked ‘this is you?’ It didn’t feel like the best way to start an audition, but oh well.

So I went to an audition in ‘Drag,’ and it was a boundary-pushing experience for me. I did get a callback. They asked me to ‘please wear a dress’ to see my take on the character post-transition. When I showed up dressed in my normal audition gear, they again didn’t recognize me. It was quite an interesting feeling.

While I didn’t end up getting cast (I ended up on their ‘possible cast for extension’ list), I was glad in the end that I just went for it. I guess it’s like they say: ‘dress for the part you want’…or something like that.

Colin Johnson: I was holding auditions and a guy came in looking very Zoolander. Tight black pants, V cut black tee, and leather jacket. He was so bad that I was convinced he was doing a guerilla comedy thing/prank. His ineptitude was so over the top. I ultimately couldn’t stifle my laughter. Turns out he was a model trying to act and taking it very seriously. Luckily he didn’t catch on to me laughing in his face and walked away very self-satisfied. The show was The Oresteia and needless to say, he wasn’t cast.

Xanadu Bruggers: I was auditioning for a commercial and it was to recreate the famous World War II kiss in Times Square. I bought a costume and got my hair done, makeup, etc. Just to walk into a room and be dipped. It turned out everyone had the same idea and there were about 100 people dressed like sailors and nurses in this tiny room. I felt ridiculous. But I still wear the heels I bought.

Tonya Narvaez: Once I was auditioning for a play in which the most interesting character to me was in her late 30s. I was early 20s. So I tried subtle old age makeup but it looked ridiculous so I took that off. I put some really subtle dark circles under my eyes thinking somehow that may help me look less young. It didn’t. But I went with it anyway. Then I got there and all the women auditioning for that part were actually the proper age range. And I felt incredibly ridiculous. My little high pitched, naive voice alongside theirs. Oy. Didn’t book it.

Dave Sikula: I mentally rolled my eyes and rushed into the theatre to warn the producer and the directors, “There’s a guy in a toga in the bathroom.” They visibly rolled their eyes, and I went out to usher this actor into the lion’s den. The producer said, “Ah, I see you’re doing something modern.” The actor muttered some humorous reply, climbed the stairs to the stage, and launched into a very bad version of “Franz, romance, countrymans” (sounding, in memory. like a bad Schwarzenegger impression). He finished and the producer went up on stage, put a friendly arm around his shoulder, and explained to him why his choices may not have been the best. (For more on this story and others check out Dave’s blog:

So there you go! As we’ve learned, sometimes dressing for the part can yield positive results but for the most part, it may be just to put your actor hat on and act the part you want. Until next time gang, here’s wishing you a fun Halloween!

The Real World: Theater Edition: An Interview with John Fisher

Barbara Jwanouskos, two weeks in a row!

I had the chance to ask questions of Theatre Rhinoceros’ Artistic Director, John Fisher, about playing Alan Turning in Breaking the Code currently playing at the Eureka Theatre. It was the first time I had heard about Alan Turing, the British mathematician who developed the Turing Machine, considered a model for the computer. Turing was instrumental during World War II for helping to break the German Enigma code. He was also gay, and after the war he was prosecuted by the British government and forced to take chemical treatments that would castrate him as opposed to going to prison.

Turing had an amazing, but very sad life, which Hugh Whitemore explored further in Breaking the Code. Here, John Fisher talks about the Theatre Rhinoceros production of the play and what it was like to bring Alan Turing’s story to life.

Pictured left to right: Justin Lucas as Ron and John Fisher as Turing in Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore; A Theatre Rhinoceros production at the Eureka Theatre. Photo by David Wilson.

Pictured left to right: Justin Lucas as Ron and John Fisher as Turing in Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore; A Theatre Rhinoceros production at the Eureka Theatre. Photo by David Wilson.

Barbara: How did you first learn about Alan Turing?

John: I learned about him when I saw the play in 1990 on Broadway. Never heard of him before then.

Barbara: What in his story drew you towards wanting to produce it with Theater Rhinoceros?

John: His queerness and how it is tied into his genius. Because he was an outsider in so many ways he was able to think in a different way. He truly was a man from the future.

Barbara: Could you tell me about the development process? How did it come about? Have any collaborators been instrumental along the way?

John: The actors have been instrumental. They’ve all become fascinated with the story, finding books about their individual characters and contributing their thoughts and insights to the project.

Barbara: Anything interesting that came up in the research of Alan Turing that didn’t make it into the play?

John: Many things. He tried not to be gay. He got engaged to a woman at one point. It was impossible though. He couldn’t live a lie. He wasn’t famous because he worked in espionage so when he was persecuted for being queer there was no one important to step in and protect him. He truly suffered the legal system as the most helpless must in any society.

Barbara: I’m curious about the structure of the play. Could you tell me how you found one right for this story and what challenges you had to address along the way? I imagine that in working with true stories and real life people it can be difficult to figure out what all to put in and how to present it.

John: The play tells three phases of his life at once. It does jump around a lot. But it stays with themes throughout and is masterful in always remaining clear and entertaining. It’s a VERY clever play, much like Turing’s mathematics – both complicated and elegantly simple.

Barbara: Tell me about your production of Breaking the Code. Has there been anything about the production or development that has challenged you or pushed you forward as a theater artist? What might we expect?

John: We’ve rehearsed a lot. I’m also in it so I’ve wanted to get on top of my performance enough so I have time and focus to oversee the other aspects of the production. This is drama, which is always difficult because it has to have the ring of truth. We’ve worked to, hopefully, discover that truth and present it.

Barbara: Talk to me about theater’s current state. Where would you like it to go? Does this inform your trajectory as an artist and/or Theatre Rhinoceros’ trajectory?

John: The theatre is doing well. People have turned out for the productions and we continue to grow artistically. We like the theaters we use and would love to become permanent tenants of one of them, hopefully the Eureka. Theatre Rhino is my artistic home, and I’m very lucky to have one.

Barbara: What keeps you involved in theater?

John: My passion for art. It’s also my habit. And, luckily, my vocation.

Barbara: Any advice for aspiring theater artists?

John: Create your own opportunities. It’s such a cliché but it does work, if you work hard enough. At least audition a lot and get out there and meet people.

Barbara: Any plugs for anything of yours (or others) coming up?

John: Timon! A musical-comedy version of Shakespeare’s play performed outdoors at Yerba Buena Gardens first week in June 2015.


You can see more of John Fisher as Alan Turing in Theatre Rhinoceros’ production of Breaking the Code from now until March 21st at the Eureka Theatre. For more information, please visit the website:

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local playwright and blogger. You can follow her @bjwany and on facebook at A reading of her new play developed with Just Theater’s New Play Lab will be performed at The Flight Deck in Oakland on April 28th at 7 PM.