The audition room at The Eleven.
I consider myself extremely lucky that I spend my professional life pursuing a passion. It’s challenging, exciting, creative, and rewarding. Is it hard? Yes. Will I ever become rich doing it? Unlikely. Am I constantly facing rejection and failure? Yep. But I wouldn’t choose any other life. One of the reasons I really believe my life to be “rad” is because I love what I do. I’ll say it: My students drive me absolutely crazy. They are frustrating, needy, and exhausting. But I love them because they are energetic, funny, creative, and inspiring. In a similar respect, my creative work is fraught with challenges and getting used to hearing the word “no.” I’ve developed a rather thick skin over the years … a tactic for survival in the world of academia and the arts- and yet the rewards and personal satisfaction I gain from what I do are immeasurable. It takes hard work, tenacity, creativity, patience, as well as a little bit of good fortune.
I am deeply passionate about directing. I love telling stories. I love the process of working through a script, of bringing literature to life, of communicating something potentially moving about the human condition to an audience. I thrill at the opportunity to do facilitate that role in a theatrical process.
Why the long introduction? Because I simply want to express my gratitude for my wonderfully rad and often lucky life. I am grateful and have the fortune to have been asked to return to the St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Two years ago when my dear friend Peter suggested I “work with them.” I thought, “Yeah, okay, whatever.” I assumed that some cool emerging theatre company in a cool city would be completely uninterested in taking a chance on some random girl from the West Coast. But I blessedly was wrong.
Shortly after my 2011 production of My Three Angels opened both William and Milt asked if (and when) I could return. I felt honored to be asked and couldn’t wait to return to a city I love so dearly and a group of incredibly talented people I have gained a deep appreciation and affection for. I am also extremely lucky to have supportive colleagues back here in Oregon, willing to let me satisfy professional gigs for several weeks during the academic year. My life is pretty rad indeed.
Leaving on a jet plane from PDX. Let the adventure begin.
As many professional companies do, STLAS casts multiple shows in one shot. About this time last year, I made a similar trip out to Missouri to cast My Three Angels. There I sat in a room with Milt, William, and Ron Hines viewing a string of “general auditions” followed by a long day of call-backs. It was exciting and fun. This trip out was a similar experience- except that we crammed all the auditioning into a single (and very long day).
Due to costs of plane tickets and my own schedule, I found the best bargain was to fly out to St. Louis from Portland on Thursday even though the auditions weren’t actually until Saturday. This way I could spend Friday focusing on the script, running through the beautiful Forest Park, and simply enjoying the city.
Turned my airplane tray table into a tiny work station. I felt like a little bad ass.
The plane ride out was time effectively spent focusing on the script and figuring out how the heck I wanted to cast this quirky little farce. I enjoyed spreading out my notes and script on my tray table- all I could really do was focus on the text being trapped on the plane and everything with no temptation of Facebook or online shopping to distract me.
Although this was not my first reading of the script, it was the first time I made some clear decisions about how I wanted to tell this story. Seasons Greetings is a holiday-themed script, but it’s certainly not heartwarming and definitely lacks the sentimentality of something like My Three Angels. Instead of chipper rosy-faced children and a benevolent Santa Claus, the play offers multiple infidelities, a shooting, and a huge helping of dysfunction. The characters are selfish, vain, and rude. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to locate someone to actually sympathize with. I’m VERY excited about this challenge. In order to make the play work and the comedy to be actually … well, funny. I need to pull out the utterly imperfect humanness from this oddball group of self-centered ass holes.
I made some initial ideas about what I was looking for on the plane ride. The play needs to have a breezy, fast-paced feel to it. The actors need to have the ability to be at once very real and utterly unrepentant. In spite of that- the audience still has to like them. They remind me a little bit of the narcissistic cast of Seinfeld with the addition of charming British dialects. Getting off the plane close to midnight (St. Louis time) I was eagerly anticipating Saturday’s auditions with a clear mind about what I would be looking for.
I’ve got to be honest, Friday was an utterly magical day. It is rare day indeed when I have utterly all the time in the world to myself. Generous, wonderful Peter gave up his hip Clayton condo to me and bunked a few blocks away with his lovely girlfriend.
Staying at Peter’s always makes me feel as if I’ve stepped into a Pottery Barn catalog.
When I describe Peter to friends I include the description: “He’s like a character from a Wes Anderson movie.” A tall, handsome Mid-West colorblind lawyer with a deep appreciation for the arts and a great love for his community, Peter has been a good friend since our college days. He’s a classy guy, a lover of scotch, baseball, and jazz music. He is an unapologetic literary snob and his meticulously kept condo reflects his personality perfectly. Slick black wood floors, animation cells from the rad cult cartoon series from our youth, Batman: The Animated Series, shelves of books, and an empty refrigerator. I love staying there because it’s the physical embodiment of a good friend. Just being there feels like a giant hug.
On Friday, Peter and his lovely, amazing girlfriend (because who else would Peter be with than a lovely and amazing woman) had work. I was left to my own devices until evening when were were scheduled to hit the town. It was exactly what I needed. I slept as late as I wanted. When I woke up, I took my time getting ready for my run. The weather was perfect and I spent nearly two hours pounding the pavement of St. Louis, running through Clayton and down around my beloved Forest Park.
Friday evening meant time spent with friends. Peter, Jasmine, and I hit a couple of fantastic St. Louis eateries. Chorizo nachos? Yes please! I had a juicy hamburger the size of my head and lots of beer. Dessert was at some well-known dessert joint called Cyrano’s, famous for its bread pudding.
Bread pudding. With caramel sauce. In all its tasty glory.
Good times were exchanged with good friends and good food. This city spoils me. Honestly. Every time I go, it’s like stepping into a quaint little dreamland of rest, relaxation, friendship, and food. Even when I’m there to work.
Saturday it was down to business. Back to The Eleven, an office/rehearsal space/audition room/whatever they need it to be. What else can I say? This is going to be a lot of fun. Just as with the 2011 season auditions, I was impressed with the level of talent and enthusiasm coming from the St. Louis acting pool. I faced a rather long day of auditions on Saturday.
I saw quite a few familiar faces at the auditions. Some I had worked with in My Three Angels and others I remember having auditioned the previous May. It was exciting be wedged behind the table between directors Milt and Bobby. The two of them couldn’t possibly be more different. Milt may just be the most laid back person on the planet. Bobby, on the other hand, is a fast-talking witty cynic. It was a long, but fun morning. I get nervous in the beginning of a large “cattle-call” audition like this and, honestly, I start to call back too many people. I’ll see something. I want to give them a chance to read more, but for the sake of time and my own process, I need to get better at weeding out what I’m not looking for early on. I am VERY decisive when it comes to callbacks. I see what I want or what I don’t want and I’m ready to move on.
Something else I’ve learned about working with a theatre company like this, however, is there is a degree of politicking that goes on every now and then. It’s looked at as a courtesy to give Equity Actors auditions or, perhaps, other well-regarded local talent. This is fine, but occasionally means reading people multiple times for a role I’m not going to cast them in. This has happened two years in a row with a specific actress. She’s perfectly lovely and a capable actor. She just wasn’t right for any of the roles I was casting, but they kept sending her in to read again and again even though I told them (and her) I had seen what I need to see. These are people. I understand you don’t want to hurt feelings or discourage anyone, but I think it’s just as disrespectful to waste their time. Alas. It’s part of the business.
After a busy morning … break time! Which, luckily for me means my favorite meal I can get in St. Louis. At the West End Grill and Pub they have this steak sandwich. And I love it. Rare. With a side of coleslaw.
Full of steak and ready to face the afternoon of callbacks I braced myself for an onslaught of talent and resolved to be quick and decisive. Several of the roles were nailed instantly. I love when that happens. I just want to tell the person, “What wizardry did you use to get into my brain and just do exactly what I was thinking?” I love that.
I tend not to give very much direction during auditions. I honestly look for what they will bring to the role. How do they see it? What about their natural personality is funny, sexy, intimidating, or whatever quality the role demands? I’m also like many directors. I enjoy working with people I’ve had good experiences with or that have good reputations with other directors and stage managers I respect. I don’t like working with ass holes. I don’t care how talented a person is, no one has the right to be difficult to other performers and individuals working on a play. Luckily most everyone I have encountered through this company has been incredibly warm and generous.
After several hours of three directors calling back actors for five different shows, we convened in the main room to hash it out. There is really no conflict, actors can be in more than one show during a season, but the company does like to spread things out as much as possible. I went “home” to Peter’s very excited about my prospective cast. They seem to me, appropriately quirky.
On Sunday, I had didn’t fly out until 7:00 p.m. Sunday was also Mother’s Day. Peter, of course, had family engagements so couldn’t entertain me all day long. But we did agree to meet for a light lunch before he took me to the airport. I spent the morning on another satisfyingly long run followed by a hot shower and a coffee from the neighborhood Starbucks.
Another impossibly hip and delicious place to eat.
A panini and three glasses of wine later, and Peter and I headed to Tower Grove Park to scope out the sites and brainstorm about ideas we have for a food and arts festival.
A bad-ass pavilion in Tower Grove Park.
Part of Peter’s “master plan” apparently includes having me live in Tower Grove. “It’s the right kind of neighborhood for you.” He assures me. Sounds great to me. The park is lovely. Smaller than Forest Park, Tower Grove Park has its own charms including winding paths, gently sloping hills, and plenty of places for outdoor entertainment. We threw around ideas and wandered the park for an hour or so. Peter, for all of his wonderful qualities, has a notoriously poor sense of direction leaving us to explore perhaps a little longer than we had originally intended.
All this lush green grass is in need of some outdoor Shakespeare!
My action-packed weekend had to come to an end at some point. Waiting for might flight, I called my mom for mother’s day and shared the highlights of my weekend. As always, I look forward to my return in November. I am energized by my trip and ready to be creative and tell a new story with a new group of people!