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The Unpredictable Road to the Roda

posted by Michael Barrett Austin on Fri, May 8, 2009
in Backstage buzz

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LOI_210 
Well, I knew I'd be playing one of these guys...
(l to r: Rowan Brooks, Danny Wolohan, Blake Ellis, and me.
Kneeling are James Carpenter and Adam Farabee.
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com)

I’ve had Berkeley Repertory Theatre on the list of theatres I longed to work with since I first figured out I wanted to be an actor, growing up in Los Altos, and my desire has only grown in the years I’ve been an adult actor residing in San Francisco. But roles are limited and competition is high with a theatre of this caliber, and I knew that it would take some luck for me to get into a season show here. With The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the stars have finally aligned (with a little nudging…).

Over a year ago, I heard through the actor grapevine that Berkeley Rep was bringing in some local actors to read for parts in Les Waters’ upcoming production The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Having thought Waters’ production of The Pillowman (by the same author, Martin McDonagh) was one of the best things I’d seen in recent years, and knowing the Inishmore script was not only wonderful but contained parts for young men, I was immediately interested. So interested, in fact, that I decided to write Amy Potozkin (the Theatre's casting director) an email and express this interest. Contacting casting directors can be a risky proposition, as you fear they may have already decided you weren’t right for the roles available, and take offense if they feel like you’re trying to tell them how to do their job. But happily, Amy is a very kind person, and she called me to ask if I’d be interested not only in auditioning for a role, but also in being hired as the audition reader, so that Les could get to know me a little bit, since he’d never met me before. Did I feel comfortable doing an Irish accent? If so, the job was mine.

Happily, I had not only previously worked with other companies as an audition reader, I had performed no less than three Irish-accented characters onstage in the past, so I felt no qualms about giving Amy an unequivocal yes (though you can be sure I spent a lot of time with my old recorded Irish dialect lessons between that phone call and the day of the auditions!).

The auditions were a wonderful experience. Everyone I met at the theatre was incredibly welcoming and kind, and observing and reading with the other actors coming in to audition was a true privilege, because Berkeley Rep brings in such talented people—every actor that came in made different choices and brought something different to the role they were reading for, but they were all good, and all interesting to watch. Additionally, by the time it was my turn to stand up from my reader’s chair and give my own audition late in the day, I felt like I had gotten a lot of practice with the material, and had had time to relax and feel comfortable in front of both Amy and Les. The day got even better when Les asked me to read for a second role in the play, in addition to the one Amy had originally asked me prepare! At the end of the day, they asked if I could return to read for this second role again and serve as the reader for a round of callbacks the next week, which of course I was happy to do.

The callbacks came, and I had a great time once again, and did my best with my second read for this new character. When the callback session came to an end, I walked out feeling pretty good. I had had fun, I felt like I learned something from my participation, and hoped I had made a good impression. That said, I truly was not expecting to get offered a part in the play. This is not false modesty—I had just seen so many wonderful actors read well for the same roles I read for, and many of these actors had more impressive resumes than me, and/or had even worked with Berkeley Rep before. Furthermore, I knew they were still planning to audition more actors in New York.

But, not more than a few hours later, having just returned to my day job, my cell phone rang, and the caller ID said ‘Berkeley Rep.’ With trepidation and excitement, I picked up.

The first thing Amy said to me was, “Les was so impressed with you…,” and I instantly thought, “here it comes, here comes the ‘but he can’t use you this time...’” But instead, I could barely believe it when she continued, “…and he definitely wants you in the show!”

But there was a twist: she couldn't tell me which role I was cast in, because Les thought I might work in two different roles, and wanted to wait until they completed their New York auditions about six months later before deciding which role I would play. But I’d be one of them, and that was fine with me—if you know the play, you know every character has great lines and great moments, and all that mattered to me was that I was finally going to be working at Berkeley Rep, on this fantastic script with this incredible director.

The months went by slowly, full of suspense, and finally, about six months later, Amy let me know which of the two roles I was cast in. By the end of the year, they had sent me my contract to sign for this role, and I put it on my resume, and began to prepare.

But the story was STILL not at an end!

A few weeks after I mailed in my signed contract, I heard from Amy once again—an actor they’d originally cast was regretfully forced to decline his role, and now Les wanted to call me back in to read for THIS role, and once again serve as an audition reader, as they brought in still more actors to read for both this newly-available role, as well as the role I was currently cast in. Of course I was happy to do it—rarely does an actor get a chance to audition for a show they are already contracted to be a part of; it was one of the least stressful audition experiences I’ve ever had, despite it being for one of the best companies I’ve ever auditioned for!

After two more sessions of auditions in early 2009, I was asked to switch roles, and signed a new rider for my contract stipulating I’d be playing Joey in The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

The road to casting was a long and twisty one, during which I read almost every part in the script (including the female one!), and was nearly cast in three out of the seven male roles. But looking at the final group of actors I am honored to share the stage with in this play, I cannot imagine things having turned out any other way. Every one of my cast-mates seems to me perfect in their parts, and together with our incredible crew, they bring just the right balance to the production.

It took some personal initiative, some faith from Amy and Les, and some really good fortune, but here I am on the Roda Stage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. I take a moment to appreciate it every single day.

Comments:

Saw the show yesterday, and I think the casting choices were inspired. I want everyone to see this show.

Jan Austin | Sun, May 10, 2009


Bought tickets and attended the showing last nite (May 10) of this play. My wife and I left at intermission, and if we had been seated on an aisle, would have left earlier. We had the same reaction to Quentin Tarantino's movie "Reservoir Dogs". i.e. we don't think human torture is a valid source of dramatic tenison, nor , in this case, humour. We also don't appreciate simulated blood and gore. Can only assume we share few if any values with the audience, who seemed to find all this raucously funny. Whatever one goes to seek in the theatre is also absent, even outside of these miserable scenes. The "dialogue" was about %50 obscenities, delivered in awful fake Irish accents.No identifiable characters and little story, at least up until intermission. Add in what can only be assumed to be derisive singing of Irish Republican songs that surely mean something quite profound to many people. I wonder if the cynical portrayal of another ethnic group than the Irish would have been found so humorous by the audience. We can add this "Playwright" to the list of Things To Be Avoided, and can only question the Berkeley Rep as an institution we can take seriously.

David Barker | Mon, May 11, 2009


Hey folks --

Thanks for your comments and feedback; we love to hear from our audience.
There's an open thread at
http://blog.berkeleyrep.org/2009/04/the-irish-national-being-nice-to-cats-army.html where you're welcome to leave your thoughts about the show...but please keep comments here relevant to Michael's post.

Thanks!

Megan Wygant | Mon, May 11, 2009


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