Equal Opportunity Auditions
Actors, by definition, are a sensitive bunch (the better to make us feel a playwright's intent). True to form, many bristled when SF Weekly's profile of Carey Perloff ("Carey Nation," July 26) skipped over the issue of casting locals in ACT shows -- a stew that has simmered in acting circles ever since last season's Angels in America opened with only one Bay Area thespian in the onstage cast of eight (six other locals were hired as understudies). That apparent slap stung anew every time ACT extended the Angels run. When the production closed late in May, seven out-of-town actors had worked steadily for months, making a minimum of $572 a week.
According to David Dower, artistic director of Z Space Studio (which had sponsored a panel discussion on the local-casting flap last August), the issue over Angels for Bay Area actors is "not so much about employment as about being perceived as being invisible." Angels became a lightning rod, Dower says, in the struggle by those who work in smaller spaces "to gain recognition and respect. The truth is we don't have an easy flow between the trenches and the heights. ... Many are not feeling they participate in the same community as ... Berkeley Rep and ACT."
Meryl Shaw, ACT's casting director, defends the company's hiring record, noting that of 107 actors hired last season, 88 were local. Shaw herself auditioned about 100 actors for Angels (more than 400 applied). Director Mark Wing-Davey -- who, along with playwright Tony Kushner, insisted on final casting rights -- auditioned 45 locals, calling a dozen back and ultimately choosing one (Lise Bruneau as the angel). "It was important to Mark and Tony that ACT was able to support a national search for actors, particularly for that show," Shaw explains. Ultimately, the other Angels players were drawn from New York and L.A.
For ACT's upcoming season, Shaw anticipates that roughly the same percentages as last year of local actors overall will be hired for six of the seven shows -- the cast for Seven Guitars, an out-of-town co-production on its pre-Broadway tour, is already set. Though casting is still in the works, Shaw reports that the season opener, Arcadia, has already drafted three principals from the ACT conservatory.
Can Bay Area actors count on ACT for gigs? Economics dictate that ACT draw from the local talent pool (housing and transportation make out-of-town casts prohibitively expensive). But the proper entitlement ACT offers, Shaw emphasizes, is "the ability to audition. We have done a lot of local auditioning for every show. We can't guarantee actors that the director will want to work with them. But the doors are open for an opportunity."