Standing out in a crowd

Baltimore's Everyman Theatre is holding its first open casting call. You've got two minutes. Earn the judges' applause, or it's curtains.

June 16, 1999|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Sun Staff

How to get a part in a play:

Choose an audition piece that the director hasn't heard.

Don't choose an audition piece that the director hasn't heard.

Choose an audition piece that demonstrates a range of emotions.

Don't choose an audition piece that demonstrates too many emotions.

Do something so unique that the director remembers you.

Don't do anything so unique that the director remembers it, not you.

Don't arrive late for your audition.

Don't arrive early for your audition. -- Tips gathered from directors and actors at Everyman Theatre

It is the second of three nights of open auditions at Baltimore's Everyman Theatre and Vincent Lancisi is watching a woman die of ovarian cancer.

The actress's performance is witty, intense, even brilliant, but her two minutes are up. The artistic director thanks her warmly, leans back in his chair and says ... what?

"Neeeext."

For the first time in Everyman's nine-year history, Lancisi has issued an open casting call, which means that anyone may come to the Charles Street theater to try out for the 1999-2000 season.

Aided by resident director Grover Gardner and two of the theater's 10 resident actors, Lancisi is looking for a French valet, a Jamaican preacher and a Russian ex-lover, among others, to perform in Noel Coward's "Nude With Violin." For "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," by Alfred Uhry, they need actors to play the members of a Jewish family living in Atlanta during the 1930s. And for Martin McDonagh's "The Beauty

Queen of Leenane," they're searching for a 20-something Irishman.

Each actor gets two minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds to shine brighter than hundreds of other actors. And each gets to choose which monologue he will perform.

"You think and plan your audition for months and then it's over in two minutes!" says Karen Morgan, a lawyer from Greenbelt who began studying acting five years ago.

She relieves nervous energy on the way to an audition by rehearsing in her car, doing deep breathing exercises and, once she arrives at the theater, occasionally jumping up and down. After an audition, she relaxes by eating at a nice restaurant or shopping at an expensive store.

"You need to wind down because you marshal all these forces for just two minutes. Two minutes is not enough!," Morgan says.

Actually, two minutes may be too long. "I need 15 seconds," says Gardner, who will direct "Nude With Violin."

This week, the Everyman directors will rate the actors' voice quality, ability to express a range personality traits, and above all, ability to tell a story. Later, they will invite individuals back to audition for specific roles.

All that from two minutes. "No pressure there," says Lancisi.

At Everyman, the auditors try to make the experience as painless possible: Stage manager Mandy Hall greets each actor at the stage door and introduces him to the directors and resident actors Kyle Prue and Stan Weiman. "Auditions are scary for the most seasoned professionals. Auditioning is a very different skill from acting: In auditions, you are selling yourself, not a character," Lancisi says.

For directors, however, auditions aren't scary, just long.

Already this evening, the auditors have watched an alcoholic break down, a man mislay his son while on an afternoon outing and a Swedish queen deliver an impassioned speech. By the end of the third round of auditions, which will be held Saturday from noon till 5 p.m., they'll have seen about 300 actors transform themselves into ingenues, studs, Jewish mothers, Russian impresarios, hillbillies, aristocrats, grandmothers, a guy buried in the wrong grave and who knows what else.

Inside the darkened theater, the auditors sit in a row facing center stage. To stay focused, they sip sodas, carefully read each resume and take copious notes. Sometimes they scribble themselves little reminders on the back of an actor's head shot such as: "red scarf," or the words to a particularly dynamic opening line. Once, when an actor arrived sporting newly grown facial hair not represented in his photograph, Lancisi just inked it in.

Outside, in the dimly lit lobby, the actors wait. They have dribbled in alone or in twos from as far away as Pennsylvania or northern Virginia. Some pace nervously, or relax by doing yoga. One does somersaults. A few silently run through their monologues, mouths moving, heads nodding, hands waving. There are never more than a handful of actors in the lobby at a time; no one wants to arrive more than several minutes early. "It's the waiting that kills us," says a man who blanched when asked his name.

Amy Sheff auditions first. She is 22 years old, five feet tall and bounces with enthusiasm. First is lucky, she says. "The auditors aren't dying for a cup of coffee yet."

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