[Originally published in the Star & Wave newspaper on February 8, 2023.]
By Roy Steinberg, Producing Artistic Director
Every February, our historic theater fulfills its contractual obligation with Actors Equity, the union representing professional actors, to conduct three days of auditions, two in New York City and one in Cape May for local artists.
I suspect most of us have experienced some sort of “audition” anxiety in our lives, whether it was when we applied for a job, tried out for a team or awaited word from a desired school. Many actors, on the other hand, spend a lot of their professional careers auditioning for roles. Getting one is the gravy!
In years past, I have led workshops in New York and Los Angeles teaching actors how to re-frame their audition experience. By sharing my perspective as an “auditioner,” I found that I could help “auditionees” better understand the casting process and approach prospective roles with greater flexibility.
Many elements go into casting, some of which are beyond actors’ control. If I’ve already cast one half of a couple in a play, for example, I may be looking for someone taller or shorter or blonder or older to play their partner. Non-gender and non-traditional roles have also widened the process.
Actors should be prepared to make interesting choices when they audition for a role. They may be able to persuade decision-makers to re-think how they want to tell a story.
Marvin Hamlish wrote in “A Chorus Line”:
Who am I anyway?
Am I my resume?
That is a picture of a person I don’t know.
What does he want from me?
What should I try to be?
There is a life lesson here. For actors, it’s bringing the best version of themselves into the audition room. It takes years of training, courage and artistry to do that successfully. Actors are special people. Antonin Artaud wrote in “The Theatre and its Double” that “the actor is an athlete of the heart.” That sums up the experience of acting for me better than anything I have ever read.
At Cape May Stage, we aspire to entice artists at the top of their game to spend a month or so with us. Since we are a small theater, we don’t have large budgets to pay our casts, although we employ professional actors under set contracts from the Actors’ Equity Association that include payments toward their health insurance and pensions.
The late Lynn Cohen, a superb character actress whom I had the honor of directing three times at Cape May Stage, laughingly told me that she made more per word in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” than she made in three years at our little theater.
Her happily-made trade-off, she added, was that she “always felt protected here.” We encouraged her to take risks in rehearsals, made sure she always looked good in front of audiences and supported her with quality sets, costumes and lighting. She was a joy to work with.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day this month, I look forward to finding the right “athletes of the heart” for each of our 2023 productions. We have many wonderful stories to share with you this season. Be sure to watch our website, www.capemaystage.org, for an announcement of our full schedule at the end of February.