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Three score and ten or more

Thursday, August 07, 2008

I have to say at the beginning of this that I have made my living from performance almost all my life. I have acted, done a talk show on radio and TV, been a business manager of a theatre, as well as acting in, and directing a hundred or more plays at the community, summer stock, high-school, college and Festival levels. I have designed and built settings for somewhat over fifty shows, written a play that has been produced a couple of times, translated another, and written , produced, directed, and/or built puppets for, and sometimes been the only performing participant in twenty-some puppet shows produced in theatres, mall lobbies, libraries and individual birthday parties. I have done Lorca's Blood Wedding with life sized puppets and directed a cast of forty in a totally improvised production of Dracula. (Actually it was not totally improvised, we used the novel and a scenario that I wrote as a rehearsal basis.) In this process I have been the Director of Theatre in a college setting, I have been the technical director and designer in a college, and I have avoided designing and/or building costumes on all occasions but three. I have sung in choirs, quartets, and solos in venues ranging from musical theatre to churches to saloons. I have not been on Broadway or in a TV series and most of my parts in the films I have done ended on the cutting room floor. I have loved almost every minute of it-- with the exception of auditions. Auditions can be exciting, liberating and fun, but in general they are frightening, fearful, occasionally humiliating, and almost always frustrating. That applies to both the auditionees and those who must evaluate them.

The worst auditions, generally, are those referred to by the participants as a cattle call. Anyone who can demonstrate the qualifications (May be age, gender, vocal range, height or lack of it, Equity or SAG card, LACK of Equity or SAG card, or an acquaintance with someone or recommendation from someone who can get you in). For the casting director it may involve figuring out how to survive one more fat baritone singing for a romantic tenor lead (or vice versa) Listening to what seems like forty million mediocre actors speaking the same speeches, or being thrilled to the core when the right looking, right sounding, person comes in and sings five bars of a tune in a way that you had not imagined.

The cattle call audition is usually succeeded by a call back. This is an invitation-only audition for those who are considered real possibilities for finished performance. These are as tense as the cattle call, but are really more exciting because all the participants realize that there may be real effective results when the work is finished.

The format of the cattle call, the call back and the final auditions has been used for decades, and perhaps forever as the basis for plays, movies, television programs and even parties (I remember a board game called "Audition" or something like that which was popular many years ago.) Seeing the audition in a sense, fulfils the need that many of us have to see how things work. Many of us have watched Star Search, Dancing with the Stars, and even the Original Amateur Hour. and watched this process evolve (and in some cases devolve). Some shows have made fun of the fact that folks who have no talent, looks, or abilities but lots of guts are often willing to show off their lack of talent for five minutes of fame, no matter how humiating it may be. The Gong Show, Star Search. America's Got Talent and other shows use this process and we groan as the obvious failure throws down the gauntlet to the judges. We groan more when, occasionally, for whatever reason, the obvious failure is given encouragement to go on.

The results are mixed, with obvious joy and equally obvious tears, blown up on the widest possible screen for our entertainment. It is sometimes ridiculously close to the games between the Christians and the Lions in the Colosseum in Rome, complete with the occasional actual thumbs up or thumbs down gestures that were give to combatants in those games.

With the exception of Dancing with the Stars which I enjoy for no discernible reason, I am not a rabid fan of any of the reality series but am an occasional watcher, and am often rewarded. Watching the face of one judge, Sharon Osborn, as she observed a performer do a pretty dead-on imitation of her husband Ozzie was worth the time.

The "call back" for these shows is supposed to be a trip to Las Vegas where all will perform again to be evaluated for live performance in the final Los Angeles. Every winner at this point is exhilarated, calls home and tells the family, then goes home and rehearses like mad for the "call backs"

In the first program of this weeks America's Got Talent we were privileged to watch what was probably the most cynical, sadistic, and, in my opinion, evil moments on television. All those who were invited to "Vegas" were shown getting ready for the trip, saying farewell to their thrilled families and friends, then on arrival in Vegas were dressed in their costume and make up and about a third of them were informed that the whole thing was a damned lie. They were going home without any opportunity to perform, (having wept mightily and smeared their make-up on camera for the satisfaction of the producers, the judges, and whoever else was making money out of their humiliation and agony.) We were treated to an opportunity to watch the judges re-run the video tapes (which should have been done before any trips were made- - and probably were) of original performances and acknowledge that perhaps mistakes were made. We were treated to the sadism of the judges (I note particularly Mr. Morgan who is listed as the producer and therefore the promulgator of the opportunity we were given to watch these people who had come to Las Vegas in such hope and excitement fed to the lions with cynicism ) This cynicism was carefully mixed with the crocodile tears shown by the judges as they produced this spiritual and emotional rape in the same way that I envision serial rapists or child molesters apologizing in teary eyes to their victims. IIIICKK , RARELY HAS SLEASE BEEN PRESENTED TO A NATIONAL AUDIENCE WITH MORE APOLOGY AND SWEETNESS.


At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Kathleen said...

Spot on, Richard!


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