2011 / 2012 Season

The Seafarer: Director’s Blog #1, Auditions

The next production at WCT, Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, opens Thanksgiving weekend and runs three weekends—appropriately, since the play is set on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
.   One of the most suspenseful and important phases of the production is now behind us: auditions.
.   I’ve auditioned for roles myself, and I find them harrowing. Surely that’s partly because I audition rarely, take roles rarely, and therefore feel somewhat awkward on a stage. I look around and see actors more experienced, more at ease, and more likely to get cast than I, and lose my nerve. I also have some vision alignment problems that mean I have to keep my nose directly in a script to see it, and I know the director would occasionally like to see my face…. Well, because of my own “issues” as an auditioner, as a director I do try to put auditioners at ease, and give them the same chance at a role I would like to be given if I were in their place. And then sometimes I wonder if the auditioners are more relaxed than I am.
.   There’s so much riding on the audition. WHO plays a role has so much influence on HOW it can be played. This is true both for the individual role and for the overall ensemble and the world they can create. I always tell auditioners that I cast to ensemble: that is, how good an actor is individually and “qua actor,” so to speak, is only part of what I’m trying to find out in an audition. How good he or she is for the role, how compatible his or her potential is with my own vision for the play, and how well he or she will complement the rest of the cast and the development of the scenes—these are crucial considerations. Actors tend to feel that if they don’t get a role it’s because the director thought somebody else was a better actor. While that may be so, much more significant is whether somebody else seems better for the role and a better fit with the other actors being chosen for the cast.
.    I directed the Connecticut première of McPherson’s The Weir, and I think he really speaks to me. I have since directed staged readings of several other of his plays, including The Seafarer. I saw the production of this play directed by McPherson himself in New York, but I also see this play very clearly in my own mind, and the members of the staged-reading cast confirmed my love for it and my ideas about its direction.
.   So when I went into auditions for the production of this play, I was hoping to see some of the actors who had been in the reading. For this play I didn’t pre-cast anyone, but I did make sure that people I was interested in would be auditioning, and I also had some possible choices “pencilled in.” David Brubaker, my brilliant and beloved director back in college, said often that a director who had no casting possibilities in mind had no business choosing a play to begin with, and I agree with him. I was interested in all the actors who auditioned, and their potential for this play, and I did my best to give everyone a fair hearing; but for several of the roles, new auditioners did have candidates to “beat.”
.    Most of the actors who auditioned came prepared for the evening, having read all or part of the play, having seen a production of it possibly, having read the audition notice carefully. One of the auditioners had decided only at the last minute to come, though, and since he had not prepared the required Irish accent he chose not to try it. That was a shame, because accents are necessary for this play, and I couldn’t make a casting decision based on the possibility that he could do a good one. Note to anyone auditioning for anyone: come ready to do what the audition announcement has suggested is necessary.
.   In the end, I wound up casting three of the five actors who had been in the staged reading of the play with me. To say the other two were also actors I’d worked with before would be somewhat misleading, because most of the auditioners were actors I’d worked with before. Actually three of the actors cast had been in my production of The Weir back in 2001, as well. For a play this intimate, this demanding, and this substantial, I was unlikely to cast someone whose work I didn’t know. I did that once many years ago and nearly destroyed the show: in fact, I had to dismiss the actor from the cast just two days before we opened because he was nowhere near ready to do the part in front of an audience and, in the lead role as he was, would have brought the entire play crashing down. (Another actor went on with a script and was infinitely better. I wish I had had the courage to make the change sooner, for the sake of the other actors who had gamely been trying to develop their scenes with no help from the lead.)
.   The offer of a role is the beginning of an adventure that has to be buoyed by mutual courage, mutual work, and mutual trust. I’m confident that I have a cast where that will be the case.
.   We’ve had the read-through that begins the rehearsal process, and I enjoyed the camaraderie among the actors, the wonderful interplay of their voices, and McPherson’s natural, funny, painful, beautiful dialogue. I can’t wait to start rehearsals in earnest.

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“Moonlight and Magnolias” – a little background

"Moonlight and Magnolias"

Cast (missing Cindy Hartog), Director and Stage Manager – "Moonlight and Magnolias"

Just in case you missed the excellent article in “The Prompter” – a little background information for “Moonlight and Magnolias”:

From its inception, the film version of Margaret Mitchell’s epic Civil War novel, “Gone With The Wind,” was a monumental undertaking – the biggest, most expensive production Hollywood had ever seen. But filming had hardly begun in the winter of 1939 when producer David O. Selznick suddenly fired the director, George Cukor, and shut production down. It seemed that Selznick was appalled at the initial scenes Cukor had shot. Those closest to the production blamed not the director but the script he was working with, which had been largely crafted (and repeatedly recrafted) by Selznick himself. A hyper-driven, insufferable micro-manager, Selznick meddled in every aspect of production, from the details of the costumes to the art direction and especially the screenplay, firing numerous screenwriters who could not come up with an adapation to his satisfaction, and often rewriting their work himself. (One of the writers he fired was F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose fragile confidence was so damaged by working with Selznick that he afterward entered a downward spiral of drinking and depression.)

Selznick replaced Cukor with Victor Fleming, who was in the middle of directing “The Wizard of Oz”; it was Fleming who had the nerve to tell Selznick that his script was no good (nobody had ever said that to the Boss before), which so surprised and rattled the producer that he called in his old friend Ben Hecht to do an emergency rewrite. Known sardonically as the “Shakespeare of Hollywood,” ex-newspaperman / prolific screenwriter Hecht (“The Front Page”) was working on a Marx Brothers film when he was suddenly called away: At dawn on Sunday, February 20, 1939, David Selznick and director Victor Fleming woke up Hecht to inform him he was on loan from MGM and they spirited him away to the studio to work on Gone with the Wind. It was costing Selznick $50,000 each day the film was on hold waiting for a final screenplay rewrite, and there was no time to waste. The episode that ensued behind closed doors is the basis for Ron Hutchinson’s uproarious comedy “Moonlight and Magnolias,” which opens WCT’s new season in September.

An engaging anecdotal account is described in an article in Atlantic Monthly, “The Making of Gone With The Wind,” by Gavin Lambert (March 1973)*, and by the writer himself in “Ben Hecht: A Biography,” quoted here: “[Hecht] said he hadn’t read the novel but Selznick and director Fleming could not wait for him to read it. They would act out scenes based on Sidney Howard’s original script which needed to be rewritten in a hurry. Hecht wrote, ‘After each scene had been performed and discussed, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out. Selznick and Fleming, eager to continue with their acting, kept hurrying me. We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day. Selznick refused to let us eat lunch, arguing that food would slow us up. He provided bananas and salted peanuts….’” For Irish playwright Hutchinson (who is himself a successful Hollywood screenwriter) the comic potential in such an arrangement was too much to pass up, as he said in an interview (Ron Hutchinson, A Celebration by David G. Anderson): “…it struck me, wow—this is classical farce. Can you imagine? All the elements are there. Three high-powered individuals lock themselves in a room existing on peanuts and bananas, and they are ever mindful that the clock is ticking, in a total pressure cooker situation.”

Selznick’s obsession with minute production details also resonated with Hutchinson’s experience: “The people in the industry are way too worried about the costuming, scenery, casting, and staging. They will have all this in place and then realize, hey—we have to do something with the script. This mess is total garbage. Unfortunately, the script has become a complete after-thought, and there are millions of dollars at stake.” Nevertheless, “Moonlight and Magnolias,” he admits, “was really more of a celebration to correct the image of film’s golden age writers, directors, and producers than an indictment of Hollywood…. Selznick had everything on the line: his fortune, reputation, and his marriage.” At the end of that week in 1939, Hecht emerged from the pressure cooker, took his hefty writing fee, gathered what strength he had and ran for a train to take him home to Chicago. He refused to take credit for the massive fourhour screenplay; credit eventually went to Sidney Howard, along with an Academy Award. The episode seemed to be something he wanted to forget. But what happened in Selznick’s office is, in Hutchinson’s imagination, an hilarious, thought-provoking Hollywood tale of men fighting themselves (and each other) not just for survival but for a chance at immortality. As the playwright says: “Is there an abundance of crazy, driven, slightly off kilter people out here? Yes, and they all want to leave their indelible imprint on the precious celluloid.”

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“Moonlight and Magnolias” opens Westport Community Theatre’s new season TONIGHT!

“Moonlight and Magnolias”
by Ron Hutchinson
directed by Jessica Denes

Opens Friday, September 16 at 8:00 PM

Westport Community Theatre opens the 2011 / 2012 season with a madcap comedy, “Moonlight and Magnolias” by Ron Hutchinson, directed by Jessica Denes. It’s 1939 Hollywood, and legendary movie producer David O. Selznick has shut down production of the biggest and most expensive movie of his career, “Gone With the Wind.” In desperation, he brings playwright Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming in to save the script… Think locked room… script rewrite… haven’t read the book… Scarlett… Rhett… bananas… and the result is a fast-paced, slapstick farce that keeps audiences laughing – and guessing – until the end.

Starring four of the finest actors in Fairfield County – John Bachelder as director Victor Fleming, Bob Fillipowich as producer David O. Selznick, Cindy Hartog as the erstwhile secretary Miss Poppenghul, and Rick Waln as writer Ben Hecht – the play runs September 16-October 2, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm, and Thursday, September 22 at 8:00 pm. Westport Community Theatre at Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport. Tickets are $18 – $20; for reservations and information go to (203) 226-1983 or go to www.westportcommunitytheatre.com  for directions. Seniors discount of $2, groups of 10 or more enjoy a $2 per ticket discount, and there is a special “Student Rush” discount 15 minutes prior to performances for students of all ages with a valid student identification card.

(left to right) Bob Filipowich (Fairfield) as producer David O. Selznick, Rick Waln (Bedford Corners) as playwright Ben Hecht and John Bachelder (Woodbridge) as director Victor Fleming in Westport Community Theatre’s production of “Moonlight and Magnolias“ – September 16 – October 2, 2011.

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Auditions: The Seafarer

WESTPORT COMMUNITY THEATRE
Announces AUDITIONS for
The Seafarer
By Conor McPherson

Directed by Ruth Anne Baumgartner
Auditions will be held on:
Monday, September 19 & Tuesday, September 20 at 7:00 PM
at the Westport Community Theatre
Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT

Award-winning Irish playwright Conor McPhersonʼs THE SEAFARER is a wonderful achievement of character, plot, and atmosphere, and is another expression of his continuing fascination with myths, legends, and the supernatural. Set on Christmas Eve in north Dublin, the play presents a boozy night and a visit from…no, not Santa, not by a long shot. Sharky Harkin, chronic knockabout, returns home to visit his brother, who has recently gone blind. Some old friends come by, the drinking starts (or, more accurately, continues), and Sharky finds himself playing poker with the Devil. The London Observer said of this play, “Succinct, startling and eerie, and the funniest McPherson play to date.” McPherson has been called the outstanding playwright of his generation—The Daily Mail says “McPherson writes like a dream.” Director Ruth Anne Baumgartner says of The Seafarer, “Itʼs funny, itʼs suspenseful, itʼs moving, and at last it will fill you with a strange and triumphant joy.” (The ETC staged reading of this play in December of 2009 received a standing ovation.)

Needed: 5 men. Characters, as described by McPherson:

James “Sharky” Harkin, erstwhile fisherman/van driver/chauffeur, 50s. “He is not a big man, but is wiry and strong. A very tough life is etched on his face. His eyes are quick and ready.”

Richard Harkin, his older brother, blind, late 50s/60s. “He is unshaven and looks terrible. He has recently gone blind.”

Ivan Curry, old friend of the Harkins, late 40s. “A big burly man with a red face and curly hair.” For most of the play, he canʼt find his glasses, and his vision is poor, especially for reading.

Nicky Giblin, a friend of Richardʼs, late 40s/50s. He “has a skinny, nervy appearance. He rarely seems in bad humour.”

Mr. Lockhart, an acquaintance of Nickyʼs, 50s. “He looks like a wealthy businessman and bon viveur.”

The director will be guided by these ages and descriptions but not bound by them. Casting decisions will be made for the sake of the ensemble.

For ALL roles: a credible Irish (Dublin) accent is important, as is the ability to create and sustain the impression of functional inebriation.

Auditions will consist of cold readings from the script.

People interested in working backstage in design or execution are warmly invited to attend the auditions.

Auditions: at Westport Community Theatre. Monday 19 September and Tuesday 20 September, 7-9.

Performance dates: Nov. 25 – Dec. 11.

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Moonlight & Magnolias

WESTPORT COMMUNITY THEATRE
Announces AUDITIONS for
Moonlight & Magnolias

By Ron Hutchinson
Directed by Jessica Denes

Auditions will be held on:
Sunday, July 17 & Monday, July 18 at 7:00 PM
at the Westport Community Theatre
Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT

The story: Based on true events. In 1939, three weeks into the shooting of Gone with the Wind, David O. Selznick has shut down production of what was the largest, most expensive movie of its day. George Cukor has been fired as director and the umpteenth draft of a script has proven to be unworkable. While fending off the film’s stars, gossip columnists, and his own father-in-law, Selznick sends for famed screenwriter Ben Hecht and pulls formidable director Victor Fleming from the set of The Wizard of Oz. Selznick still has a problem: Hecht has never read the book and every day he keeps production idle, it costs Selznick fifty thousand dollars. To make matters worse, Hecht doesn’t think much of the one page he did manage to read. Hecht and Fleming don’t exactly hit it off and are more interested in sniping professionally and personally at each other than working on the script. Selznick locks the doors, closes the shades, and on a diet of bananas and peanuts, the three men labor over five days to fashion a screenplay that will become the blueprint for one of the most successful and beloved films of all time. Frankly, my dear, this is one funny play…; a rip-roaring farce…; [with] witty, pointed dialogue and hilarious situations…;” -NY Daily News. Director’s note: For those with Peanut allergies, the actors do consume Peanuts throughout the show. Performance Dates are September 16 – October 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm
Characters: Auditions will consist of cold readings from the script. Familiarity with the play is suggested.
David O. Selznick (40-50s) is the prototypical Hollywood producer – obsessive, driven, and just a little nuts. GWTW is his masterpiece; he must have it how he sees it, and nothing must stand in the way. It’s his only chance to make one great picture.

Ben Hecht (40s) is the clever, quick-witted, articulate newspaperman turned script doctor. Sardonic but principled, he stands against everything that GWTW represents. Passionate advocate of anti-holocaust activism.

Vic Fleming (40-50s) is a real man’s man, friend of Clark Gable, talented, caustic, and capable. Does not suffer fools gladly. Don’t confuse him with someone who gives a damn.

Ms. Poppenghul (Any) is Selznick’s secretary, loyal, unflappable, no-nonsense. She knows how to deal with a pushy boss.

Perusal scripts available please contact the director at jessicadenes1@yahoo.com
For further information please call the Westport Community Theatre at (203) 226-1983 or contact the director at jessicadenes1@yahoo.com.

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