Students play multiple roles

Students play multiple roles

Samuel Hardy, a senior majoring in theatre, was double-cast for four consecutive semesters, from the fall semester of his sophomore year to the spring semester of his junior year. CW | Pete Pajor

Francie Johnson

“That was a really intense rehearsal process, and then I wasn’t able to recover because we launched right into ‘Showboat’ immediately,” said Hardy, a senior majoring in theatre. “I never got that period of rest that would have been good for me.”

Hardy had been double-cast, meaning he had received roles in two theatre department productions in the same semester. Hardy was double-cast for four consecutive semesters, from the fall semester of his sophomore year to the spring semester of his junior year. By the end of his sophomore year alone, Hardy had participated in more productions than some students do throughout their entire college careers.

Although double-casting had been practiced before in the theatre department, Hardy said he noticed a spike during the 2013-2014 season.

“It was a small handful of people who, after a while, it became sort of expected that they’re going to be doing more than one thing in a semester,” Hardy said. “Patterns began to emerge, and it became harder for underclassmen to break in, especially because these upperclassmen were dominating the scene.”

The University’s theatre department casts departmental productions every semester through a single audition process. Students audition for all four fall productions during the first week of classes and for all four spring productions during the week after Thanksgiving break.

The process involves two days of general auditions followed by two days of callbacks, in which directors narrow the applicant pool down to their top few choices for each role. After callbacks, directors meet to discuss which students should play which roles.

“In years past, what would happen is those auditions would happen and then the callback auditions would occur, and every so often a few people would get selected to be in more than one show per semester,” Hardy said.

For Hardy, committing to roles in two different productions meant attending rehearsal six days a week throughout the majority of each semester, sometimes without even a day to recover between the final performance of one show and the beginning of rehearsals for another.

“There were a few times where it would affect my health,” Hardy said. “I’d start to get sick trying to balance the schedule. I’ve always been pretty good about keeping up with classes, but the exhaustion and the burnout was definitely a thing.”

Tara Lynn Steele, a senior majoring in musical theatre and dance, said the strain on student health was a large factor in the department’s collective decision to move away from double-casting this year.

“Currently they’re trying to restructure the program so that there’s more opportunity for people to perform in general,” Steele said. “They’re also trying to make sure the performers who have been double-cast aren’t getting sick and they’re actually taking care of themselves.”

Steele was double-cast during the spring semester of her sophomore year, and she is one of this year’s two undergraduate representatives in a policy committee that was established last spring to update the department’s handbook and address any miscommunication between students and faculty members. She said the issue of double-casting was one of the main contributing factors that led to foundation of the committee.

“It’s to discuss what the professors want and what the students want and to try and meet as many needs as possible,” she said. “[The committee is] clarifying and making sure that everyone knows what is expected of them as a professor, as a student and as a partnership and a cast.”

In addition to addressing concerns about student health, Steele said the department’s decision to avoid double-casting stems from a desire to re-emphasize the academic component of the program and encourage students to take full advantage of their time in the classroom. Another motive, she said, was to “spread the wealth” of roles amongst a wider variety of students.

“It hasn’t happened to me personally, but I do know a couple people that it’s happened to, where someone was double-cast in a role and there were other people that would have been good for the part,” she said. “And so that’s something that they’re trying to avoid now.”

While some students have held multiple roles in the same semester, others will spend four years in the department without ever receiving a role. Stage manager Abby Gandy said the department offered 30 to 45 roles across all four productions this semester. In comparison, she estimated 120 students auditioned.

Gandy estimated around 25 to 30 percent of students who audition each semester will end up with a role – although this number varies semester to semester based on the the number of roles available and the number of students auditioning.

“[Never getting a role over four years] is sad and it’s kind of sucky, but it does happen,” Gandy, a junior majoring in theatre, said. “[It’s] not as often as people probably make it out to be. Usually you can get at least one thing here or there.”

Jeffrey Tangeman, head of directing for the theatre department, estimated about 75 to 80 percent of all students who regularly audition will get at least one role during their four years with the program.

“I would imagine there are people who come here to major in theatre that maybe audition every semester while they’re here and don’t get cast,” he said. “I’m sure it has [happened]. I would bet money, actually, that it probably has occurred, but I think those situations are probably few and far between.”

Tangeman said when casting, he tries to find an even balance between his role as a director and his role as an educator.

“As a director, I have an obligation to serve the play, but as an educator, I have an obligation to provide opportunities to my students so they can learn and grow, because that’s why they’re here,” he said.

Sometimes casting a role can depend on more than just an actor’s talent, Tangeman said. A variety of factors go into choosing a cast, many of which are beyond the actor’s control. These can include the actor’s physical appearance, or “type,” the director’s subjective interpretation of the role and potential scheduling conflicts.

“This business of acting and casting is a real fickle sort of thing,” Tangeman said. “It’s nothing personal against any specific person, but if the director has something very specific in mind for what they want to see in that role, and that actor doesn’t fit that, it’s not gonna happen.”

Developing relationships with directors and maintaining a good reputation within the department can sometimes increase a performer’s chance of being cast. Hardy said his performances in past shows helped form a snowball effect that led to him being sought after by more directors.

“There’s a history of directors going to people and saying, ‘I would like to consider you for such and such a role in my upcoming show, take a look at the script, look at that role, and sort of tailor your audition to that,’” Hardy said. “I was told that by a few people. There was definitely something of a course that I was on that things were a little bit easier because people were coming to me knowing what they wanted from me ahead of time.”

Some directors feel more comfortable casting actors they have worked with before, rather than taking a chance on someone new, Gandy said.

“It’s a lot easier to be like ‘This part will be played perfectly by person A’ than ‘I could give person B a chance, and they could be fantastic, or they could bring the whole show down,’” she said.

Gandy said part of the department’s job is to prepare students for the rejection they will face in their acting careers after graduation.

“I get where the argument comes in for ‘It’s an educational theatre, we should cast different people,’ but we are selling tickets,” Gandy said. “There’s still a business aspect of it and a creative aspect, and it’s the real world. It’s how this works.”

For students who don’t get cast in departmental productions, a variety of other options exist to gain acting experience. Alpha Psi Omega, the theatre honors society, puts on a show each semester that prioritizes casting students who were not cast in the departmental shows. Also, students can participate in guerrilla theatre nights or sign up to appear in scenes directed by graduate students.

Time spent off the stage can be an important part of the educational process as well, Hardy said.

“There’s a selfish part of me that’s like ‘No, they should keep double casting so I can continue to work constantly,’” he said. “But I think it’s an important part of our training as actors here that we also learn what to do with ourselves when there’s not a show going on, because that’s the reality of a lot of peoples’ career once they get out of an academic environment.”