Friday, October 19, 2007

what's my motivation here?

I auditioned for a play last weekend. Because I have all this spare time and everything, like school and work and attempts to have somewhat of a life simply aren't fulfilling enough.

In all seriousness, I auditioned because I love, love, love the playwright's work and because the structure of the play would actually work fine with my insane schedule. And even though I'm ridiculously busy these days, it's within very structured contexts. The things I'm filling the days with don't leave a lot of room for freedom of conversation. It's either diplomatic history or advising students or practicing basic, flubbing, present-tense German. There are only so many times one can ask Gerhardt for a stadtplan before one craves verbal sparring, the freedom to move unrestricted to new ideas and topics. Ironically enough, the context of a play allows actors to do just that. Even though lines are written and mush be read, there's a tremendous freedom in trying on someone else's identity, however fleeting the moment is. It involves give and take with another person, a discussion of motivation, of quickly asking the kinds of questions people typically take lifetimes to address: why do I do the things I do? Why do I say the things I say? What do I want here? Why can't I see the obvious?

So I auditioned, and the director liked me, and said she had me in mind for one part. It wasn't at all the part I'd seen myself playing, but I was flattered by her attention and appreciated the challenge to try something new. Here's where it gets weird.

Because I'd only attended the callback and not the initial audition, the director wanted to see me read again. She said she like what she saw and that I had good chemistry with the lead actor, but she wanted to see how I responded to direction. Could I read for her again? And could I scrounge up a guy friend to read opposite?

This was strange. A good actor should be able to read lines opposite a monotone casting director and still make their character work. Recruiting a random guy, a non-actor, to read opposite struck me as really weird. Yes, it's a play about relationships, but if all she was testing was how well I responded to direction, why the need to read opposite a non-actor guy, especially since she already had the actor cast?

But I was flattered to be asked to read again and loved the material, so I told her I'd do it. My wonderful friend G agreed to be "the guy" after I bribed him with the offer of beer afterwards, and we met the director on Wednesday night to read some lines. Here's where it gets very weird.

The director had a very specific vision in mind for the character. So specific, in fact, that after G and I had read maybe ten lines, she stopped us and acted out the scene the way she wanted to see it done. Poor G, he had no idea that when I asked him to do me this favor he'd end up in a tiny basement piano room with a strange 40-year-old woman screaming "why didn't you love me enough?!" in his face.

You actors out there will support me when I say that this is strange. Acting isn't like dancing, where the choreographer will show a dancer exactly how a particular move should be executed and then the dancer imitates it. If actors are imitating the way a line is read or a gesture is made, it's just caricature. For a character to be believable to an audience, the actor has to organically make it her own. A director tells an actor where to take their interpretation, to make it more intense or quick or vulnerable, but acting is not supposed to be flat imitation. Of course I am going to have a different spin on this character than this director who is much older and blonder and shorter than me. Either of our interpretations could be valid, but she's the director and so hers is the one she's going with. Just don't try to shoehorn an actor into something that is not a good fit. Yes, it's the actor's job to fulfill the director's vision. But if the actor isn't going to fill that vision, flat imitation is not the way to go.

Maybe she liked me and didn't want to hurt my feelings, but shit, actors have to have thick skins. Back when I still thought I might someday do this for real (a looooong time ago) I had directors tell me I was too tall, too fat, too aggressive, not aggressive enough, that I should consider a nose job if I was serious about ever acting professionally, that I blinked too much, that I was never going to be an ingenue but wasn't "unique" enough to be a character actor. And those are just the ones I remember.

It sounds brutal, but was actually terrific. It taught me an incredibly valuable lesson: that rejection will happen, and it will usually happen for reasons beyond your immediate control. Because it's a rejection not of you, but of you for a specific part, you can't take it personally when someone says "you're not right for this." There are always other opportunities out there, especially when you just act as a hobby and happily pay the bills with something else.

After I'd caved and imitated her line-reading, she thanked me profusely while hedging her bets. She said she loved me, just loved what I did, that I was lovely on stage and had a lovely way about me, but she still wasn't sure and wanted another day to think about it. I knew right then that I wasn't going to get this part, and, more importantly, that I didn't want it anymore.

So when she called this morning, I wasn't at all surprised when she said she wasn't going to offer it to me. I was surprised, however, when she outlined her plan. "I'm going to audition a few more people," she said, "and then if none of them work out, go back to my list of a few favorites, of which you're at the top. So could you maybe hold your schedule for the next few weeks?" It was basically the theater equivalent of telling someone after a few dates that you're not really into them, but could you put them on the back burner while you see if you can get anyone hotter?

I told her thanks, but no thanks, that I had holiday travel and a spring semester to plan and couldn't wait for her decision. I'm pretty glad it worked out this way, because I'm clearly not what she's looking for. This would have been an amazing part to play, and I loved all the ideas I had bouncing around my head for it. The dialogue is so meaty that the actors can practically chew on it, and I really did have great chemistry with the lead actor and am bummed that now I won't get to work with him. But it would have killed me to not be able to use my ideas for the character and instead try to imitate the director's vision, which was clearly such a bad fit for me.

And honestly, I'm a little ticked that she got my hopes up when all along she was completely unwilling to be open to something new. If she'd just told me I was too fat, I'd probably have warmer feelings towards her now.

And people wonder why actors are insane.


weered1 said...

Wow that's AWFUL. I'm dying to know who the director is so I can stay far, far away!

I-66 said...

In my long-past acting career, I never experienced anything like that. There maybe was a bit of prodding, "a little more" this, and "a little less that", but never "do this exactly this way"... terribly odd.

Anonymous said...

See? You should have done "Anything Goes" with me. :-)

Not very professional of her to string you along--methinks you dodged a mighty large bullet.

Lunch soon, please!!!

Kristin said...

I'm tired just reading about it. It sounds so draining!

SAS said...

Was this a professional theater company or in an academic setting? Hmmm.

EJ Takes Life said...

It was a community theater, but a company that a fair amount of Equity actors work with between paying jobs. That made the lack of professionalism here even weirder.