Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Play Try Outs (as we used to call them)

I haven't held auditions in a very long time... at least 15 years, if not more. In the past, we've offered people roles and, for the most part, that's worked just fine. But our upcoming workshop of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera is going to be complicated. The actors in this production are going to be singing with a live band which, as most musicians will tell you, is more difficult than singing with a piano accompaniment; for the people who are primarily Actors Who Also Sing, this will be their big challenge. For those who are Singers Who Also Act, the challenge will be that my collaborators, Chris Burney and Myrel Chernick, and I have edited the play in such a way that it can be performed by 5 actors, who all switch roles with one another during the play—everyone gets a shot at Macheath, regardless of gender; everyone plays a woman, everyone plays a man; sometimes, two or more people play the same role simultaneously. If we get it right, it's going to be very fast paced and an actor could be playing one character on one line and then be someone entirely different on the next. So I need to get a sense of everyones strengths and weaknesses in both of these areas. Thus, auditions.

Our production focuses on the play-within-a-play element—the story is bookended by The Beggar and The Player stepping out and addressing the audience. In reading the script, that device is virtually invisible while we follow the story of the Peachums, Macheath and the rest. I have no doubt it's been done before (everything has been done before—everything...), but we really want to see how much we can emphasize troupe of actors putting on a play and use it underscore the themes of unbridled capitalism and greed. Whenever I imagine the production in my head, I alternately think, "Wow: that's really obvious! There's nothing like taking a sledgehammer to an audience's head and screaming, 'GET IT?'" and "Wow: that's really obscure! There's nothing like abstracting everything remotely recognizable so that it's impossible for an audience to get it." The demons I'm doomed to wrestle....

We actually started this project back in 2001! The great thing about being project based is that you don't have to finish something within a calendar or fiscal year; the bad thing about it is that you almost never finish anything within a calendar or fiscal year. We did a workshop of the play in 2003, script-in-hand, that gave us a rough idea of the shape of the thing, got all of the songs written (17 by 7 different composers) and got us started playing around with projections (because Myrel is a visual artist who creates installations with projections, that's how we're creating the environment for the piece). After that, the project got shelved while PWP worked on our Don Quixote event and last year's Off-Off Broadway celebration.

So we're finally getting back to it now. This time, we're focusing on getting the musical arrangements created so that we can eventually record the music (part of the concept: the actors will ultimately be able to control all of the technical elements within their production, including the soundtrack, from onstage), costumes (Tara Hills has come up with a great paper doll idea that I think will be a lot of fun to realize) and projections (we have a couple of ideas for how to create projection screens that the actors can move and revolve to reshape the environment). I'm sure you haven't heard the last of this....

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