Maybe I’m just too sensitive. Maybe it’s a function of operating inside a tiny bubble of an already tiny artistic sphere. But I’m pretty sure I have no concept of what “quality” means when it comes to choosing people for auditions.
Or alternately, and perhaps better, put: as I sit here looking through the 230 or so submissions for Shakespeare in Clark Park this summer I’m feeling rather tired. It’s all a bit overwhelming and mostly, I wish I didn’t have to see them. I wish I could just ensure the people I personally know will get through and then hand the whole business of value sorting off to someone else.
I won’t do that, largely because I think that it’s important for me to see all those faces. I suppose I feel like I ought to know what the decisions I make will mean to the many people who won’t carry on with me. I also want to look at them. I want to know these people who are two pages of potential attached to each email.
My problem is that I don’t have faith in this system to evaluate worth. I admit that I can look at a page and tell “professional experience”. I know what different theaters in town indicate and the kinds of “talent” they can demand. I know how to spot if the person will come in knowing a bit about the process that I use compared to the standard regional model. But it’s important to note that knowing these things is different than knowing the artist’s value and quite possibly unrelated to their potential.
One of the luxuries of being a deviser is that I don’t do the audition thing very often. When I do them at all it’s much more of a “let’s all hang out for a few hours and see how this goes – are you interested in me and vice versa, are we the right match at this time and place, etc” kind of thing. When I ask people in, I’m trying to see if the piece could grow from and through them, since they are the ones who will be helping me create it.
What I am totally unused to, what I feel so unprepared for, is the much more standard style of audition. This is one of those things that is so omnipresent and really weirds me out about “play play” theater. The idea that I could in any meaningful way assess collaboration in 3 minutes seems absurd. It feels like what it’s possible to see and know is so little of what I actually need from a fellow artist. But it’s done all the time. And no one else seems to think it’s so weird and reductive.
So like I said, maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe I need to suck it up and just separate the wheat from the chaff.
But then I think about some of the people I have met and created with and love, love, loved. I think about the people I met when I had nothing like 230 choices, when what I had were the 10 people that showed up that day. I think about the times I had never met someone before and just said “Yes, I will make work with you.” These people are the ones I come back to again and again.
Could I simply have been astronomically lucky? Is it possible that I just happened to find the best ones almost every time? How did I know to use so many of these people, many of whom are not “good on paper?” People who came to me by chance and without qualifications. Creators I didn’t know I needed and yet now are my artistic family.
What if I had sorted them out of the pile?
I had the experience a few years back of watching a performer I love as she auditioned in a cattle call setting. She came in with her headshot and resume and did her 3 minutes in front of a room full of people. Her resume was neither particularly impressive nor red flag inducing. There were parts of her monologue that were funny and interesting. There were sections that were uninteresting and cliché in context of the many many others we’d seen. She was a neutral note in a long and unending afternoon of people.
The actress I know is wild and idiosyncratic and extraordinary. She is full of punk and funk and spirit. She has a penchant for sequins and stories about worms. She can take strangeness and difference to an ecstatic artistry that flips it in into a confident dominance. She is sharp and platinum and makes me laugh incredibly hard.
But for a moment I saw her as my fellow auditioners did, and I was struck by how much of her they would miss. That they wouldn’t know why she inspired me to create a seething, writhing, sexy Darling Nikki in Purr, Pull, Reign in 2009 or understand the laughter she could elicit in leading a group improvisation. That they, as I did for that moment, saw her only in the frame of a headshot and resume, both of which made her seem so small.
Amanda Damron (if you hadn’t already guessed) will likely forgive me if I say publicly that she is much bigger than these things can show. And seeing how much of her didn’t come through, how much I wanted all of them to see all of the things I knew were hiding, I kept thinking about all those people that I’d already seen and how much of them I must be missing. That this headshot in front of me could be a marathoner throwing a football pass and I was grading them on a scale that totally misses their potential strengths.
If I were a director that had a preconceived world I needed to slot the best Miranda or Antonio into then maybe it’d be useful. But I just don’t direct that way. I don’t know how to “cast” a show. I have often wished I could, but alas, I just don’t. Instead I find a group of people that are interested in tackling a creative problem with me and through our combined searching, something will come into being.
I see these people and the possibility of a work that could come from the uniquenesses of them. And every time, a new world begins to open up before me. Each potential person who I might collaborate with is a force that will push and pull the vision towards something new. So when I look at every one of these 230 beautiful faces, I must imagine a new version of the piece. The instinct I’ve honed is to grab onto these unspooling threads and start to weave them. It is tiring to try and decide so early whether they need to be cut. There are 150 or so I will have to cleave off before I even meet them, before I have the chance to test the alchemy of elements myself and this person might make in a room together.
It feels like an absurd thing to try and do well. And I am left feeling hopelessly incapable of the task.
In the end, there are methods one uses. There are patterns that you must make assumptions from. If a person has never worked outside of a college. If their experience is limited to theaters that are not “professional.” It’s the clearest line to draw. It feels at least a little bit fairer, whatever that means.
It’s not really making it any easier. I don’t know if it’s making it any better. But at this moment, I’m not sure what else to do…