It’s been just about long enough that I’ve recovered the energy to do a show again, and one of my favorite local directors is directing something that seems fun and has several roles I think I’d enjoy trying on, so Sunday and Monday I signed up and lined up for Manatee Players’ cattle call auditions. Which, I’ll admit, isn’t my favorite kind of audition setup.
Manatee’s having some extra growing pains, as well. Running shows in their two performing spaces, with only one on site rehearsal space also in use, there really isn’t any good time or place to hold callbacks except on the dark nights of Sunday and Monday. The result was a lot of juggling after the cattle call, as the common pool of folks called back for multiple shows were jumping between rooms all at the same time. I can’t imagine that did either actors or directors any favors when it came to trying to focus in and narrow down choices.
I’m lead to believe the cattle call scenario is relatively common in professional theatre, where multiple directors sit down to watch the same batch of auditioners, so that they can cast their shows from a larger, common talent pool. A fair number of my working actor friends, for example, have taken part in the auditions at SETC. I’m less than convinced of the wisdom of the practice in community theatre, however, for a variety of reasons.
Look, I’m on board with the idea that you want volunteer community performers to think professionally, insofar as I’m using that word to mean they’re going to be committed and responsible. Mickey and Judy never could have put together Busby Berkeley extravaganzas if all those wacky kids were just a bunch of flakes. However, this whole cattle call setup tends to take the idea a little further than it seems to me is really warranted.
Here’s the thing: professional cattle call auditions are held for a bunch of working or want-to-be-working actors. They’re often there not just for specific shows, but to, you know, get a job. As such, it’s a little easier to cherry pick from the bunch, since no matter what show is involved, it’s another resume credit as well as bill-paying money.
I don’t think the same applies as widely in community theatre. The actors, for one thing, aren’t getting paid.1 Or, rather, their compensation is of a much more ephemeral nature. Some folks don’t mind what show they’re doing so long as they’re doing something, but most people, especially around here where there are so many shows going on simultaneously, are auditioning for a specific show because that’s the one they want to spend their time on. That’s the one they think will net out the emotional dividends with which they’re paying off the creditors: exhaustion and muscle aches and vocal trouble and communal illness.
Certainly there are times when a director might entice someone who was interested in one show to sign on with another, but in general, people have an expressed interest when they show up, and without the A Chorus Line “oh god, I neeed this job!” motivation, they aren’t especially likely to jump across.
The result for directors in this case is sitting through a bunch of auditions by performers who have no interest (and, depending on the mix of shows, are objectively wrong for) their shows. And even if they happen to be right for another show, you’re fighting against a strong disinterest with little in the way of incentive.
Actors, meanwhile, trudge through longer lines and waits, mixed in as they are with people who normally wouldn’t be in line for each other’s auditions. Then there’s often that awkward movement audition (thankfully absent this last time), which is usually just as under-serving of any choreographers, who either have to add in dance styles which don’t mesh, or come up with something so generic that it gives little indication other than “these people can keep a beat, now let’s have a second dance callback.”
It’s a frustrating bit of muddle, which leads just as often to unintended awkwardness as it does to epiphanous casting. I remember one cattle call where the director of one of the shows I wasn’t interested in actually heckled me from the audience: “What are you going to do if you don’t get the show you want?”
My answer at the time was, “Catch up on sleep.” Which was both true and seemed the most politic. But I remember feeling unnecessarily embarrassed for both of us. I wondered: would I be getting a harassing phone call at home if the theatre hadn’t mixed the auditions in the first place, and I had simply never come to her audition? Doubtful. But the melting pot philosophy forced a much more direct assertion of disinterest on my part, and the result wasn’t fun for either of us.
1. I’m speaking in general. Most of us know there are ringers pulling paychecks in our area community theatre. We’re just not supposed to talk about it, because that, too, is “professional.” In any case, the majority of us are doing it for free, so the point is still valid for this particular nattering.↩