Gretna Theatre series part three: Decision time
"Hello, how are you?"
It was a typical, wide-smile introduction from the approximate 1,500 New York actors when they entered into the auditioning room on floor 11 of the Nola Studios to audition for Gretna Theatre in New York.
After delivering their choice of music to the pianist, the actor for the scheduled time slot would have just a few minutes to convince Larry Frenock and Christian Saint-Girard that they had what it took to perform for Gretna Theatre this summer.
"It was really good. We saw spectacular talent, like we always do. It was a little bit less because we aren't producing as many big musicals this year," said Frenock. "Therefore, the number of people coming out isn't quite as huge. We filled up every space and had to turn people away."
For Gretna Theatre, they had five produced shows to fill this summer, the most appealing to the actors being "The Little Mermaid."
With all the professional and amateur actors auditioning, Frenock and Saint-Girard have an idea of what they wanted for each role before the auditions began. But sometimes, they are surprised by the actor's interpretations.
"There were a couple in the murder mystery play especially where they walked in and I never would have expected that from them," Frenock said. "There was one role where I had a very different image of what that person was going to be in terms of look and voice. This one girl came in and did it so darn well."
Saint-Girard added, "There was another role that we thought was going to be a different physical type, but not acting type. The gentleman that came in gave such a good audition and we asked him to do more for us. None of us expected that. His reading was so, so good. It does happen, but they don't change our mind to the interpretation of the role."
And with Saint-Girard and Frenock working together for over 30 years, they rarely disagree on a performance.
"We've never utterly disagreed. We've worked together for 30 years now. It's a collaborative effort," Frenock said. "There may have been once or twice where we went back and forth to weigh the pros and cons of someone that we like very much. I don't think we've had a real disagreement. I may have given the role to our second choice because the director really wanted to work with that person."
Sorry, but you're just not our type
When an actor auditions for a role, it's because they think they are a fit for it. Breaking news, right? Well, it's not always common sense, as many times throughout the week, there were people that didn't exactly look the role that they were going out for.
"Sorry, my dear. We just don't have anything for your type," was a typical phrase uttered by Saint-Girard following a performance.
Type. It's the four-letter word that was thrown around most during the audition period, but the meaning of it isn't exactly transparent.
"Type casting has a negative connotation. It's like, 'OK, I always play this type of role.' That's what they call type casting," Saint-Girard said. "Major movie stars usually play the same type of roles. That's type casting. It's not the same as being a type, which is hard to explain."
In part two of this series, we met Alize Rozsnyai. For a refresher, Rozsnyai is 5-foot 2-inch actor with bright red hair, which strikes a resemblance to Ariel's from "The Little Mermaid." After her performance, Saint-Girard said she wasn't the type, which left the 120-pound actor confused.
"I don't know what it means, to be honest. I figured I would be the type for Ariel. I'm a 5-foot 2-inch female, so I really don't know," Rozsnyai said. "Sure, yeah. I've heard it before. I was just confused. I wanted to know what the type was, because I saw myself as that type. I'm wondering if he wanted someone who was really, really skinny. Or maybe a blonde girl? I have the red hair, so I don't know."
Saint-Girard recalled the moment, and attempted to explain what he meant for that particular situation.
"I think it was more not coloring or height, but it was more of a presence in their type where you think they look the role, but they really don't present it. They walk in a room and you look, but then they start doing their thing and you realize they aren't the type you thought they were vocally or physically," Saint-Girard said. "It's a gray area and very subjective. It all is subjective. I've seen people cast opposite of what I would do and vice versa. Sometimes there is a look or attitude about a person that just isn't the right type."
Amanda Smith, the reigning Miss Pennsylvania, landed the role of Ariel in "The Little Mermaid," and said that she knows that her type is the Disney princess look.
But not all of the actors knew that. There were some girls who were coming out for Ariel, but it wasn't in their physical type.
"The thing about the girls that were heavier is that you can only tell people so many ways but still be encouraging. I try to tell them to look at a different role. They may be great for something else, but like Larry said, they have to be realistic," Saint-Girard explained. "If not, you're wasting our time and your time. You're going out for things that you don't have a hope of being casted for."
Frenock, though, does realize why some people audition for a role that they may not be the ideal type for. Because it is, after all, subjective.
"The hard part is casting is 100 percent subjective and there's no science to it," Frenock said. "Every casting school and acting school will tell them to put themselves out for everything because they never know. That's fine to an extent.
"A lot of people will audition and say they just wanted to be seen. That's fine. That's not a waste of our time, because they could be great for something down the road and we may remember them. But actors should be self-aware. You need to understand what you may be cast as."
It's all one big puzzle
When Frenock and Saint-Girard returned to their home from New York, they realized the work was far from over. All of the applications, resumes, head shots were sorted out over their living room floor and the mixing and matching began.
"It took about a day. I'm talking about 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. It was a day, but a long day," Frenock said. "We go through hundreds of potentials, weed them out and then have five choices for each role."
But after the five choices for each role are narrowed down, it's not as simple as picking out the best one for each role.
Frenock and Saint-Girard have to mix and match each role for a good blending of the characters, as well as deciding between equity and non-equity performers.
"We have the difficulty of equity and non-equity for each show. It's really that simple," Saint-Girard explained. "For the murder mystery, the lead man, if I were going to cast four equity parts, that guy has to be non-equity. But, if my second choice is equity and my first choice turns it down, then I have to reshuffle everything else to get another non-equity part in there. That's one of the hardest things."
Frenock also mentioned that they have to be careful on sending out their offers. There are times where they may offer it to their first choice, but he or she turns it down, it will change the first choice for another role because the characters won't go together well.
But, according to Saint-Girard, they landed 99 percent of their first choices, which helped ease the headache.
"We got some really talented people with some great credits. We are really, really pleased," Saint-Girard said. "It's worth the four months of killing yourself and going through thousands and thousands of resumes. You come down to those few and you know they'll be terrific together."
It's not who you know
There were people that Frenock and company were familiar with in New York during the audition periods, as the actors and the staff at Gretna shared hugs and conversation as a way of catching up. Some just stopped to say hello, while others auditioned.
Being that they know each other, does that give them a leg-up on the competition?
"Somewhat," Frenock admitted. "If we already know that they are a wonderful person to work with and they are a good performer, it might give them a minute leg up. We are still going to go after the best person for the part. It's not a negative to the other people."
Saint-Girard added, "The other thing that could give them a slight leg up is if we know what they are like to work with. If they are pleasant workers and good company members, that's a plus. But we are going to go for the best person for the role, friendships aside. More often than not, everyone that has worked for us has been good."
One person that the men were familiar with but didn't make audition was Kathryn Kendall. Kendall is an actor that the men have known for a long time, and she will be playing the rule of Ursula in "The Little Mermaid."
Frenock and Saint-Girard saw Kendall portray the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz," so they knew she would be a good fit with the similarly evil Ursula.
"We knew she had the big, brassy, booming voice. I didn't need to see her for Ursula. She heard we were doing 'The Little Mermaid,' and she asked if we would consider her for it, and we said absolutely," said Saint-Girard. "I told her that there were a lot of great people out there that could do it, and we just felt she was perfect for it. We checked to see if it would work for her, and it did."
Another slight advantage to the audition process would be local actors landing roles with the company. The more local people, less housing will be needed for the actors. This year, Frenock said there are 10 local actors, leaving 35 actors that will need housing.
The actors who need a place to stay, such as Smith, will stay with local host families.
"It's a matter of someone having preferably a private bedroom and bathroom that they can give someone. If it's just a private bedroom with a shared bathroom, that could work, too," Frenock said. "They need to be able to get into the kitchen and make their own meals and stuff. For the housing, we don't ask them to do anything for the person. They don't have to transport them, feed them or do anything expect provide space.
"Most of the families will do something, maybe just a dinner. That's fine. The actors need to run lines with people and what not. They may just be coming in to sleep and that's it. It depends on the actor and the family for what they want to do. Some actors will get to know the family once the show opens."
With opening day quickly approaching (June 18), the hard work of preparing the season is out of the way. Now, it's just time to rehearse and hit the stage.
"We got some really, really good people to put out there this year," Frenock said. "It's going to be fun."
Break a leg.