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Casting for Talent: The Trauma of Auditioning

By Brendan H. Gibbon

While most of Harvard's students have enjoyed a relatively stress-free shopping period this week, Harvard's budding thespians endured the exhausting, often nerve-wracking process of Common Casting auditions.

Between 6 p.m. and midnight for the last four days, about 250 students crowded the Loeb Experimental and Agassiz Theaters to audition for 23 shows and two performance groups this week.

Auditioners rushed to get their names on the shows' audition lists, then waited anxiously for their names to be called, fidgeting as they reviewed monologues and songs.

Producers were slumped at a wooden table, eager to answer actors' questions, asking bystanders hopefully if they sang, then begging them to try out for musicals.

For the past nine years, Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) has organized Common Casting in an attempt to draw a greater number of actors for all the shows.

Cast lists for all shows are posted Monday morning in the Loeb theater. Actors then have one day to think about the roles they were offered and must sign cast lists between 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Because all the cast lists are posted at the same time, students have the added advantage of being able to choose between roles, rather than make a commitment without knowing which plays they might--or might not--be in.

"It's good to have a couple of choices," said Jerry B. Shuman '98, who auditioned for a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, "Princess Ida." "Something you might not think you can get into, you might get a part in because no one else tried out."

While some first-year actors might find daunting the idea of auditioning for so many shows in a short time period, Shuman, after trying out for Common Casting two years in a row, said the process generally makes auditioning easy for anyone with theatrical aspirations.

Students can usually bring any monologue or song they want for an audition, whether it's a song they have sung in a previous musical, "The Star Spangled Banner" or "Happy Birthday." Last year, Shuman sang "Brown-Eyed Girl" for his audition.

Common Casting does have its draw-backs, though.

Because one actor may be presented with a number of choices, shows often have empty roles. Producers and directors keep actors on their waiting list in case leads are turned down, but the actors on the list may have already committed to another show when they are offered the role.

Also, many actors say the process is stressful--not because of the number of auditions but because of the amount of time in between them. Some actors sit in the theater lobbies for hours waiting to audition for different shows, while others are called almost immediately.

"It can get pretty tiring, it can get pretty boring and it can get pretty frustrating," Jordanna M. Brodsky '98, the publicity coordinator for the HRDC. "We try to keep things as entertaining as possible."

Others complained of the chaos Common Casting creates, with so many shows auditioning in such a short period of time.

This semester, Common Casting is even more difficult to organize, because HRDC has included more plays than usual, and has added the Mainly Jazz Dance Company to its list of auditioning groups.

Despite its flaws, however, both directors and actors seem to agree that Common Casting is a good way to determine cast lists for upcoming performances.

"It can get pretty hectic," Brodsky said. "But we try to keep things under control."

Surprisingly, Common Casting was not the mob scene it might have been this week, considering the number of shows holding auditions and actors trying out.

Ezra W. Reese '97, who is producing "Princess Ida" this April, said spring casting has been particularly quiet this year because casting began immediately after students returned from intersession and HRDC did not had enough time to publicize effectively.

The experimental theater coordinator for the HRDC Executive Board, Rob S. Sanders '98, agreed that Common Casting had been quiet this semester but said that he expected "tons of people" to show up last night.

"We always do it at the beginning of the semester because people have free time," Sanders said, adding that HRDC tries to publicize the event as extensively as possible.

The fall semester generally lures more actors because people are experimenting with the theater at Harvard, said HRDC President Terrell P. McSweeny '97.

The Hasty Pudding Theatricals also draws away potential actors, she added.

Although there are fewer people trying out for more roles, this weekend will still find nervous auditioners wondering if they will find their names on the lists on Monday morning. Those who do will barely have time to catch their breath before rehearsals begin.

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