Abuse in Casting

badauditionAn interesting question was raised by a fellow director recently. Apparently, he has received rather nasty comments from actors who were not offered a part in a Community Theatre production. I would like to point out that I use Community Theatre in order to differentiate the scenario from paid/professional theatre, not to denigrate the community.

My personal experiences having cast for both Community and Professional theatre has, on the whole, been usually acceptable. There has been the odd occasion where an audtionee has gotten a little bent about not getting a role. I have even lost a friendship over such a casting decision.

While I have yet to get the racist, sexist, type slurs that some other directors I know have had, dealing with an aggressively defensive applicant is not fun. The process is not unlike a job application, of which I also supervised as a manager in a Government capacity.

The main difference between a job interview and a casting for theatre/film, is that a job interview is all about skill and personality. Actors will also be judged on looks, and charisma. Not only should you have the required skill, you will also be completing with people who may look more the part than you do.

So in the casting process, when you are presented with a number of strong set of candidates, you have little choice but to get picky about what you want. After all, there can only be one for each role. I agonise over choices like this because I hate letting people down, but this is going to be a given, and someone is going to get let down.

So to have someone turn around and slander you for your choice is a slap in the face. In a way, it reveals something about the person you may have not learnt before, how they handle rejection. This may say more about the person than allowing them to perform in person.

So, to all the casting directors, I have a suggestion. As a final test for your chosen cast members, you should reject them first and see how they respond. If they are humble, thankful, or general mature about it, then flip it one them and say “Congratulations. That was the final test. When can you start?”

For those that reject your rejection, well, you know where they can go; a list that then gets shared with agents and casting directors alike.

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The call of Nature

Following on from my most recent blog of a few days ago, I am reminded of a project I did back in my university days. My final year thesis was an investigation into the feasibility of teaching a subject on Creative Reasoning within scientific studies, and one of the points I discussed which was the value of right and wrong.

It is interesting how both my theatrical interests influenced some of my research, and how some of my research has influenced my theatre. This came into rather interesting clarity when, recently, I was discussing the complexities of character development with some nice young people, after one of my Quiz Night gigs.

The concepts of right and wrong are uniquely human. Echoing my previous blog, they are not natural. In fact, the concepts of right and wrong can actually be inhibitive to creative reasoning, which tends to work better when encouraged to break the rules. Creativity general works better with a measure of worth, rather than fixed points of success and failure.

One of the biggest struggles I have had to face as an actor is how to convincingly portray a character who is so completely opposite me in belief, and moral direction. Pantomime villains is one things, but real villains… that is hard. I don’t like paying simple lip service to a character, and hoping that will get me by. I need to make the character believable, and that means relate-able. I have to be able to understand the motivations if I am to convincingly portray them.

I believe it is the exceptionally rare individual who is able to see themselves as evil, and relish in that knowledge. Most would rather admit that they have done some pretty bad stuff, but that they are able to justify their actions somehow. How valid that justification may be to others is questionable, but to the character, it is enough.

You see, what is “right” and “good” is subjective. It is an opinion. When enough people believe in the same concepts of Right and Good, then it becomes a standard, or moral. Yet that does not make it ultimate Right or Good, because in reality, neither exist. Deeds that one may see as utterly evil, another may see as a necessary step towards an ultimate “good” according to their perceptions.

In nature, we see many examples of processes or actions that, under a moral code, would be deemed evil, nasty, or bad, but if you change the moral code, they can look very different. Humans, with the higher order brain matter, and the need for language and labelling, are the ones who create the codes, and therefore define what is evil.

But where do these perceptions come from?

This links back to early blog posts where I talk about choices and perceptions. The choices one makes in life construct the path that influences their future. Our choices are the decisions and reactions we make when faced with the effects of the world around us, and those we interact with. Sometimes, these choices can be subtle. Then again, they can be monumental.

In a world where there is no right or wrong, just one’s perception of it, anyone could be anyone. Had I not made certain choices in my life, I would be a different person. Maybe subtly different. Perhaps completely different.

As an actor, this is huge. I really could be anyone, if I could only understand the choices I would need to have made, and the justification I told myself to live with them. What would the moral code be like?

However, following this line of thought alone doesn’t create a character with depth. It would suggest that all characters were “satisfied” with their lot in life, and we all know that this is simply not true. We can all point to people, and maybe even ourselves, who are not “satisfied” with their lot. So there is something else at work here.

Our unique power for self-deception. It is our ability to lie, to others and to ourselves, that make for the tortured and emotional characters the populate our lives. Perhaps our past choices were based on lies, or half-truths. Perhaps it is our justifications that simply don’t have the ring of truth to them, no matter how hard we try and convince ourselves. Maybe we frequently gave away our one true strength, and let others choose for us, let them tells us their truth, and now live a life that contradicts that burning yearning inside.

The one thing that differentiates us from most other animals on this planet, is our ability to ignore instinct, and see choices. It is what gives us our ability to see things things that don’t exist, imagine fantasy worlds, or inventions. We are able to create explanations for the world around us by observing the world and perceiving meaning.

It is also one of our biggest weaknesses, because unchecked, it can run away from us and have us imagine things that can frighten, annoy, hurt, and enrage. Deception and creativity are very closely bonded, because they are both two sides of the same talent.

And this is the source of right and wrong. It is opposites, or extremes, but it us who have labelled these extremes as either right or wrong.

Maths is the only real subject within which Right and Wrong can have absolute meaning, and even that is human invention.

The Hard Road Part 8 – Perspectives

I was changing my view of the world. What I began to realise, and not just superficially, but innately, was just how much our world view is dependent on our individual perspectives. We aren’t just all different, we see the world differently. Yet the evidence is all around us.

I began to appreciate how much I lived my life with platitudes without meaning. I would say I believed in certain ideas and concepts, but my actions and choices often contradicted what I felt. More often I was acting in the way I thought I was expected to, which was in direct conflict with my desires. I was disconnected.

Suddenly certain phrases and bits of advice took on new and deeper meanings.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.”

This deceptively simple statement holds a lot more truth that I ever gave it credit for. The things we get worried about, when one looks at them from a distance, how much meaning do they really have? It is so easy being the observer in another person’s life to see them issues that often get the most stress, anxiety, or attention, are often the most meaningless.

That may sound a little harsh, and honestly, it is. The thing was, I could see that in other people, but I didn’t apply the same scrutiny to my own life. I had developed a reactive tendency to find the worst in any situation, and usually at my own expense. So a situation that I would see as trivial in another’s life, I would see as another testament to my own failures.

I began forcefully apply the same observations I made on others to myself, and discovered something; there is at least two sides to any situation. One is always “better” than the other, and I was CHOOSING the worst of the options.

I think that realisation itself was the biggest shock. I was actually choosing depression over any alternatives. That may need a bit more explaining.

I gave up control of my decisions by letting in the voices and expectations of others, and allowing them to influence my choices and decisions. I may not have known better. I may have been naive. I still allowed it, but accepting this fact was hard… and I wanted to know why.

It took stepping out of my emotional perspective, which was a lot harder than one might imagine, but once done, I could see what my actual flaws were, which were to actually believe that I was flawed. This belief fuelled my drive to not trust in myself, and rely on the advice of others. Even those who didn’t have much to do with my life any more. I had allowed my life to be driven mainly by emotions, guided by well-meaning yet misguided advice.

Balance Equals Harmony

When viewed rationally, things are usually far more trivial than they seem emotionally. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a very rational piece of advice, because it is with a analytical approach that facts can be assessed. This is what we need to be telling our emotional sides, and I wasn’t.

Looking back over my life, my rational side had been rather beaten into submission by various circumstances and people, and I hadn’t done much to take it back. Now I had the opportunity to do just that. My experiences, both bad and good, now found a new use in reconstructing the spirit of myself. There was good to come from everything I had been through, I choose to see the good in every situation, and as I have described a few times already, when I made the choose, things got better.

In the end, my only real mistake was in not accepting responsibility for my own choices. I needed to find a balance between rationality and emotionality. I need to find the calm. I need to take back control over the only thing I had any right, or ability to control: me.


 

I am nearly finished with the series, and I invite you to read my other posts on my journey. The first series: A Darker Path. Series 2 – The Hard Road.

The Hard Road Part 6 – Someone Saved my Life

DarkI left off at a very dark place with my last post on this, and it got darker. My emotions slowly grew in strength and I struggled to maintain my rational self. I began fantasising ways I could end my life, and yet leave wife and daughter able to carry on financially. I thought that was the value of my character; the money I was worth.

Theatre was a small bright light, but even that was becoming a chore. Keeping up the pretence was exhausting, and I was tired a lot, even though I had substantially cut down how much I was doing. Still, I had made a great many good friends their, and I still enjoyed their company. It just wasn’t enough to cast light into the darker places of my thoughts.

ReactI lived like that for over a year, going through the motions, just barely containing the bubbling chemical reaction inside.

I had been directing theatre productions by this point in time for a few years. Owing to my cut-down commitments, I had only done a couple, but I had formed a close circle of friends whom had all connected on my shows. It gave some joy to see the friendships that formed, and still exist to this day, in shows where I was the one calling the shots. Even today, it is a warm and pleasant feeling to think on.

One from this circle managed to break through my walls, and reach me in a way no-one else did. They showed me something that I had lost; that I was worthy of appreciation, of love, and of respect. Their kindness, and faith in me, was uplifting, and in my darkest hour, dreadfully needed. While it did not clear the darkness within, it did stop it, giving me some room to breath, room to think. I had been on the brink, and now stood looking at what I was doing with clear sight.

Fighting Alone

ZombiesI had discovered that something was wrong with me years before, when I found the knife in my hand. I vowed then to watch and keep a check on it. I realised this time that what I was doing was not enough. I was trying to manage this alone, out of shame, fear. It took another to show me I wasn’t coping. I needed help. I needed knowledge.

When I was working with Curtin University, I had seen an on-campus counsellor to help me the pressures I was feeling, so I thought about starting there. My wife an I agreed to seek further advice for both ourselves, and as a couple. We did this for a number of years, and with a variety of services.

I also engaged in personal research, to find methods to cope with my feelings. I learnt a lot about myself.

I am a “touchy-feely” person, in the sense that I value and enjoy physical contact with others (don’t go dirty on me here.) I resolved, for the sake of my marriage and daughter, to find a way to manage this. I was committed and I accepted the implications of my choice. I knew that I would not be able to turn-it-off so to speak, but I wanted to find ways to manage my feelings.

What I discovered was far more. I read a wide range of texts including religious, philosophical, psychological, new-age, and so forth. I don’t think I have read more in my life than during this time. I was exposed to all kinds of methods, beliefs, and concepts which challenged so many things in myself. I began to question, not myself, but the perceptions that I had grown up with.

I found them lacking.

Find the entire Hard Road series here.

Dark Day

Today I feel the touch of darkness, like a cold breeze at the back of my neck, and I am actually forcing myself to write this now. I lean forward to cover my face with my hands, as I struggle to find something to feel positive about. I can think of dozens of things that I know I could, and have felt positive about in the past. I just cannot feel it.

EmoReasIn a very simplistic way, we all have two distinct modes: Intellectual and Emotional. I believe in a balance between the two.

The trick, to my mind, is to not let either side over power the other. Too much intellectualism and I become disassociated. Too much emotionalism and I lose perspective.

BRainHeartThen there are those days, like today, where one side is simply not up to the task. There’s a battle raging inside, and the reasons why are unclear. Perhaps it is the fact that I have become incredibly busy with two jobs, various video editing projects, and a couple of other things, and am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Maybe it is the change in my life as I plan for a future as a single man. Possibly it is the gentleman who decided to have a go at me during on of my evening gigs?

I suspect the truth is that it all of the above, plus the damage already left by years gone by, but with a mind clouded by conflict, it is hard to see through the fog.

That said, in writing this post, it has become easier to deal with. There is a lot to be said for talking or writing about something, and knowing that others will see it. In times like this, I find I have to remind myself that I am not alone. I know a lot of people who have suffered, some more than I. My experience is not unique.

fogI still feel the tendrils of darkness lurking nearby, but it can no longer sneak up on me. In acknowledging that I am not perfect, that I have a darker side, it has made it easier to see it when it comes.

In a weird way, it’s actually a little comforting to be reminded that I am, after all, still human.

Emotional Engagement

In days long gone now, I was a member of a Youth Theatre group, operating in association with a community theatre company. It was this group that really helped me get over my bad-tasting, childhood experiences of theatre. Working with like minded people and learning basic theatrical techniques was the first step. There was one time in particular that I often recall, where I feel I was tested more than at any other time in anything I have done.

We had an improvised scene. I was given the role of a young man coming out of court after having been acquitted in the death of a young child, killed in a motor vehicle accident. I had my “attorney” and a “friend” with me as I was confronted by the rest of the group playing family and friends of the deceased. There was no direction at all apart from “what would you do?”

What would you do? A hypothetical question which is incredibly easy to imagine, when you are not in the situation. Actually trying to portray a scene rather that hypothesise is altogether different. How would you feel? How would you react? How would you handle an angry mob? Truth is, you can’t imagine. You can plan, yet you can’t expect to anticipate what might happen and as such, how you would deal with it. With only a few minutes to prepare for this only-for-us scene, it quickly dawned on me that I could only do one thing; feel the role.

In life, we all have intentions about what we should do and how we should react, or interact. When confronted by a situation, we often need to adjust, compromise, and make it up along the way. You can’t script something like this. By that I mean having words written for you only gives you a fraction of what is required. There is so much more that actor needs to find and draw on, and when you don’t have something similar, you find something close enough and appropriate it.

I have seen some dark places in my life, something I may go in to one day, where emotion and isolation dominated me. Feelings like that can swamp your rational mind making it hard to think straight, leaving your emotions in charge. I have long learnt that leaving either your emotions or your rational singularly in charge is actually a dangerous arrangement. Having a reasonable balance of both I believe is far more harmonious, reduces stress, and keeps you focused. Drama, however, comes from conflict, and one of the base sources of conflict is the classic emotions vs rational, self-conflict scenario. I felt this young man would not be thinking clearly. He would be upset yet trying to hide it. He was glad he was acquitted and fearful of the mob he was to meet. I imagined his heart being a place of great pain, torn between thoughts and feelings.

The scene began with me and my support crew “emerging” from the court house to be faced by a mob consisting of people taking the role seriously, others uncertain how they should be, and others that in hindsight, were looking forward to a bit of agro. I only wanted to get past them and away. I abhor conflict at the best of times, and as an actor, I regularly have to confront it in various forms. Very quickly it became obvious who were the stronger characters as two in particular came out very strong and keen to pass on their “feelings-of-loss” on to my character and me. My initial attempts to get away from the crowd were thwarted as I was quickly surrounded, accusations and demands being thrown around. I offered meek apologies and requests to let me through. Their goal was to let me know how they felt and not let go so easily.

Truth is, I didn’t need to know how they felt. I could imagine, but that is what people can be like. Their pain is immediate and expressive. I felt for them as both the actor and the character, yet I began to feel that they were demanding to much, too aggressively. I recall trying to hide my face, look away, what ever. Nothing worked. I realised at some point I had been separated from my support crew. I was on my own.

It was frightening, like a loud white noise right near your ears. Aggression is bad enough when you watch it on TV. To be in the middle of a mob, even a pretend mob, was something else. As I write this, I recall a time previous when I was the centre of a mob, when I as at primary school and had effectively been placed in to a fight with another boy. I was regularly picked on as a child, for various reasons, and this was just another one of those times. I was scared on this day, yet this school-yard mob were nothing on the group of actors around me trying to make me crack.

And I did. With no place to run, no options left, flight was no longer on the table. I had to fight. It wasn’t even a conscious thought, and I can look back on it now as if I were someone else. I changed physically. My shoulders squared, I stood taller, I turned to face the strongest of the mob, and I let rip. I barely recall what it was I said now. I know it was something along the lines of they would never truly know what it would be like to live with the knowledge of what I had done. To see it in my mind on permanent repeat, no matter if I was asleep or awake. That I was more sorry than I could ever express and that their words would never hurt me more that I hurt already.

It was a momentary stunned silence, and suddenly I was able to pass between them all to the other side unhindered. They almost parted for me. A few were able to recover a little and start with the accusations and insults again, but there was less passion in it now. Less motivation. I left them behind as the workshop coordinator called an end to the scene. I was shaking, filled with conflicting emotions, and utterly exhausted. It took me sometime to come back to some measure of calm.

I’m not sure exactly what was learnt from this, a lot of things really. It is a memory I am particularly proud of however. I had tapped in to something raw, natural, and powerful. I have not always been able to reach that connection since then, yet just the knowledge that I did that once, and so completely, only shows me I can.