Boulevard Theatre’s Judgment Days for Actors

By - Oct 8th, 2010 04:00 am

Kate Merriman at a previous Boulevard Theatre public audition.

Become the character. Deliver the speech with all the passion you can muster. Then stand and take it as a panel of experts rips your performance — in front of a audience.

The Boulevard Theatre’s Dramatic License, to run Friday through Sunday (Oct. 8-10), is American Idol for actors. Bucher intends his take on the audition process to be a total theatrical immersion for all involved — like a good day at the Roman Colosseum.

Twenty-four actors, eight on each day, will participate. Beginners and established actors, men and women ranging from 18 to over 50, will start with 10-minute prepared monolgues. The judges will answer with volleys of criticism. The judeges are: actor David Flores, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre managing director Kirsten Mulvey, Acacia Theatre AD Janet Peterson; actor Mark Metcalf (star of stage, screen and TCD), director/actor/producer Mark Salentine, Windfall Theatre co-founder Carol Zippel, Milwaukee Rep education director Jenny Kostreva, actress Debra Babich, and Jan Gompper Nelson, professor of theater at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Some actors will fall by the wayside after the first round. Others will be “called back,” as actors are when producers and directors like what they see and want a second look when casting a show.

Bucher noted some of the more amazing audition sins he’s witnessed: “I’ve had a young white man read the part of a 70 year old African American woman and an another actor recite Shakespeare while auditioning for a Mamet play. Others deliver lines and obviously have no clue what they are saying. It shows the individual doesn’t know or care about what he or she presents. Talented or not, what that person reveals is that he or she is oblivious to what the director is looking for.”

Actors can wait for days for a callback. Dramatic License callbacks are immediate. Actors are either back for the for the second half or they’re gone.

Either way, the panel’s feedback — subtle, positive or harsh as it might be — should be a learning experience. In the real business of theater, no one tells you why you didn’t make the cut. The Dramatic License panel might call back all eight actors or as few as four. In the callback round, each participant will read a brief scene without preparation.

This cold reading will test the actor’s ability to quickly understand a scene. It also shows familiarity with theater repertoire — or reveals ignorance. Bucher describes the cold reading as a director’s tool.

“It exposes the actor’s ability to make a choice – right or wrong – to deliver the lines a certain way,” Bucher said. “It may be conventional or totally unique. Either way is fine as long as the decision has been made. If there’s indecision and hesitation, it’s a red flag for a director.”

The normal audition process is stressful enough. An audience ups the ante, but edgy nerves, stress and stage fright, as we know from American Idol, can be weirdly entertaining. And performers who overcome them can be inspiring.

It may seem cruel to put someone through the rigors of an audition under the scrutiny of a roomful of observers, but it is a learning opportunity both ways.

“It helps instruct the actor,” Bucher said “and it enriches the audience’s knowledge of how a theatre works. They’ll hear the panel’s remarks, just as the actor does. They’ll learn to be more discerning when they attend a performance, and they’ll learn to appreciate the incredible effort involved in bringing a show to the stage.”

But the best reason to have an audience at this thing, Mr. Bucher?

“The audience is the ultimate judge.”

Dramatic License runs at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 8-10) t the Boulevard Theater, 2252 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Tickets are $15, $10 for Boulevard subscribers. Call 414-744-5757.

Categories: A/C Feature 3, Theater

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