Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ah, Liaisons...

So, I spent the last two days helping to run the 7th Annual Washington/Baltimore/Northern Virginia Actors Equity Liaison Committee Auditions.

These auditions were invented 7 years ago by the local Equity Liaison Committee as a vehicle to allow the local membership access to a large group of casters from the local theatre community. The auditions, now nicknamed "the Liaisons," have grown like gangbusters, and now attract theatres from other regions, as well as actors from New York, Chicago, and points beyond.

My usual function at these auditions is the all-important Sorting Of The Resumes. The actors arrive with 50 headshots, which must be gathered together with others in their group (7-9 actors audition in every half hour period) to be distributed to the auditors. It is a job for which I have volunteered for the past 6 years. I love checking out the various resumes and headshots (lots of color shots these days), and when I run across someone I know, I pop out to chat.

This year, however, I assumed the responsibility of "running the day," the phrase we have been using to classify the person in charge of the actors. It's a high stress job, funneling a couple of hundred nervous actors through the process. But I had a fun time, particularly on Tuesday, when the pressure was off me the actor. My own audition was on Monday.

Actors are not nearly as whacked out as you might think, at least stage actors aren't. We had very few weirdos to deal with, though I am still perplexed by one actor. "Eric" (not his real name. OK, it is his real name) took the time and effort to sign up for an audition slot, showed up for his audition, signed in, turned in his 50 pictures and resumes, then disappeared. He probably got the jitters, and was too embarrassed to tell any of the proctors that he was leaving. Instead, he simply bolted.

I can relate. These kinds of auditions can be nerve wracking (in fact, I find ALL auditions nerve wracking). I myself am not a very good auditioner, which, as you might suspect, has adversely affected my career. These days, I tend to get work in places I have worked before, rather than through a cold audition.

Auditions like the Liaisons require the actor to perform monologues of their own choosing. I find this a terrible burden for the actor. In a single time slot, one must choose pieces which contrast in tone and style, and be able to fully inhabit two (or more!) characters, in three minutes or less. I'm sure I have over a dozen monologues ready to go at any one time, as one needs a Classical Serious, Classical Comic, Contemporary Serious, Contemporary Comic, etc etc etc.

This year, I took a bit of a chance on my pieces. One, from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, was taken from my performance of the play last fall. It's always always always good to do a piece which one has already played in performance. It was a quick speech of about a minute's length, but I hope it showed me off in a different light (I am not usually seen as an earthy ranch hand).

My second selection was more dangerous. I spent many weeks prior to the audition in a state of flux, choosing one monologue, then another, then a third, but never being completely thrilled with any of them. Then, my great acting coach and friend Bobbi passed away, causing her to be in my mind a lot. It suddenly occurred to me to resurrect one of the pieces upon which I had worked with her all those years ago. Of course, all those pieces are meant to be played by an actor in his 20s or 30s, so that presented a bit of a problem. I am neither in my 20s nor 30s.

But I remembered a quiet little monologue we had worked on for a long while, from The Glass Menagerie. I usually would not pick such a well-known play for an audition such as this one, and the role is very much too young for me to play these days. (Sam Waterston played the role in the famous TV version starring Katherine Hepburn.) But the piece is described by its playwright as a "memory play," and one speech in particular, the final moment of the play, is clearly spoken a long time after the play's main action has concluded. I thought I could get away with it, with the spirit of Bobbi sitting on my shoulder.

We'll see if I did (get away with it). I had several compliments on the audition at the time, including a friend who confessed that, when I first announced The Glass Menagerie, he rolled his eyes, but I won him over. And I've received a call from one of the major theatres here in town, a theatre which has ignored me for a decade or so, for an audition there next week.

As for the Liaison Auditions themselves, I wish actors never had to go through such a death-defying experience. Pulling a few minutes out of a full length play and attempting to create something worthwhile, in front of 40 or so producers, directors, and casters, is a real mountain to climb.

I don't know why we do it.

Yes, I do. We have to.