If you give your word, keep it, regardless of the cost.
For reasons that I won’t publicly disclose, I parted ways with a community theater at which I was a regular volunteer late last year. After a relatively short period of time, the management was asking me to come back although for me, it was too soon. Eventually I was willing but it took me a while for me to get over the pain of the betrayal and insult that prompted my departure. I decided to take the risk and allow them to re-earn my trust. Given how things have progressed of late, I guess that I did come back too soon.
I started out slowly, first as a patron (I’ve been a regular patron since I moved to Ohio back in ’99). Early in 2016, I started volunteering as backstage crew. After an incident last fall, I was mostly absent for the remainder of the season. I recently began helping in a small capacity with a couple of shows but nothing to the degree that I had previously. My activity was limited by my own need to protect myself emotionally but I was able to get through a day without too much anguish.
As an actor, there are those dream roles that I would love to play. I was informed by a friend that this theater was including in its next season lineup one of those shows. I was elated but harbored my misgivings because I knew that there still were persons involved with the theater who were instrumental in fomenting and perpetrating the mess that prompted me to leave in the first place. I ultimately decided to let “bygones be bygones” and to audition for one of the roles in the show.
When I decide to take on a role, I surrender myself wholeheartedly to the process of becoming that character. In preparation for an audition, I research every aspect of the piece that is being performed, including past notable productions. I get a copy of the script and fully action the character’s lines. I go to places where no one knows me so that I can “be” the character (I may take a trusted friend who can analyze and advice me on my performance). I master the songs that I will perform in the audition. I change my physical appearance to be more in line with that of the character as described in the script. Overall, I have spent over hundreds of hours preparing to audition for a role.
This time was no different. I invested dozens of hours analyzing and preparing my characterization, in addition to the time spent working on the songs that I would use in my audition. Since physical characterization for this role is directly referenced in the line, “Come here, fatty,” I gained more than 45 pounds and 7 inches in my waistline over a several month period. I fully expected if cast to gain up to 40 pounds more to faithfully portray this character as the over-weight and out-of-shape person usually depicted.
I know all too well that this work can’t guarantee being cast. I consider it part of the price that I must pay to even have a chance.
Assisting with one of the aforementioned shows, I was informed by a friend that while some of the roles were effectively precast, auditions would be held and other actors would be considered. I continued with my preparations, including gaining weight, waiting for the call for auditions and hoping for the best.
I assisted with set construction in the show following the one that I saw (I enjoy all aspects of theater tech!). I asked the director of this show for which I was preparing to audition when the call for auditions would be forthcoming—it was already several weeks past the usual time when auditions would be held given the performance dates—and he informed me that the show was entirely precast, specifically because, “We don’t want any surprises.” No “surprises”? What, was he afraid that a truly talented actor would so impress the production team that his “buddies” wouldn’t get to keep their precast roles?!
To say that I was dumbfounded would be an understatement. This theater has a long-standing policy of not precasting regular season shows. While they make exceptions for “director’s specials” on occasion (which they recently did), this show was announced as a part of the regular season. I’ve had several conversations in the past with various persons at this theater, including the business manager, in which pride was taken in their “open casting” policy.
I have no issue with precasting in the general case; the decision to cast remains the prerogative of the casting director. My concern is with the fact that the management of this theater broke with their long-standing policy to hold open auditions for regular-season shows not only with no announcement made to this effect but while still holding out the fact of open auditions. I had been talking up this show to several friends in the NE Ohio community theater region, many of whom were looking forward to auditioning. Since this decision clearly was made some time before the announcement of the season lineup, the announcement should have noted that this show was precast. To keep this hidden in light of the the previously stated policy—and to my knowledge, no acknowledgement of this decision to precast has been or ever will be made—is grossly dishonest. They may change the policy if they will but to handle this situation in this matter is patently unethical, especially since I was informed that open auditions would still be held with fair consideration given.
I note that the person chosen for this role for which I was going to audition is by no definition a “fatty”. While he may be a great actor and characterize the role perfectly otherwise with the director changing the specific line referencing the character’s weight to avoid the gaff that casting him would create, this is beside the point that faithfulness to the living playwright’s written intent apparently has been utterly ignored. (I do not begrudge this person his being cast in this role. I’m sure that he will do a fine job, bringing credit to this role and the theater and that I will thoroughly enjoy watching this show. I wish him nothing but the best of success. My concern is with the theater management, not him.)
I know my body well enough that with my return to the appropriate diet, I have taken off nearly twenty pounds and just under four inches in the past five weeks. I ought to be back to my pre-preparation weight within a couple more months. This isn’t “the end of the world” and I don’t intent to part ways with this theater company once again over this but I trust the integrity of certain persons in the management of it even less now than I did before this. My disappointment is such that I can’t justify wasting time actively trying to support the mission and program of this theater as a general volunteer while these persons remain involved. This grieves me deeply because I have several friends who, not being deficient in their ethics like the others mentioned, are still actively involved there. I do intend to assist on a case-by-case basis when my friends are in a show but this will be the exception, not the rule.
My request of all theaters, especially community and amateur, is that whatever policy you choose to adopt regarding open auditions versus precasting, you publish and adhere to it. If any show is to be precast—especially when you have made it a point to hold open auditions—please announce this through your normal channels as soon as the decision has been made, preferably in the same manner in which you make the season lineup announcement. This is only fair to every actor who would invest the time and energy in preparing to audition for a role in your productions.