by Jessica Broutt
Now a few weeks into interning at The Fountain, I have been able to do some very diverse tasks. This happens every few days when someone, usually Stephen, announces that they have a “project” for me. I have learned that project can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it is prefaced with, “this project is a really horrible boring job” and can be as mundane as organizing check stubs. Other times, like last week, it can mean something really exciting like working in our casting department. This was one project I was dying to be a part of. I would be scheduling times for actresses to audition for a role in our upcoming play, the US Premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris.
When thinking about working in the entertainment industry, obviously casting is a big part of it, but it is also a facet of running a theatre in which I have had no experience. I soon learned that it really is a world unto itself, populated with agents, assistants, and actresses, complete with its own language with which I was all together unfamiliar. Despite some brief coaching from Stephen, I felt a little unsure about how I could survive in this world . But, armed with my new-found knowledge of “sides” and “breakdowns” I put on my most confident voice and called agencies and actresses alike.
Sometimes it was easy. I got to speak to the actress herself, we picked a time, she said she would be there and it was done. Other actresses were not so easy to track down or I found myself talking to the second assistant of their agent. It was quite nerve-wracking to remember who was represented by Lisa from Momentum or who would be out of the country through the week. It definitely gave me a new-found respect for anyone who has ever worked in casting.
Still, one thing that really amazed me was how nice everyone was when I called. Every agent and assistant seemed more than happy to speak with me, e-mailed me back right away, and much to my amazement, seemed to believe I knew what I was doing. And the same was true with the actresses, each one was more polite than the next. I was surprised at how easy it all seemed. It was then I realized that I had a little bit of power. These actresses were grateful for my call. They wanted this role. And by being nice to me, their chances of obtaining it remained intact. I was so worried about them calling my bluff as a casting director, that I failed to realize that they wanted this audition even more than I wanted to not embarrass myself scheduling it.
If I thought calling everyone to arrange the auditions was exciting, it was nothing compared to having all the actresses come in the day of the audition. My job sounded fairly simple: have the actresses sign in, take a copy of their resume and headshot, and escort them into the audition room. But then there are the things that no one tells you. Like how some actresses will come a mere moment before they are expected while others will come one hour before and size up the competition. I also had no idea that Calvin Klein jeans were the unspoken uniform for auditions. Or how different every actress’s method of preparation is. Some remained very calm as if waiting for a doctor’s appointment and sat patiently in the waiting area until they were called. And then there were others, like the actress Julanne Chidi Hill, who would rather not sit just outside the audition room and feel the tension. Instead, she went elsewhere and practiced. And not just outside the theatre but a block away, to truly distance herself from the competition. So far away in fact, that I was afraid she had left all together. Yet, her unorthodox method obviously paid off, because she walked away as the newest addition to our Fountain Family, and with the role of Reita.
When auditions were over and the role had been cast I thought my job was done. I commended myself on everything going without a hitch, and considered my venture into the world of casting over. But I forgot something very crucial: I had to call all the other actresses and inform them that they did not get the part. The thought of making those calls seemed awful but in practice, it wasn’t really that bad. The few actresses who I spoke to were painfully nice about it, and thanked me for the call. The agents seemed to take the news as nothing out of the ordinary. And I was blessed with speaking to many voicemail boxes, who all seemed to take the news extremely well.
After the last “the role has been filled” phone call, I was actually done with this project. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief, as I did when I filed away the last check stub, I felt a little sad. While it might have been a bit scary to arrange auditions, it was also very exciting. Now when I get to see The Blue Iris next month in August, I will know that I helped to make it happen in some way.
Just as my many other projects have taught me, there are so many different jobs in running a theatre and countless people who work behind the scenes to make it run smoothly.
This was definitely one of my favorite projects thus far. I look forward to my next!
Jessica Broutt is our summer intern from UC San Diego.