Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Casting Games

I haven’t linked to them explicitly before now but John Porter’s reviews of “[title of show]” and “Bloody Murder” were both posted relatively recently. For that matter, I didn’t link to the T-D review of “Murder” either – click here for Ms. Lewis’s take.

When the Barksdale “Signature Season” announcement came out a couple of weeks ago, one of the entries was listed as “rights pending.” Apparently, the rights for “God of Carnage” have come through and so now it’s their official “Acts of Faith” entry for next year, definitely an exciting development.

One of the fun things about season announcements has always been playing the casting guessing game. I know when word first started circulating that Barksdale was doing “Spring Awakening,” the speculation among “SA” devotees (e.g., my lovely wife) about who in town could / should play each part began in earnest. Now the same thing can happen with “God of Carnage.” The stars who originated the lead roles on Broadway definitely put distinctive stamps on them, making it hard for me to immediately plug local actors into each slot. It’s also interesting that the roles in this show have sometimes been swapped by the leads in each gender before so perhaps the specific person is not as important as someone who is just a damn good actor. Hmm.

The Barksdale shows aren’t the only ones that lend themselves to this game (“My Fair Lady” being precast took that one out of the running). Firehouse’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” certainly was rife for speculation (though not anymore since casting has been finalized). I’m still fascinated by thoughts of who among the extremely talented local youngsters will be tapped for Triangle Players’ “Stupid Kids.” Certainly, someone of substantial skill will need to play Shylock in Henley Street’s “Merchant of Venice.” Sycamore Rouge’s “Topdog / Underdog” should spark some intense competition for the two leads. And even Theatre IV’s season generates conjecture: who, for instance, would be appropriate to step into the shoes – or webbed feet, as it were – of either Frog or Toad?

This kind of casting conjecture happens all the time for movies: anyone remember the strum and drang over the casting of the "Twilight" leads? Similar anticipation followed the announcement of an American adaptation of the "Dragon Tattoo" series. More recently, the producers of "The Hunger Games" got a lot of press for their decision to make Jennifer Lawrence their Catniss (an excellent choice, IMHO). The final decisions are always the director’s, of course. But even so, it’s fun to imagine who might be perfect for a specific role. Anyone out there want to offer up your thoughts for upcoming Richmond shows? You'll probably have a better chance guessing who'll be Richmond's Stinky Cheese Man than Hollywood's Lisbeth Salander.


debra wagoner said...

I always enjoy thinking about who might play certain roles in shows that are coming up. THINKING be the operative word. I can't imagine who'd feel comfortable throwing out names of Richmond actors...thinking of the potential hurt feelings, bruised egos or what have you. All the--- Why didn't you mention so and so? And-- Why is so and so never considered? And the often said-- So and so is going to get . He/she gets everything. And no, I'm not talking about everybody. Of course not every single person who reads this blog feels that way. But why borrow trouble? Hell, I probably just did, by posting this comment. But back to the Casting Games, I'll keep my thoughts out of print, and we'll see what happens....

Anonymous said...

Amen to Debra's post!

Anonymous said...

I have to completely agree with Debra. I felt the original post was a bit juvenile to be honest. I feel playing the casting game should be left to the directors who hopefully keep the audiences before friends in mind and cast who is best. Then the shows are reviewed objectively and not influenced by who might run out to be friendly after a show for i.e. and what have you. This obviously is just personal feelings and observations but I do feel it's important we shift our focus back to the audience who is paying to see quality professional theatre.

Dave T said...

Juvenile? Hm. OK, well, I can accept that. I've had at least 3 separate conversations over the past few weeks involving speculation about who might land different roles in upcoming productions. Since the commmon denominator in each was me, it's possible I'm the juvenile one. But it's also possible that people like to speculate. As I mentioned in my post, it happens like crazy in Hollywood, why wouldn't it happen here?

But as Debra astutely points out, few if any people in "the community" would be comfortable putting that kind of speculation out in a public forum. I was stupid to think anyone would.

Jacquie O. said...

Hey Dave - Henley is also casting young actors (age 12 to 21) for Lord of the Flies - which will be a part of Acts of Faith and Minds Wide Open - Children in the Arts. We are so excited about the possibilities - there are so many wonderful and talented kids in Richmond! Auditions are June 11th and 12th. Josh Chenard is directing (he is also directing RTP's Suddenly Last Summer in the fall.) Anyone who is intersted can call the HSTC box office for more info at 340-0115.

Frank Creasy said...

Privately though (over beers at local theatre watering holes), we most DEFINITELY play the casting game! Discussions go to what roles we're auditioning for, who else would be a good fit, etc. It's good fun and a good release because you know, as an actor (even in Richmond) that the odds aren't often with you. A great audition doesn't guarantee you anything more than a positive impression in a director's mind, possibly for a future role if you're not chosen for the one you hoped to get NOW. Hey, most of us have read Michael Shurtleff's great book "Audition", and learned how Dustin Hoffman auditioned for (but did not get) a role in a musical - but later, his great (supposedly FAILED) audition earned him a crack at the lead in "The Graduate", when the producers were looking for a "Jimmy Stewart type". Short, Jewish Hoffman won the role through his screen test, against all odds - a chance he got because he did NOT get a role in a theatrical musical!

Oh well, I digressed...but anyway, no, it "wouldn't be prudent at this juncture" (Dana Carvey as Bush I) to publicly guess on upcoming casting decisions. But I'll buy you a round Dave if you want to talk it over at more length offline!

Anonymous said...

clearly i need a good screen name. and need to register for this site. i do not do anonymous postings on blogs becuase it seems unfair, so this is chris hester. Hi everyone!

i do love the idea of the casting game. i have already started thinking about who would be great for a show and what i may like for myself.

i agree with debra that posting anything like this in a public forum is inviting some sort of trouble (right here in river city, with a capital T and that rhymes with P... wow , i just digressed), but i do love this time of year to hear who is interested in what and what is interested in who (if you followed me there).

for the record, i think debra should totally rock out the leah michelle role in Spring Awakening. frank should play both frog and toad (with a split costume down the middle) and JOC should easily be the hands on favorite for the role of the porter in The Liar.

personally, i think i would be a darn good pick for Blanche duBouis (oh wait, no one is doing that).

in all seriousness, it is an exciting time for all richmond actors, directors, crew, and the companies. it makes me excited. i think that is the heart of what Mr. T is really getting at. it is a fun time for all before the madness begins.

like frank, i have my choices for people. oddly, they never seem to pan out the way i think, which is why i am not a director. :)

Wanda said...

I'm probably a naysayer in the following department, but I think it is a slap in the face to the talented acting community now that Barksdale/Theatre IV has felt the need to start pre-casting all its shows, and bringing in Broadway names just to sell tickets. Now the casting game includes "Well, what roles are going to be cast by people with Broadway credits?", and "Well, I can't audition for the role, because surely they're going to use an out-of-towner, and I don't stand a chance."

Non of the blue-haired ladies who buy subscriptions know who Jeff McCarthy is (with all due respect to Mr. McCarthy, who is a very talented man, and will be great in the role) - the only people who know who he is are the theater aficionados who follow Broadway news regularly, and that tends to be the under 40 crowd. Some of the roles that were cast in recent productions could very well have been played by Richmond's own talented community pool, and those people were overlooked because they didn't have the word "Broadway" attached to their name. And people wonder why Richmond actors who are supposedly "so well loved" leave town to pursue acting in other places - it's because they're being pushed out and overlooked. And I think that's a real shame.

I wish no ill towards Barksdale or any theater that has to pre-cast or use a "name" as a gimmick to sell tickets (desperate times call for desperate measures) - I am an actor on the stage, and a patron who has bought tickets and supported the arts community financially. But I also speak the truth, and I think this bit of PR just to make money will have much more dire effects in the long run, especially for those people who have served the community for so long, worked their way up, played bit parts in the chorus, and deserve a shot at something just a little better. Absolutely talent counts, and you should have fantastic actors/singers/dancers/whatever playing the roles you want them to play - but when the talent is growing in your own backyard, do not go to the supermarket and buy fresh fruit.

Again, love, love, LOVE to this community of amazing people. But please don't forget your own when casting, Richmond.

Jacquie O. said...

Chris - Although I think that I would be perfect as the porter in The Liar, I am already precast as the Fly in Lord of the Flies. And Jill Bari is going to star as the Pigs Head. I see RTCC nominations in our futures!

Frank Creasy said...

Chris - I hear you on the directing gig thing man...acting is work but it's an absolute blast as well, and directing just strikes me as, well...WORK. Like you, I have a day job and that's enough "Work-work", thank you! But thanks for the plug. And you would TOTALLY rock as Blanche!

Wanda - I understand your concerns, and thank goodness Richmond has such a great talent pool. I'm not too inclined myself to second guess my friends running any theatre companies...they have to deal with both the business and artistic side of things, and that's a hard balance to strike. But having had NO conversations with Bruce, Phil or any other artistic or managing directors about why they choose who they cast (sometimes others over me, sometimes me over others, which is the name of the game), what I DO see is out of town touring "Broadway" productions coming and taking ticket-buying folks away from local productions. Our local directors have to compete with that, often against bigger budget shows fully cast with folks NO ONE in Richmond has ever heard of, all while local companies struggle just to survive. If I was a local artistic director (and unless you're one of 'em, it's easy enough to "armchair quarterback" these decisions), I think I'd be fighting fire with fire. Advertise local and Broadway stars to allow everyone to not just survive, but to THRIVE. And Jeff McCarthy or other out of towners traveling the country, saying good things about Richmond theatre (we hope)? Good for ALL OF US. My two cents for what it's worth. And by the way - I heard Jeff sing the National Anthem last week at the Diamond. One verse and I turned to Carol and said, "That's a BROADWAY voice all right!" Go see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to confirm my observation!

But without a doubt I love seeing my friends up on stage. Not just because they're my friends, but because I like to be reminded regularly of how talented they are. Nice to see such decent, talented people pleasing audiences all over Richmond and making our lives more enjoyable in the process. Seeing them alongside a few Broadway "carpet baggers" is perfectly okay in my book. ;>)

debra wagoner said...

Chris, lol! Spring Awakening said buh-bye to me 20 years ago. More like Autumn Nap Time for me now. Someone holla when that one comes out.
Dave, of course I've had the same kind of conversations you've had with a friend over drinks, or with Joe about who might get what during the coming season. I never meant to imply that your thinking on the subject was juvenile, because we ALL do it. Nor was it "stupid" to think we would be comfortable having a comfortable having a public discussion about casting. I should have said clearly, that I, very PERSONALLY wasn't comfortable doing it. I didn't make the comment so that the door would open a crack and someone could sucker punch you or anyone. I just thought: Gee, what a powder keg. People have gotten really upset over stuff like this before.
And maybe this a good thing in blog world? At least people are reading/posting. No sarcasm intended...I really am asking here?? I dunno, I think maybe I'm not very good at this.
And still not namin' names. :-)
word verification is "birrol" I'm translating this into BEER FOR ALL.

Beth said...

Hello everyone. Chris I hear what you are saying but I think what Anonymous was getting at perhaps and how I feel is that there is a time and place for everything. It's about context and tact. I feel there is a sort of conflict of interest discussing that sort of thing with the same ole actors in town on the blog of a critic of Richmond Theatre. It just seems a bit off-kilter. Comparing Richmond to Hollywood is something I don't agree with also. This is a small town where things are much more personal than some huge Hollywood brand. And I have to agree with Wanda that it's all great to bring in NY talent but unless your a recognizable name, your not going to bring in more people to see the show. They will just appreciate it I suppose but at a very costly expensive on the theatre I assume. I'm assuming they will need to bring in a lot of people from out of town for Spring Awakening because I don't many age appropriate musical theatre folk in town who can sing with a pop rock/controlled straight tone. I would love much more to be seeing SA at willow lawn verses the Empire. I do love Barksdale and Theatre IV along with the other theatres in town. I just hope we snap out of this sort of disillusionment and reconnect with the Richmond demographic. As a side note, thanks Dave for allowing this dialogue to take place and not pick and choose what gets posted. That's very fair.

kb said...

i LOVE opening up the floor to casting conversations! it's probably not fair of me, because i know i am a horrible actress & therefore spend my life on the other side of the table, but still... we all spend SO MUCH TIME speculating about who would be awesome in what roles. it's fun. i don't think of it so much as audience-casting as i do a chance to really dig into the 'who-we've-seen-do-what-and-why-it-makes-them-such-a-good-fit' conversation.
i do think it's interesting that barkesdale/theatre iv play a leading role in this conversation, because i have always admired their ability to feature their favorite talents in a way that creates a culture of local celebrity. i recognize that the artistic world is a markedly different one in petersburg, but i can't help but believe that audience members (who are also, largely, donors) are more excited when they feel they know an artist on the stage -whether they know them from the grocery store or from the last season's hit show.-
i say, let people talk. let them talk A LOT. let them speculate. and then let them come to see the shows, either to see their picks in action or not. either way, we're involving more people in the process, which means a greater investment in our work.
i do *not* mean, here, to disrespect our local actors, who deal with rejection more often than they should and who obviously do not need joe six pack in the back row to be making public casting preferences known to his friends. but on the other hand, maybe joe will point out an actor or actress who would otherwise be overlooked, or maybe he'll just become a big fan.
i have to say, however it pans out, that the directors will cast the right people for the right roles in the right circumstances; community chat is not really going to affect anything but ticket sales... (which we would all love to see happen, i'm sure!)

and i'm sad we've just done 'streetcar.' terry gau was amazing, but chris: we'll keep you in mind for the revival. until then, we're casting all races & genders in 'steel magnolias,' as long as the roles are played as written...
(let THAT casting conversation commence!) :)

Anonymous said...

I am a patron of the Broadway series that comes to the Landmark/Carpenter Center, and also a patron of Barksdale/Theatre IV, and many other theatres around town. I've been attending shows at all venues for years. I have to disagree with Frank - can someone please show me some scientific data or research study that shows that audiences are leaving local theaters to ONLY see the Broadway tours? I think that's nonsense.

I personally enjoy seeing people I know on stage, rather than ones I don't. Obviously the touring companies have actors we don't know (unless it's a major national tour), but those days are long over for Richmond. I think there are plenty of ticket buyers who will spread the wealth between the Broadway tours, and the local home-grown shows at our wonderful theaters. This is just my two cents.

eraserhead said...

Lots of provocative and insightful comments here; thanks to Dave for daring to inject a little glasnost into the Richmond theatre scene.

My two cents: given all the wonderful actors in Richmond and the number of troupes battling against the odds to produce quality shows, I'm not going to pay to see pre-cast out of town talent. I'll go to New York myself if that's what I want.

Heck, I am disappointed when local companies pre-cast local actors for roles. Although it's a well-accepted practice, I think it can narrow the imagination to the range of possiblities.

I admire the directors that are willing to take a chance on fresh faces. It's not necessarily a favor to cast the same type of people in the same type of roles over and over again, as good as they might be.

Again, one man's opinion . . . see you at intermission.

Anj said...

While I'm all for using as much local talent (myself included) as possible, the great majority of "carpetbaggers" that TIV/Barksdale has brought in have been very talented, from waaay back to the Pat Carrol days up to Mr. McCarthy.
It could be much worse. We could be getting Brooke Shields or Christie Brinkley.