Wednesday, September 24, 2003

That's what I would be saying if you weren't an inch too good

Yesterday I met a student who is involved in theater here at Brown. She is part of the casting committee for a musical that is currently auditioning here, and she was explaining to me how her show was coordinating the casting process with another musical that was auditioning at the same time. Since one of my interests for many years has been amateur musical theater, and one of my interests since I have been involved with producing shows has been how different shows do and should work together on casting, I was interested in how students at Brown deal with the potential difficulty of good actors being wanted by multiple shows. I was disappointed to learn that the policy here is what I consider to be the worst of all the plausibly reasonable alternatives. They start out with the following good idea, which I tried to promote at Rice without much success: the two musicals' production staffs get together and plan joint auditions. Auditioners come and fill out one form and sing a song once, and go through the rest of the audition process with representatives from both shows watching. This is a good idea because it lets auditioners audition twice as efficiently and gives both shows a better sample to select from. After auditions, at Brown, representatives from show A and show B cast their shows cooperatively, apparently using some measure of "fairness" to decide who gets the actors that both shows want. Because Brown apparently does a good deal more theater than is warranted by the number of actors, there is a substantial number of such actors. I asked this student, why not give the actors who are wanted for both roles the choice? You could just call each one up with two offers, and ask which show/role they'd prefer. She replied, "well, everyone wants to do show A, and people aren't really interested in show B, so that wouldn't be fair." I was shocked -- and more in the confused way than the appalled way, although both attributes were attributable. Her justification would have been selfish but understandable had her show been the less popular one, but I was speaking to a representative of show A! When producing a show at this level, one of the first considerations should be, "how easy will it be for me to get the people I need?" To produce a show that no actors will want to do is extremely irresponsible. But worse, this system is grossly unfair on talented actors. Suppose that Jesse comes along and sees that Show A and Show B are auditioning at the same time. "That's great," says Jesse. "I'd really love to play the Giant Frog in Show A. Or it'd even be fun to be in Show B." Jesse gives a fantastic audition, and walks away confident about his chances of being the Giant Frog. In the meantime, Shows A and B audition more people, and don't find a lot of talent. Show B, in particular, has had very little success finding someone good enough to play the vocally challenging but not very much fun role of Third Gardener. Show A has fared better -- they've happily cast most of their roles, and want Jesse for the Giant Frog, but would feel comfortable casting Andrew if they couldn't have Jesse. Since Show B needs Jesse and not Andrew, Show A lets B cast Jesse as the Third Gardener. Jesse has now been cast in a role less preferable than his first choice. Ordinarily, that by itself wouldn't be anything to charge with injustice -- but consider the plausibly true fact that if Jesse had performed a little bit worse at his audition, he would have gotten a better role. This is not a fair casting system.

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