Through Nutmeg Chatter I hope to share what it’s like to participate in a local theatrical production as an actor. This is Part One.
My first theatrical experience in the modern era was in June when director Keith Paul cast me for a walk-on role as newsman Bill Kaberdie in Revenge of the Space Pandas. Although it was a staged reading, meaning actors would read from the script and allow their voices and facial expressions to convey the message, I memorized my lines and had some latitude of movement on stage. Given that the newsman role breaks up the action in that story in order to provide some exposition by interviewing the characters, that latitude and slight deviation from staged reading format worked. The experience with cast and crew from that work was a positive one and I looked for opportunities that might add to my theatrical experience and knowledge.
In September, the Goshen Players announced it would produce a staged reading of 12 Angry Jurors, the play originally titled 12 Angry Men. The director, Conrad Sienkiewicz, had seen my work in Revenge of the Space Pandas and invited me to attend the audition.
“I like to use ‘reader’s theatre’ as an opportunity for new talent to try out stage work,” he said.
To prepare for the audition, I watched the Jack Lemmon/George C Scott adaptation of the play. Previously I had watched the Henry Fonda/Jack Klugman version, but the one I saw free on Amazon Prime with George C Scott as Juror Number Three was really powerful. The story takes place in the deliberation room of a court house where 12 jurors have to decide the fate of a young man accused of patricide. Each juror has their own personality and some have more lines than others.
It was my understanding that for an audition I should have a sense of the part I’m going for, so I reviewed all of the potential characters and made a list of the top three I could do well. I didn’t select the main protagonist or the main antagonist as I felt the best speech came from a bit character, juror 9, played usually by an older person. I’m in my mid forties but I think with this role, it’s not the age so much as it’s the weariness and sadness of time that the character projects, although if this is a plus, physically I had the benefit of not aging with youthful grace so I felt I could pull the character off if I got it. The second part I’d go for was a well educated, somewhat pompous juror who conveys a lot of information. The best parts of that character are when the character speaks convincingly about the facts of the case. Then there’s the role of the foreman, who tries to keep order up to a point. Each of those roles I could play well and listed them in order when I got to the audition.
The audition was initially to be held in the Goshen Theatre, the former Town Hall so I made it a point to visit the location first and then used the opportunity to draw cartoon about it for Nutmeg Junction. But as it turned out the audition location was changed to the adjacent church building as the Theater was being prepped for their production of Steel Magnolias. There was a large table set up with a stack of scripts. The director, Conrad Sienkiewicz, and producer, Jandi Hanna, sat at one end. Jandi introduced herself and took a photo of each of the players so they could review each performer who was auditioning later with a memory of what the person looked like.
Actors streamed in. I sat next to Danny Greenlaw, my friend from Torrington, who was auditioning for the role and jokingly said he wondered why he hit “JOIN” when he saw the posting on facebook. If he is cast, this will be his first theatrical performance. But no matter if this was one’s first audition or fiftieth, I can’t imagine there would be any less excitement-it is exciting to be up for an audition.
With this production, the director introduced himself and explained the premise of a reader’s theater and the script and the format of the audition. Then the actors introduced themselves to each other and we began. We read from many passages in the play. If one had indicated a preference in character, we were assigned that role for the first reading. Then the director would change it up and we’d read it again, each playing different roles. The more we were into the process, the better our group became. In fact, it was interesting to see the group of actors who showed up for the audition. We did actually look like a random group of people selected for jury duty, which was absolutely perfect.
When I finally read for the part of the old man, I had the opportunity to read it twice. As perfect as I think I got the speech at home, I don’t think it was perfect when I read it at the audition, but it did have emotion and that was important. I suppose for acting, for me anyway in my limited history right now, it is not so much memorization of words and waiting for the cue, it’s trying to be what the character is in the given moment and one is that character, one would say the words that were scripted; my role as the actor isn’t to live that person’s life (method acting) but in the moment of the story, you are that person, trying to speak to the other characters and tell them something important. The only problem is that if it’s a bad script and the character really has nothing important to say, but that’s not the case here.
We took a break while the directors convened and I talked to Danny, who did a wonderful job in all of the roles he was given. Then I received a message to get home right away and bring band-aids so I ran back in, said my goodbyes and explained the reason and headed to the pharmacy quickly before heading home.
(next installment will be about whether I get the role or not-tune in after Tuesday!)