Casting: Complicated, Messy, and Exhilarating
How do you sort through the names, resumes, photos, and auditions of nearly 1,300 actors and narrow it down to about sixty needed for the 2018 Utah Shakespeare Festival acting company? And, while you are doing that, how do you keep in mind that each of those sixty actors will play roles in two or three plays. And, how do you incorporate the various visions and desires of each director and who he or she would like in each particular play.
Sound impossible? It’s not, but casting the Festival’s season is a complicated, sometimes messy, sometimes exhilarating process for Artistic Director Brian Vaughn and Executive Producer Frank Mack.
Vaughn, who is responsible for casting, and Mack, who has cast productions at other theatres and is learning the process at the Festival, recently conducted auditions in Cedar City, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Some of the auditions were for actors Vaughn had invited and others were open Equity auditions that any professional actor could attend. Vaughn has also read numerous resumes, looked at an assortment of audition videos, and talked to each show’s director about actors he or she would like to have as part of the company this year. Now, he is filling in the casting “matrix,” a chart of all the roles, including understudies, needed this summer, and manning the phones to make offers to actors he would like to see at the Festival.
“Now the math comes in,” he said. “All the factors come into play: when can they rehearse, what is the performance schedule, how many actors are needed for each play, how many are leading roles, and how can I help finalize the director’s vision? It’s tricky.”
So, what does Vaughn want to see from an actor at an audition? First, each prospective hire must perform a Shakespeare monologue in verse, a contrasting contemporary monologue, and a short song that shows the actor’s vocal range. This takes about three minutes, which Vaughn says is usually enough to inform his decision. Once he knows someone’s skills, he begins to consider how he or she would fit into the repertory: a performance and rehearsal schedule which some days requires actors to appear in a matinee as a leading character in a Shakespearean comedy, in the evening performance as a minor character in a contemporary drama, and in some other combination the next day.
“Finding good quality people who can also work within this system is key,” said Vaughn. “I am looking for great actors who are willing to work hard, work in an ensemble, and are good people.”
“Brian is casting eight mainstage shows and three greenshows,” said Mack. “This gets complicated very quickly.”
“It is a very complex thing,” admitted Vaughn. “It’s a bit like 3-D chess. There seem to be an infinite number of moves, but I have to keep the end game in mind, as well as the next move as I rearrange the players on the board, call actors, then change things based on whether they accept the roles or not.”
Of course, auditions and casting always are full of surprises. “It is always a surprise, every audition day someone will surprise me, both in a good way and in a bad way,” said Vaughn. “Those are the great moments.”
Vaughn has made offers to several actors for this summer, but until the process if much further along he isn’t ready to announce anything. It is still too much in flux, too much subject to change.
“I like the challenge of it, the collective whole of bringing an ensemble together. Something is always new and enlightening,” he added. “And I like actors. Finding good people for our needs is an important element.”
So, now the matrix is being filled in, actors are being contacted, and changes are happening every day, all of it leading to the 2018 season. Watch for more information in the future and to see who is playing some of your favorite roles in this summer.
Tickets are now on sale for the Festival’s fifty-seventh season, which will run from June 28 to October 20. This year’s plays are Henry VI Part One, The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, Big River, The Foreigner, The Liar, and Pearl’s in the House. For more information and tickets visit www.bard.org or call 1-800-PLAYTIX.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival is part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts at Southern Utah University, which also includes the Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA).