Their brief time upon the stage Auditions: 'The actors are at hand and by their show/You shall know all that you are like to know.' -- 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream'

May 05, 1998|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Alone on stage, 78-year-old Jerry Brenner reflected on what both he and his character don't have enough of: time.

"I couldn't get to finish," said the Columbia resident, who was one of more than 100 actors auditioning at Center Stage Saturday in an open call for the Baltimore Theatre Alliance. "I only had one line left."

Brenner had only two minutes to deliver "Bar Mitzvah," a monologue by Gary Richards about an 83-year-old man's rite of passage about 70 years past the traditional date.

Brenner himself plans on having a second Bar Mitzvah in five years, when he turns 83.

Raw two-minute transformations were the order of the day at the call, attended by nearly 50 representatives, or auditors, from regional theaters. Auditions for musical theater took place last night at Towson Dinner Theatre, and auditions end today at Center Stage.

"It gives the theaters a chance to see people we never get to see," said John Bruce Johnson, president of Baltimore's Vagabond Players. The alliance, active since 1996, is a network of theaters, actors, directors and technicians in the Baltimore-Washington area.

At any point in their season, auditors can refer to the actors' resumes and head shots and call them in. "If I'm looking for a 45-year-old woman with curly hair, she's right there," Johnson said.

By the end, the tryouts will have attracted more than 300 auditioners, said Bruce Bowen, BTA treasurer and board member.

The hectic pace of the call is designed to screen talent efficiently. Every half hour, a new group of eight to 10 auditioners goes before the panel.

No sets. No costumes.

In their allotted two minutes, the auditioners at Center Stage slipped into the persona of characters from an awkward adulterer making excuses for infidelity, to cursing, swaggering, manly Mamet protagonists, to an AIDS victim proposing alternative endings to Broadway standards.

"For once, I'd like to see a 'West Side Story' where Maria gets it," Baltimore resident Bruce Nelson, 31, said in a monologue from the play "Love! Valour! Compassion!"

"Humor goes a long way," said Harriett Lynn, executive and artistic director of Pumpkin Theatre, a children's theater in Baltimore. "If you can make them laugh, you can probably make them cry."

While the actors were on and off stage in a matter of seconds, time seemed to pass more slowly for those waiting outside the theater.

Next to tables littered with head shots and resumes, they sat practically shoulder to shoulder. Larry E. Hull, 35, sprayed breath freshener into his mouth. Jo-Ann Gill combed her daughter's hair.

Natasha Gill, 8, said she wasn't nervous. Still, the Towson resident knows what to do if she stumbles over her selection from "The Fantasticks."

"I just look at the end of the room, just straight up, and try to think of it and it comes to me," said Natasha, a student at Cromwell Valley Elementary School.

When summoned, the waiting actors follow each other into Center Stage's Head Theater, where the auditors sit scattered and silent. The actors perform their pieces and exit as a group after everyone finishes.

Some performances, such as Brenner's, didn't require much suspension of disbelief. But others did. Rebecca Rosen, 17, dressed in all black except for her berry Doc Martens, chose a monologue from Shakespeare's rarely performed "Cymbeline," shedding her X-er exterior to emote some serious Elizabethan angst.

"Everyone else did kind of laid back or comic stuff," said the Cockeysville resident and student at the Carver Center for the Arts in Towson. "I just found out about this two days ago. I just picked something out of my graveyard."

Hull wrote and rehearsed an original monologue while driving up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from Washington.

His piece was a list of whiny excuses for not getting cast. Among them: "They didn't cast me because I was gay. They didn't cast me because I wasn't gay."

Brenner isn't too concerned about the outcome. He started acting after his wife of 54 years died in 1995.

"It has helped me a great deal to get over the loss of my wife and a reason to continue living," said Brenner. He is currently appearing in Howard Community College's production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

And although Brenner had to stop before he finished, his character summed up his experience right as the stopwatch sounded: "That time is all we have."

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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