Behind Summer and Smoke: Auditions

In this episodic series, Sound+Noise Managing Editor Jenna Marynowski provides a behind-the-scenes view into the rehearsal and production processes of Tennessee Williams’ play “Summer and Smoke” at the Walterdale Playhouse (Directed by Mary-Ellen Perley)

It’s a Friday night. You don’t have any plans, and you like supporting the local arts scene. So you go check out a play at one of Edmonton’s theatres, like the Walterdale Playhouse, Edmonton’s longest-running community theatre. You enjoy the show, which is completely run by volunteers, admire the set, the costumes and, of course, the considerable talents of the actors. You go home and are in bed by 11. The whole night’s activities, from deciding on a show to getting back home probably took you about 5 hours.

Falling asleep, you may not realize that the performance you just saw has been performed many times by those actors and producers, in a process that started 4 months prior or longer.

But, what’s actually going on during those hundreds of hours spent locked down in rehearsal? What actually goes into the two hour production that runs for 10 days or so that you witness on stage? That’s what I set to find out by sitting in on the rehearsal and production process of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke, directed by Mary-Ellen Perley, and appearing at the Walterdale February 6-16, 2013.

Although the Production Team, and obviously the Director, have worked on the production for months before auditions, the first night of auditions is the first time the production opens it doors to the public. To act in a play, or be involved in the production team, one has to purchase a $25 Walterdale Playhouse membership. While no one would consider this a steep price, I purchased mine about six months ago after hearing about the workshops that members have access to, like sound or lighting design workshops.

The night of auditions I attended was really interesting for me. When I saw the schedule – three hours of auditions with 10 -13 people per audition, I felt a bit overwhelmed (and that was only the first of two nights)! From my (very brief) forays into acting in high school – I have the image of most auditions being one actor alone in front of a panel reading a few lines from a script. Does that style of audition really allow for that much differentiation between actors? Or, in any case, does it allow for enough differentiation between actors that one would be able to see 30 actors audition in one night? I didn’t think so, and luckily the audition involved Mary-Ellen choosing various combinations of people to read “sides” (small portions of the script). What I found incredibly interesting was the different approach the various actors brought to the script. The meaning of the set changed so drastically based on the different choices the actors made – with everything from the amount of movement, to the volume of their voice, to the way the actors interacted with each other changing with each audition, the auditions never became repetitive or boring.

Walking into the auditions not knowing the play, I was also surprised when I just knew that someone seemed right for the role they were reading for. Not that I was attending the auditions to help with the casting – my role is simply as an observer – but, after hearing the sets read by several different people, some of the actors’ readings gave me chills. It’s hard for me as a reviewer – and audience member – to put my finger on why that is. Certainly, it’s the preparation work the actor does before the auditions. Looking back, it also likely had to do with how they carried themselves, their mannerisms (both habitual and practiced in preparation for the auditions), or their clothing choice. In any case, the amount of talent in the room auditioning to become a volunteer actor, was amazing. I’m glad I didn’t have to make the casting choice!

Next up: First read and 1-on-1 sessions

– Jenna Marynowski

There are 2 comments

  1. livwall

    Mary-Ellen Perley was my high school World Literature teacher! She always had very unique ways of approaching texts; I always appreciated that about her style of teaching. It seems like that approach has bled into her directing, as well. It’s wonderful to hear what she’s been up to.
    Thanks for the behind the scenes glance, Jenna! I love this kind of stuff.


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