In theatre shows, actors seem to fit their part perfectly, inspiring meaningful conversations through complex portrayals of characters. However, what audiences don’t see is the selective casting process, involving careful consideration, that leads to a polished performance.
On September 12 and 13, 35 students auditioned for seven roles in the contemporary and serial comic play, Clybourne Park which focuses on racial tension in Chicago in 1959 and 2009. Auditions for Fly By Night, another Theatre Ink production, happened at the same time and the directors of both shows pulled from the same pool of actors.
Spanish teacher Dan Fabrizio, who is directing Clybourne Park, explained that the first time a play comes to life is when he casts the actors.
He said, “In general, the first steps of the show are so theoretical. I can finally start to see the show in front of me when the actors show up and audition.”
During auditions, students performed a one-and-a-half minute monologue for Fabrizio and theatre department head Adam Brown. Later, during callbacks, students in pairs acted out a scene from the role they were called back for. Fabrizio was looking for actors who could be serious and dramatic.
Students received comments at the end of their audition and re-performed their monologue with the feedback in mind. According to Fabrizio, “Because Theatre Ink is a working and a learning theatre, we’re not looking for someone who is ready tomorrow. We’re looking for someone who we can see being ready in a month-and-a-half by the time the show goes up.”
According to Fabrizio, Theatre Ink shows are traditionally colorblind, but the focus on black and white tensions in the show made it appropriate for race-aware casting. He explained that he didn’t want to “whitewash latinos or Asians” because the “white characters identified so clearly as white.”
Fabrizio said the “opportunistic” casting, which means they cast for two shows at once, made him feel better about his show’s “race-aware” casting because Fly By Night roles were open to all.
Junior Anna Jones, who auditioned for Fly By Night, said “My friends and I were excited that we were going to tell different stories and give a direct opportunity to black students to tell their stories.” However, she added, “Obviously, it is a little frustrating and I can see how other people and other minorities are frustrated that there’s no place for them.”
According to Jones, the packet given out at the interest meeting said that students of mixed race could audition as the race they most identified with.
As someone who is mixed race, she said, “If I had auditioned I would have said that I would only take black roles, so I think it really depends on the person. If you feel really good about your identities, and you feel really strongly to both of them maybe you’re like ‘either way I don’t care.’”
Regardless of race, many actors were nervous about auditions.
Senior Maya Gomberg, who was cast as Bev in Act I and Kathy in Act II of Clybourne Park, chose to audition with a monologue from the play “A Good Mother,” about a girl who turns 18 and wants her “helicopter” mother to allow her to be an independent woman. Although this play will be her tenth show with Theatre Ink, Gomberg said she still felt nervous about auditioning.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get nervous for auditions because the mindframe you should try to be in is this is my chance to do what I love and act and show off what I can do,” said Gomberg. “At the same time it does have high stakes. If I don’t get into something, I don’t get to be in any theatrical thing until November when the big musical starts.”
She added although Theatre Ink can be inclusive when you’re cast in a show “If you’re not in shows, there is a wall. I’m on the inside of that wall. I‘ve gotten into a lot of shows, but I know friends who are sort of outsiders because they can’t get in.”
Senior Abby Strayer, who will play Betsy in Act I and Lindsey in Act II of Clybourne Park, explained her strategy for auditions: “I read the script beforehand, so I had a feel for the play, and I chose a monologue that I thought would fit the view of the play. I chose one from a woman on the verge of a mental break down. ”
Students who were apprehensive for auditions were given the opportunity to receive feedback on their monologues at a workshop on Sep. 11 from Brown and prospective auditioners.
Junior Achille Ricca, who attended the workshop and will play Albert in Act I and Kevin in Act II of Clybourne Park, said, “It was really helpful talking about the range of emotion because sometimes I have a problem with being afraid of overacting, so I under act. When they said ‘you need to pull back here more, just go for it here’, it just helps me get out of my own head.”
The show cast four first time Theatre Ink actors including two freshmen, Max Goodwin and Zander Gilmartin. According to Fabrizio, Theatre Ink doesn’t take into account seniority or prior casting.
Goodwin explained that casting without seniority, “allows for not just really talented seniors for example senior Jonathan Champion to get into every show as the lead. Occasionally, the roles can go to other people.”
“What I really love is that when actors get cast or don’t get cast, we encourage them to reach out for feedback,” said Fabrizio. “One of the first things I say when they get feedback is don’t think this is a comment on your acting ability. This is commentary on whether or not you’re right for this role.”
Junior Rene Miller, who auditioned for Clybourne Park and Fly By Night and will play the fortune teller in Fly by Night, said, “Audition for everything if you have a little bit of an inkling that you want to audition but you’re not sure. Just do it. When I got here, I was so nervous, but now I feel comfortable, and I feel I can learn from people and have a good time. If you ever want to do a show just do it. Don’t think twice about it.”
This is the first of a series of articles, following the process of a Theatre Ink show, with a focus on behind-the-scenes of “Clybourne Park.”