Letters to Holly

Monday, March 12

Verily, Yon Auditons Hath Cleft Mine Spirits.

We arrived at the Montford Center Friday night at 7. This is a youth community building with a gym and climbing wall and rooms apparently used for art classes. It feels a lot like a high school building, complete with similar bathrooms and flooring. It's meant to keep the kids off the streets, and the Montford Players were using the ceramics room for the auditions.

There were four tables set up. The director and company poobahs are seated at the far tables, and another has the reading copies. The first table was for application forms, asking for all the personal stuff and affirming rehearsal and performance dates and the possibility of hold-over performances. These sheets ask you to tell of any conflicts and which parts you want to read for. I walked in confident that I shouldn't even read for Romeo. I'm 34. I have gray temples. I do not look like a 14-year-old Italian, and I was sure every college-age kid with a 12th-grade reading level would try for that part. Romeo's the lead. He's the hero (kinda). He gets to smooch the heroine. I write down the name of every male role except Romeo. I wanted to try for the running buddies (Benvolio or Mercutio), the enemies (Tybalt, Paris, Lord Capulet) and the older men (the friar, the Prince). If I had to pick just one part, it's Mercutio. He's a smartass, a bon vivant, and a haughty fighter.

So what part am I given to read first? Romeo. OF COURSE. The director assigned pairs to read and sent us out to read in the hall to prepare. This is the kind of audition I'm used to. Your Sis told the director she can't work the play dates but would love to read against potentials. He agreed, and she was tickled to do it. We both stood in the hall, half whispering our lines to our partners. My partner and I switched off the roles to cover our bases. We went back in after getting a handle on the scene and watched as the director called up the pairs for readings.

This is her first -ever audition, and she's nervous even though she isn't trying for a part. She doesn't know what the common understood protocol is, and she gets a little frustrated with me when I tell her I don't know what these guys will expect us to do. And I don't. Every company is different in how they do this stuff, and all one can do is read the best they can at a moment's notice. Get your breath, talk loudly, stand up straight so they can see your face as you read, and don't worry about physical acting.

A trap of William's plays is what I call "acting Shakespeare." We're so conditioned to see people portraying deadly earnestness and enunciated solemnity with his works. And if you don't know the play well, you wind up sounding like Jon Lovitz's Master Thespian. "I SHALL EV'R BESTRIDE YON COUPL'D BLAHBLAHBLAH (throw you chin high, stretch your arm forward, eyes wide open)." And that's what happened to the Juliets. Almost all of them project the role with a thorough dirth of mirth no matter what scene they read. Your Sis enjoyed reading Lady Cauplet against them, but she didn't get much to work with. They weren't relishing the puns or the utter horniness of the character.

In my scene, Romeo is dismayed because Rosaline, his first crush, won't give it up. Benvolio tries to console him. Now, it's a chunky scene for Romeo. He has longish whines about reality and love and chastity and death. I decided not to read it as one-note as it could have ben. Romeo carries the scene; he can't be monotone and he shouldn't be maxed out in his sadness. He's gotta bring the heavy despair later. Also, I think this crush is based purely on lust, and when he sees Juliet, he falls truly in love, so his emotions for Rosaline also can't be shown at their height. He has to have something more to show when he meets Juliet. So I played it somewhat for laughs. Two buddies are talking about girls. And the scene isn't written as dour as one might play it. Romeo jokes with his pal in a sarcastic way. I do get some laughs, even when we switch and I read Benvolio.

A funny thing happened during the auditions. The pairs read their assigned parts and then switched roles. Everyone was also compelled to also trade standing places. It's silly and it's needless, but it's instinct. If I was going to then read that guy's part, I needed to be where he was standing. Everyone did it.

The majority of the two hours was given to the Juliets, and I spent that time reading the other scenes and preparing my inflections. Two possible Romeos really looked the part, but I didn't paying much attention to them as I was reading the scripts. I didn't need to size up the competition; I wasn't getting Romeo. I was finally assigned another scene, this one featuring Mercutio and Benvolio. Mercutio tells his buddy that the latter's moody and eager to argue. Benvolio shrugs it off. This is two friends talking shit to each other, and it's a funny scene. We partner up, read in the hall, trade roles a few times, and go back in. When we read, we get good responses and a few laughs.

The allotted audition time flew by, and I didn't get to read all the parts I wanted to (Mercutio has a killer monologue outside Romeo's bedroom, the Prince goes Godfather on the two families, and Paris has no idea Juliet is insulting him), but we're all encouraged to come back this weekend for more audition time. I felt really good about this as we left. We go to a local dessert bar to exchange notes. She feels she didn't give the director what he asked for in Lady Cauplet, and I agree but add that I think he wanted her to play a blithe airhead. The part, however, doesn't read that way. Lady Capulet is her husband, and in that scene, they want Romeo's blood for killing Tybalt. This is the first time she's seen me audition or read Shakespeare allowed and she thought I hit the marks. From someone like her who can quote the play like a revival preacher can quote the Bible, I take it as a big compliment.

And, hey, if I don't get a role, my hot wife and I spent the evening acting some Shakespeare followed by big slices of cake. That's a good date.

Sunday's rehearsal
started OK. I read the Tybalt scene with Lord Capulet, and while I don't think I gave the director quite the level of ten hate he wanted, I think I hit the marks. I nailed the Paris scene with the friar. I mean, I hit a home run there.

But then walked in a guy from the previous summer's Tempest. He played Ariel. He's young. He apparently loves Jim Carrey. And his friend loves Will Farrell. And they proceeded to act the Romeo/Benvolio and Mercutio/Benvolio scenes as if they were Dane goddman Cook. Mercutio has a solo bit where he mocks Romeo while trying to roust him out of bed. It's a funny bit, one I wanted to do Friday night. But these guys hit ithe scene like it owes them money. It's antic, it's loud (the second guy screamed Romeo's name at the top of his lungs and held it), and all their humor has not one atom to do with the material. They not only don't work the puns, they run past the lines without getting the words right. And the director is loving it. I finally get my chance to do the Mercutio scene, but it's right after them. I'm trying to work the script instead of playing it like Chris Farley's motivational speaker, and it gets nothing from them.

Then he tells them to work Romeo's play entrance so broadly and mopey that the audience would, in his words, want slap him. This is the first impression he wants us to have of Romeo. And so they play it that way, but in doing so, they make the two-minute scene twice as long. It's ham fisted. It's vaudeville. It's -- you know what it is? It's Shatner. They play Romeo like they're impersonating Shatner. This is not the right scene for this kind of humor. That comes later.

I'm not jealous of their apparent success of cracking up the director. I'm mad that we didn't get such direction Friday. I know Shakespeare humor appeals to the simplest and lowest denominator. It should work on such a level. But wit is involved in these lines, and wit is ignored by that style.

I also get to read the friar's role in the scene with Paris, and I think I did OK there. But I worked against an actress who sits down in every reading. When she plays Juliet, she sits in dismay. In another scene, she sits in surrender. When she later plays Romeo, she sits in sadness. This is her thing. She acts with her ass.

The director constantly told us all not to worry about movement, and yet these kids were everywhere with slapstick, and one guy, I swear to God, ended his scene by clopping his heels together in midair when his character is supposed to start a street fight. I'm working against fucking pixies.

Do I sound like Dana Carvey's Cranky Old Man ("In my day, we ate gravel for grits. AND WE LIKED IT!")? I don't want to sound indignant. I'm, well, I'm flabbergasted at the turn the play took with these auditions, and frankly I have no idea if I have a place in the production. I was there for three hours, and I left exhausted. I feel just like I did after the second Gooper audition. I'm drained and doubtful I helped my cause.

There was one weird moment when an older guy came in to read for the prince. The director hands him the Act One monologue, and the actor says instead, he wants to recite what he's prepared: the Act Five prince speech memorized, apparently from the late '60s R&J film. And he does, and he sits back down, and he says not one more word. So, hey, I'm not that guy. I did try to give the director what he asked for. I just got eclipsed by a comedy team.

We'll supposedly find out Thursday what parts we're cast.

We saw 300 that night, and it's a solid adaptation of the comic and a mas macho film. This is a hard-R movie, and the packed audience was into it. Also, it has a great ending-credits sequence.

Picture of the Day


Anonymous said...

thanks for the weekend update. i'll hold my breath 'til thursday, until the parts are cast...but, would you really even want to be in the play if it goes in the direction of complete camp-- with the pixies and comedy central devotees?

Gregory said...

It depends.

Paris, for instance, is a part with drier wit. He's the default villain of the piece, but he's not rally a bad guy. He seems to genuinely love Juliet. I could do that part without having to be so broad. Unless the director decides to make him a fop.

And part of me thinks that the long wait between audtions and callbacks provides a lot of consideration to weigh direction. What worked on Sunday may not seem as strong on Tuesday. It's totally up in the air.

But I wanna do Shakespeare badly. And I want to have an onstage sword fight. This is my best shot for both.