We’ve been doing auditions for Chekhov in Hell.
It’s very important to be at the audition because it gives you a much
better sense of what the director’s thinking about the play; it also
gives you a chance to really think hard about what the play requires.
In this instance, I discover that Chekhov in Hell
is a bugger to play. About half of the play comprises scenes where
Chekhov meets a contemporary ‘type’. These scenes are, dare I say,
funny, satirical, and somewhat sketch-length (3 minutes or so). My
instinct was to go for comic actors who can do the lightness, the pace
and, obviously, the comedy. I think what I/we discovered is that we need
actors who can find the truthfulness and the pathos in the characters;
we saw some brilliant people who nonetheless just hit the comedy and you
could tell it would turn the play into a sketch show. What I don’t want
is some actor who would start working out some enormously complicated
backstory for the character and get lost in that and not play the lines.
But of course, no one wants that. But what we do need is someone who,
over the course of a three-week rehearsal process, will build a strong
architecture for their performance and build a real ensemble together.
Simon put it rather well: ‘We need from them a very large creation of a
character, done very simply’.
These characters need to live, because
increasingly, through the play we should sympathise with the people; not
what they do or say but perhaps with what they are trying to do and for
their position - trapped in the idiocies they have only part-created
for themselves. So, it’s a real eye-opener about the play.
Fortunately, it’s also clear that the
play is funny and that when you play the lines, observing the rhythm and
choices at each stage, it works, it’s very speakable, and has real
energy. It’s revealing things about the lines that I want to tinker with
and fortunately I have time.
That said, God I hate auditions. First
it’s the neediness, the desperation. Not actually that we had too much
of that on Friday, but often there’s just a horrible sense of someone in
a hideously powerless position who just wants to please you. I think
some directors probably enjoy that. My director asked them, after a bit
of banter, what they thought of the play. I found it impossible to meet
their gaze, because it’s like holding a gun to someone’s head and asking
them to say how much they love you. I didn’t enjoy the compliments
because I kind of couldn’t trust them and found it all a bit
humiliating. I discover that I like a position of authority and
sometimes that brings with it power. But in an audition I don’t really
have authority, only power.
God though, actors are extraordinary
people. I think they’re kind of wired up differently from other people.
It’s the willingness, the direct way they can change emotion, feign and
feel emotion, or the way they will just have a go at anything. I’m just
too self-conscious to do most of that stuff so I find it wonderful when
actors can turn on a sixpence. In social situations, it accounts for
both the affectionate way actors are, but also the guardedness. I think
they are so used to letting it all hang out, actors have also to protect
some deep core of them that is just them. Writers don’t need to protect
anything because the writing hides you.
I’ve not auditioned much. Showstopper we auditioned. I wasn’t involved with auditions for Static, except inasmuch as we tried out some of the actors through workshops. I didn’t have much say over the actors in Here’s What I Did. So this is an interesting, if horrible, process. It certainly is teaching me about my own play.