Dying is easy, Comedy is hard: Casting the Show
Casting for almost all the shows at PTE (and for most theatres in the city) takes place in the Spring. Actors refer to it (not-so-fondly) as Audition Season - a highly-pressured time when actors are busy reading all the plays that all the theatres have announced, looking at casting breakdowns, figuring out where they may fit in, and finally preparing for individual auditions. That explains why actors look a bit haggard and stressed between March and May.
photo by Ian McCausland
A director is also very busy during Audition Season. My job is to get to know the play as well as I possibly can before holding auditions, because the choices I make in casting can really make or break a production. There’s a saying that casting is 90% of the director’s job - this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but if a director can cast well, it sure makes things fall into place in the rehearsal hall.
The casting of The Hound of the Baskervilles -- this extremely funny re-telling of the Sherlock Holmes story by a crackerjack team of British comedy writers -- required actors with excellent comedic chops. Comedy IS hard. It requires courage, vulnerability, generosity, and a mental/verbal/physical dexterity. Comedy is also very technically complex in terms of timing, physicality, and clarity. However, it can’t be forced or ‘muscled’ -- the actor needs a lightness and technical precision to execute the scene. At the same time, the actor must be completely and totally open to anything happening, ready to respond and go with it, no matter where it may take them. Although we spend weeks rehearsing together for a precise and prepared production , that element of play and spontaneity absolutely must be present at all times.
|Aaron Pridham, |
photo by Ian McCausland
An excellent comic actor also has an ability to sniff out the comic potential in a script, which was something I looked for in the auditions. Anyone can read a scene in an audition. A great comic actor needs to be like the Hound with Sir Henry’s missing shoe - at the faintest whiff of a comic moment in a play, they are ready to pounce. For instance, in one scene in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the character of Stapleton finds Sir Henry and Watson on the Great Grimpen Mire - a dangerous moorland bog. Stapleton says to them “Follow my every move”, followed by stage directions which indicate simply “They follow him precisely.” If that stage direction is ignored, it’s an ordinary bit of staging. But, a good comic actor will recognize that the playwrights have offered a little whiff of comic potential by including the word ‘precisely’. A good comic actor will sniff that out, pounce on that stage direction and start digging.
I feel like I hit the jackpot when casting The Hound of the Baskervilles. Gord Tanner, Toby Hughes and Aaron Pridham are all excellent actors with fabulous comic chops. And, as was clear to me in the auditions, when it comes to sniffing out the comic potential of this play, our three actors have excellent noses.
Next: My sides hurt from laughing: In the rehearsal hall with Gord, Toby and Aaron