I ran into a friend of mine at auditions last week. He and I are fairly similar, middle aged (our birthdays are a month apart, in fact), fairly geeky, character actor types. We are also both quite obviously Caucasian – which in a perfect world wouldn’t mean much of anything to anybody, but is an important detail to remember in the tale I am going to relate.
Being a good Shakespeare lover like me, my friend scanned the EPA listings one day a few months ago, and saw auditions posted for the Central Park production of Much Ado About Nothing. He happily signed up, and happily prepared his Elizabethan comedic monologue, secure in the knowledge that Much Ado contains enough male character parts to make the effort worthwhile. He made his way to the Actors Equity office the day of the audition center, only to find, to his surprise, that the waiting room was rather sparsely populated – ordinarily, Shakespeare calls for the Public Theatre are swamped with hopefuls. He evidently didn’t pay much attention to the actors who were in the waiting room, because it wasn’t until he checked the breakdown posted at the monitor’s table that he realized the reason for the call’s comparative low attendance – a reason which should, by now, be obvious to my readers here in New York City, now that the production in question has started previews.
This summer’s Central Park production of Much Ado About Nothing has been conceived and directed for a company of African-American actors.
My friend had made an honest mistake – he hadn’t read the breakdown in detail when he saw the audition posting online, and didn’t realize his error until he was at the audition. And in relating the story to me, months after the fact, he was well aware of how absurd and comical it was. In listening to him, however, I couldn’t help thinking of all the actors who would never see the humor of this moment, but would instead try and crash this rehearsal room for real.
And I’m not referring to the sort of knuckleheads who, hearing about a production like this, might wonder “why can’t there be an all-white Much Ado About Nothing, huh? Huh?” Thankfully, this sort of thing seems to be more the province of particularly clueless chatrooms about theater, and is less likely to be encountered in actual theater with actual, functioning theater people. (Seriously, if you ever find yourself thinking things like this, stop. Stop this crap right now.) No, I’m referring to all the coaches, acting-as-a-business books, and other sources of advice telling actors that they should audition for absolutely everything, regardless of what’s been specified in the breakdown.
In the words of Michael Shurtleff’s Audition: “Always go to audition for everything, if they allow you, even if you think you’re wrong for it.” (p. 15) It’s classic advice – but it only considers things from the plucky actor’s point of view, not the needs of the production. By this logic, my friend was perfectly justified in going to an audition that was completely wrong for him. Which is why, of course, this advice is completely illogical. It’s a relic from a different time, when there were far more productions taking place with a far smaller pool of actors available to fill those roles. But today? Please, don’t follow this advice. Everybody’s time is far too precious to waste in this way.
All of which reminds me – I really need to go see that Much Ado production while it’s still running.