On Female-Identified Actors, Their Auditions, and Reactions to Their Auditions – Or, What the Hell?

Recently, there was a minor kerfuffle in our little Seattle hamlet over auditor responses following the Theatre Puget Sound Unified General Auditions. Every year, TPS graciously arranges a week-long cattle-call audition for local actors (Equity and non-Equity) to introduce or re-introduce themselves to local casting directors, agents, and freelance directors. Every year, the Generals also sends out a survey to the auditors so that they can comment how to make things better for next year, and also to highlight some specific concerns for actors. These things are supposed to be helpful tidbits for actors, and some of them are. Most of them are contradictory and some of them are, well. Bad. Really bad. The responders this year made a few choice comments about female-identified actors that shook some dust-up.

Shane Regan, one of the wonderful talents in our community and also the organizer of TPS Generals (as well as the Gregory Awards) and all around nice person, posted the collected responses to his Facebook page where I first took notice. I was not the only one, but the conversation spiraled from there into setting up a podcast discussion with Katie Woodzick on Theatrical Mustang. She gathered myself, Shane, L. Nicol Cabe, and Rachel Delmar to discuss the issues brought up by the auditors. If you’d like to listen to the podcast go here.

We’re all also social media folks so you can follow us here: @shaneregan @racheldelmar @nicolthegreat @TheWoodzick @cmeak

To read the full selection of comments made by the auditors, read here. Most them are harmless and what you’d expect. (Funny story, no one could figure out the exit so that’s the majority of the comments.)

And here are some of the comments that made me angry.

What were the most common mistakes made by actors this year?

“Too many female monologues revolving around sex, dating, and relationships. It would be great to see a less sexualized selection of work from female artists.”

What were the most overused pieces, playwrights, plays, done by female actors?

“As always, Helena, Hermia and Juliet.”

“breakup tirades. Not funny. Just hostile.”

“I would like to see young female actors stop playing whining victims. If you are going to do it – then remember to show some strength. Vulnerability is great but what is more interesting is showing women of strength. That gets my attention.”

“Topics of: dating, sex, relationships”

General comments you wish to make to actors who may want to do the general auditions in the future.

“Don’t dress in provocative clothing and expect sex to get you a job.This goes for choice of pieces, too.”

“Wear clothes that you can move in. We are not looking for people who look glamorous, we want to see artists who can use their instruments effectively and with intention. Teetering on heels serves no purpose.”

So, yeah. There’s a lot to unpack here. The whole podcast deals with these issues and I’d encourage you to listen.

New project – Peregrine Sonata

A new dramaturgy project has crossed my path titled Peregrine Sonata. I’ll be working with local playwright Amanda Aikman on her new play which will premiere at Wade James Theater with the Driftwood Players in Edmonds as part of their Spotlight a Local Playwright program. Here’s an excerpt from the site:

Five very different women struggle through their work, passions, and art to create a better world. Like most people, they wonder whether their efforts are in vain. Through glimpses of dramatic turning points in their lives, three interwoven plays show how a 19-year-old bike messenger, a middle-aged physician, two rival war correspondents, and a gifted young composer create far-reaching consequences of which they are completely unaware. Realistic and affirming, “Peregrine” is an eye-opener for all of us.

I’m very excited to work on the project which will open in mid-January.

Revenge research: Film Horror in the 1950s

According to The Monster Show by David J. Skaal the monster movie industry used the horror genre to showcase intense fears related to wars (foreign and domestic) such as WWI and WWII, the atomic bomb, Red Scare, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, HIV AIDS, birth control, etc. all under a veil of make-believe.

The 50s horror movie spoke to the complete devastation witnessed on their TV screens – the atomic mushroom cloud. The idea that nuclear attack was imminent created fear of the world we could expect after the cloud dissipated – genetic mutation – increasing our fears literally to an insurmountable size (ie. Godzilla, The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Blob, Attack of the Giant Leeches).

Additionally, fear had increased around the idea of outsiders invading, whether they were extra-terrestrial or Communists. Correspondingly, the horror genre reflected back with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars. The true terror of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the idea that your neighbor, close friend, boss, wife, husband, and children could be infiltrated by this [Communist] conspiracy. No one was safe from the invasion. You couldn’t run or hide from it like other monsters because this monster dons a human face. (Additional invasion/otherness films include Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Killers from Space.)

In the 50s we begin to see a tongue-in-cheek approach to violence, death, and horror. Vampira (and her awful jokes) pervaded local access channels showing monster movies from an earlier era dealing with the same fears of war. Her ridiculously cheesy commentary had a laissez-faire sentiment toward death and appealed to audiences who were terrified that any day could be the last if they heard the air raid siren. In essence, Americans were so terrified of being blown-up, they decided to joke about the inevitability of death, treating it as escape rather than something to fear.

In terms of cheese-specific horror movies we have Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy and Macabre. (Macabre isn’t so much cheesy as surrounded by cheesy gimmicks. The theatres gave people certificates for $1000 life insurance policy as they entered the film just in case the movie scared you to death. Some theatres also had ushers dressed as doctors and surgeons, staging ambulances at the entrances.)  Other cheese-riffic 50s horror winners are The Thing that Couldn’t Die, The Giant Claw, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and The Brain from Planet Arous. Though these films were not intentionally amusing, it’s difficult to believe that audiences found them frightening.

Revenge as a motif in horror films did not enter the scene until the late 60s and early 70s when films started to reflect uprisings against an unsympathetic government. As if echoing the origins of Elizabethan tragedy we begin to see the proletariat rise up against people in power, and in so doing discovering their own innate power. We see this most explicitly in the movie Carrie.

Vengeance at Sundown announced

I have recently signed on to dramaturg for Ghost Light Theatrical’s new adaptation of Revenger’s Tragedy, aptly re-titled Vengeance Sundown. Our production re-imagines the classic tongue-in-cheek Jacobean satire into a 1950s style horror movie full of glorious amounts of camp and carnage.

Director Beth Raas-Bergquist and I will be working together again. I also have the opportunity to work with the talented playwrights Ben Newton and David van Wert who write for Ghost Lite – the late-night series that creates satiric interpretation of productions currently on Ghost Light’s classics-focused stage.

Thus far, the research I have collected has been a mixture of the culture history of horror and significance of the revenge drama on the Renaissance stage. I will share interesting tid-bits in the weeks to come.

Our first design meeting is August 2nd, rehearsals start the first week of September, and the play will open in October.