Casting call free-for-all

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U of R theatre department keeps auditions open for its main productions

Paul Bogdan
A&C Writer

We’re well into September now, and everyone seems to be starting to delve into the thick of things. The theatre department at the University of Regina is no different as it prepares for its upcoming production of Schoolhouse.

This is to be the third academic year where the theatre department has open auditions for their performances. The department opened auditions to students outside of the department of theatre for the first time ever when casting for the epic Greek tragedy Medea in 2010.

Open-cast plays are nothing new to Schoolhouse director Gerald Lenton-Young.

“That’s how I got involved in theatre,” he said. “I was in economics and I had always wanted to try and be in a play. When I was in my third year [of] honours economics, I went and tried out for this play and got into it”

The theatre department has changed its policy on open auditions several times over the years, but both open auditions and limiting the cast to theatre students have their advantages and disadvantages.

“When you have open casting … you’re casting basically for the people who are best suited to the role, as opposed to forcing people or shoehorning people into the role,” Lenton-Young said. “You’re [not] always limited to picking shows that suit specific people.

“In the last seven or eight years, there have been far more women in the program than men. As part of an actor’s training, they should have an opportunity to do scenes with men. I think giving more variety, more diversity, and allowing students who are in the university to have that experience if they want to it is part of the responsibility of the fine arts program. They sing in the choirs; they play in the bands. Why not be in plays as well?”

What’s interesting is casting students who don’t have post-secondary theatre training tends not to affect the performances so much as the rehearsals. The end product, being the actual show, is the same as if it was cast entirely of students in the theatre program, but the means of reaching the final product are different.

“If you have a production that’s limited to acting students in a class, then everybody is on the same page in regards to background and training. You know what language everyone is familiar with and what techniques they’ve had to date, and you can work with that knowledge,” Lenton-Young said. “If you get a more diverse cast, then there are some things that you have to address because of the different levels of knowledge”.

But, does being enrolled in the theatre program affect which role you’re cast in, or if you’re cast at all? Actors auditioning for the play have differing views as to whether being a part of the theatre program or not should affect the way that roles are cast for the production.

It would be easier for the director to make a decision if the theatre students were the only talented actors at the university, but the auditions proved it’s not only the theatre students who have acting talent.

“I was surprised; there was some nice talent there,” Lenton-Young said.

Richard McNab, who is not in the theatre program, feels “there should be preference for skill. I fully expect the theatre students to get most of the parts, but I think that if there’s someone with talent in a role over a theatre student, I think the talent is what’s more important.”

Not surprisingly, acting major Tyler Toppings feels otherwise.

“This is a learning environment, and this is what [acting students] are striving for,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t be in the acting program if I can’t beat so-and-so, but, at the same time, this isn’t the real world; this is a learning environment. It makes sense that it’s for the [theatre] students and not for everybody”

Ultimately, though, Lenton-Young has the final say as to which program a student is in affects the casting, and he feels  he’s “obliged in more ways than one” to choose acting majors for specific roles.

“Not as much an obligation, [but] giving people a chance to succeed,” he continued. “There’s one role in this play where the person who’s playing the teacher basically never leaves the stage, and I think without sufficient experience and background, you’re setting someone up to not do very well, because the rigor of a two-hour performance is a really heavy workload.”

Lenton-Young sees the open-casting policy continuing in future theatre department programs.

“We have one more big show this year that’s going to be open casting,” he said. “The final show is closed casting, because it’s the graduating show for the senior acting class. The intention is – for as long as I can see forward at this point until the program changes again – that the two big shows on the main stage are going to be open casting.”

The actual performance is centered around a single-room, all-grades country school, whose teacher is a young woman fresh out of normal school. Undeniably, those are the ingredients for a chaotic situation, but the problems in the classroom parallel similar ones of “acceptance, assimilation, and separation of cultures” in our own world today, explained Lenton-Young.

“What underlies is that fundamental human fear of change and difference,” he said. “The play centres around that for me.”

He further said the play does a fine job of “balancing the drama and the comedy. There are some comic characters and there are some very heartwarming moments.”

Performances of Schoolhouse are scheduled to start on Nov. 1 and run through Nov. 5 at the University Theatre. Better yet, it’s free for students with a valid student ID.

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