Mass Audition Gives San Diego Actors an Opportunity to Spotlight Their Talent

A taut Hamlet made way for a sweetly singing Nazi youth and a tormented Jamie Tyrone. For the observer Monday at the stage of the Educational Cultural Complex at the San Diego Community College District, it was a chance to celebrate the diverse genius represented by a multitude of theatrical voices over time.

For the 74 Equity and Equity-candidate actors given four minutes apiece to tackle two and sometimes three parts before the casting directors and advisers of more than half a dozen San Diego theaters, it was a heady and at times unnerving opportunity to impress potential employers with what they could do.

This first local mass audition, which continues through today with over 100 additional non-Equity actors and as many as 10 additional theater representatives, was also an opportunity for the 4-month-old San Diego Actors Co-op to show producers and themselves what it can do in terms of providing an inexpensive and efficient way for producers to see local talent.

The result, according to all polled, was an unqualified success.

David McClendon, casting director for the Old Globe, who also talked at the ECC Tuesday on the audition process, praised the Actors Co-op as a wonderful idea, and one that might potentially save him from a portion of his frequent out-of-town casting trips.

"This kind of consortium allows us to see people we otherwise wouldn't see. It's time now with San Diego a world-class theater community with four major theaters (he later itemized these as the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Repertory Theatre and the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre) and a lot of good fringe theaters. Maybe eventually we won't have to go outside to get as many people as we do."

Veronica Henson-Phillips, an actress who had just auditioned with powerful, emotionally charged selections from "Julius Caesar" and "Star of the Morning," waved to get McClendon's attention and asked him if a decision had been made as to the female understudy for "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

Not yet, he said, but he smiled and said it would be soon.

She was still interested, she assured him, smiling back.

It is such opportunities for producers and actors to communicate casually and easily with each other that is another one of the goals of the Actors Co-op, according to Philip Charles Sneed, the 29-year-old graduate of the UC San Diego acting program who got the organization off the ground.

Fresh out of his own audition (where he moved swiftly from "Two Gentlemen of Verona" to "The Day Room" to "Cabaret"), Sneed shifted just as smoothly into the part of chairman of the co-op's steering committee, bringing an intense and earnest delivery to his appreciation for the publicity that he trusts will enhance the group's credibility.

"I like to think of us as regional stage professionals who just happen to be based in San Diego. I see us as a resource locally and nationally."

The idea for the group first came to Sneed, actress Linda Libby and actor D.B. Novak when Sneed and Libby, who were then appearing at the Gaslamp's "The Wonder Years" and Novak, who had previously appeared at the Gaslamp's "I Won't Dance," got together for a post-show drink at Playbill's.

Sneed, who had then recently come from Seattle where he had been involved in a cooperative actors organization there, talked about how wonderful the organization had been not only for getting work but also for providing actors with a sense of community and support between jobs.

Before the evening was over, the three resolved to start a similar group in San Diego.

The first meeting, Oct. 9, resulted in a turnout of 15 actors who were told to "spread the word." The second, on Nov. 19 at the home of Doug Jacobs, artistic director of the San Diego Repertory Theatre, and actress Darla Cash, resulted in a turnout of close to 60. The third one, for which the San Diego Rep loaned the space, topped 100.

Commitments were obtained from 16 San Diego theaters to attend this week's local auditions. In addition, over 30 nationally recognized regional theaters, including the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, the Huntington Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, have agreed to come to the organization's general auditions. And the numbers are growing every day, according to Sneed.

The costs for bringing the theaters' representatives to San Diego and housing them will be paid by the actors going to auditions given by those theaters. In addition to the $15 membership dues, if it requires $600 to bring a theater in, 60 actors will be able to audition for $10. Some local auditions may cost nothing. This week's local auditions cost $3 per actor to cover piano accompaniment for the singers and the generous array of fresh-baked refreshments catered by actress Rosemary Tyrrell, last seen as Angel in the Bowery Theatre's production of "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?"

Tyrrell's aromatic banana nut and apple nut breads and blueberry and pumpkin muffins, placed in the red and yellow area labeled "Green Room" (the traditional name for an actor's pre-performance space), did its part to foster a spirit of community between acting labor and theater management by proving equally appealing to the actors, trying to look relaxed as they clutched slender briefcases of resumes, monologues and sheet music, and the handful of theater representatives who drifted in and out in search of coffee, juice and goodies.

Annie Hinton, chairman of the Audition Scheduling Committee, who answered questions before and after her own audition, described still other goodies the organization promises to deliver not just for local actors and theaters, but for the larger theater community outside.

"The theaters give us complimentary tickets so visiting directors can check out their seasons. When directors come in to look for actors, they can get jobs for themselves. It brings San Diego to the nation's awareness."

That, in turn, could make living in San Diego an advantage rather than a handicap for the theater professional, Sneed said.

"Many of us don't like living in L.A. or New York. We're trying to make San Diego a casting center so directors know they can come here and find top quality stage professionals."

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