by Jeremy van Meter
When I lived and worked as an actor in Chicago, I was quite familiar with the concept of “auditioning” for a role. In fact, it became a weekly practice and I do think that I came to be good at it. I am now in my 7th season at the Commonweal where those of us in the ensemble do not audition for the roles we play. It’s been seven years since my last audition and, oddly enough, I miss it. And for the past two years, I have found myself on the other side of the auditioning process by joining Commonweal Executive Director Hal Cropp at actor auditions at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN and the much larger national general auditions for actors, dancers and singers at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, TN.
These “cattle-call” general auditions can be daunting prospects. At the Park Square auditions, actors are granted two minutes to present two theatrical monologues of contrasting nature. At the Memphis auditions, otherwise known as the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions, actors have 90 seconds to present both a monologue and 16 bars from a musical theatre piece. That’s right, it’s basically a 90-second job interview amongst stiff competition. With Memphis and St. Paul combined for a total of eight days, Hal and I saw over 950 artists of all ages audition for theatre work.
You may ask yourself, “The Commonweal has a resident ensemble of actors, why in the world would Hal and Jeremy sit through all those auditions?” It is at those general auditions that we “fill out” the rest of the company for the season. Our apprentice class of young actors, now in its 11th year, is pulled from those auditions. Any “seasonal” actors that we hire for one or two productions a year are artists that we have seen at those auditions. It is an extremely grueling and exhausting task, especially in Memphis, but it is also exhilarating to see how much talent is out there and how many people are choosing to follow a life in the arts.
And so even as our current company of apprentice artists is busy creating the world of Salt-Water Moon, their own capstone project, the artistic staff at the Commonweal are making offers to the next group of young theatre-makers who we hope will join us to play with us onstage and to learn all that it takes to operate a small professional theatre company. They are the future and all of them got their jobs in 90 seconds!
See you at the theatre!