Monday, November 09, 2009

"It's a Wonderful Audition" Part 1

That may be over dramatizing it just a bit. But last night I did have a good audition for "It's a Wonderful Life", a radio play being produced by the Winchester Little Theater.

Some background.

Loyal blog readers will remember my limited yet, shall we say, diverse previous experiences at the WLT. (They can be read about here, here, and here.) Reading those entries one will see that I don't head up there very often due to the commute. But as I mentioned last week here on the blog, several things convinced me to try out for this WLT production. Namely the director, the Christmas theme, and the unique chance to appear on FM radio. So, I borrowed my sister's GPS, and off I went.

I have been to the WLT enough times now to know that their audition process is a bit different from other local theatres. Everyone is present in the house of the theatre during auditions, as opposed to calling in smaller groups or individuals. They also require a two to three hour time commitment. Most other auditions locally take about an hour or so for straight shows, depending on the turn out. But I don't mind this; it is a thorough process, and though like any it can be abused by unfair practices, I rather like to the time and consideration put into the audition process at the WLT. At least on the surface.

And unlike most other places, the rest of the people trying out for a role tend to applaud the efforts of those who have completed their readings. I don't see that very often. Maybe it's the intimate quasi-black box feel of the small theatre. Who knows?

As for the audition itself, the turnout for this first day of two was strong. I think about 25 people of various ages. I really have not developed a relationship with many Winchester regulars, but I did recognize several people from previous auditions, as well as photographs on the walls of the lobby. You get the sense of who usually shows up for these things.

Not that I was totally among strangers. I have worked with the director before when we were cast mates in Romeo and Juliet this summer. Plus another friend of mine with whom I have worked in two shows, and another that I have worked with once before, and seen at I believe each of my previous WLT auditions.

All and all I felt much more comfortable last night than I did during my previous audition experience at the place. (Again, read previous entries for that story.)

"It's a Wonderful Life" is presented as a radio play. To an extent a story within a story, for each person cast will be playing an old radio actor with their own identity, who in turn will play several parts within "It's a Wonderful Life". The overall effect is to give the feeling to the audience that they are in an old time radio station watching people perform. If I get cast in this production, it will be the second year in a row that I have been in a "story within a story" for the holidays. (Last year, I appeared in a version of "A Christmas Carol" which has a similar premise.) To make it even more unique, it is to be recorded all three nights. Then the best overall recording will be selected, and played on a local FM radio station as part of their Christmas Day programming. I think that is a very neat concept, and one reason I hope to get into this show.

There are 65 speaking parts of various sizes, so obviously not all parts got read for. When it is something this big, I tend to not request a specific role. Rather, I just point out my willingness to be cast in whatever role, if any, I could be of most use. That being said, I did volunteer once to read for "Clarence" the angel, (it follows the movie pretty closely.) Turns out he only had two lines in that scene, but who knew?

I spent most of my other readings as George Bailey. Actually most of the men read a lot from the George Bailey scenes. This isn't surprising though, given that it is the larger part, and there were in fact an unusually high number of men there for a community theatre audition.

In all honesty, I feel I did well with my readings. It is of course hard to judge ones self in such things, especially when you have never worked for a specific director before and don't know what exactly they are looking for. In those cases one can only hope to come away from the audition knowing that they did everything that they wanted to do with their readings. I am happy to report that I did so. I turned in what I feel were the best possible readings that I could given the various circumstances. And in fact i don't think I would have been much better even if I had reviewed the script. I am after all familiar enough with the movie to have a sense of the story. That helped, no doubt.

There were in fact many good readings, and by no means do I have a read on whether or not I will be cast. I can say that with 65 possible roles, I would think anybody's chances of getting in were greater, but I am not sure how many people the director intends to cast. Last year in seems there were 26 actors involved, though the director indicated he wanted the cast to be smaller this year. I can just hope for the best.

Which is why I think I will return for the second night of auditions tonight. The director emphasized that this was not required, but admitted that it would be "useful" in making the final decisions. Seeing more combinations of people, and more readings from the same people make the job of the casting committee easier. This is another unique facet of the WLT. Most theatres around here don't suggest you come back, and in one case at least, they request that you not return to audition again. The impression I get is that as often as not, WLT folk return for the second night. So despite the commute, I believe I will do so. Even if I don't have a specific role in mind, the more I read, and the more people I interact with, the better chance I have of showing what I could offer any of the roles. So it stands to reason that I make it the second night. I feel very confident it will not be for naught as it was the last time I showed up for the second night at the WLT.

So please stay tuned for part 2 of this audition story. I know how folks love a cliffhanger...


As I wait for my dinner to cook before I head over to the WLT for the second night, I thought of something else that was very much a part of my conscious mind last night, but that I forgot to mention earlier when I first wrote this entry.

The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" is iconic. If that was not enough Jimmy Stewart himself was iconic, before and after that movie. The inherent risk of being in or trying out for a production that is based on pre-existing material, especially movies, is that the actor will ape the original performances. At least in subtle ways. Probably without even being aware that he is doing it. I faced a similar danger when I was in "The Lion in Winter" a few years back. (Talk about a movie packed with icons!) Yet even then it was not quite as problematic, because the movie was actually an adaptation of a play, not vice-versa. We still had to be careful not to ape the movie, but it was rather easy to keep it in mind, because of the nature of the play itself.

In this case, the movie IS the source material. A Jimmy Stewart movie. That millions adore. I would advise anyone that ever tries out for this thing to do as I make a conscious decision to NOT be Jimmy Stewart. Not even a little bit. As in any other role, it must become your own, and you mustn't simply mimic someone else. This should be obvious, but like I said it is not always a conscious aping. It is so ingrained into our zeitgeist, that movie. (Probably why the radio play script is somewhat different from the movie.)

Stewart did not simply deliver the definitive performance of George Bailey. He CREATED it. He originated it. And because it is a film, that creation is eternal. Those of us trying out for, and possibly starring in this adaptation MUST aim square for the epicenter of the heart of the story. Not get distracted by what everyone knows of the movie.

I tried not to get distracted by the idea of AVOIDING it either, but if one were to err, I think in this case it's better to err on the side of avoidance than mimicry of the source material.

As with last night, I shall endeavor to remember this in my readings tonight.

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