Tag: director

Directing Controversy

When I first chose to direct A Raisin in the Sun I wanted to put the show on because I had the right students to make it happen. The demographics of the school supported an all black cast of actors, and I thought it a wonderful opportunity to put on a timely show. Lorraine Hansberry’s script turns out to be timeless as its content is still conceivable in our society today. I remember colleagues asking me if I was going to cast the show ‘color-blind’ a term I have grown to dislike. I said I would cast the best person in each role and for this audition I had students come out of the woodwork. Everyone was excited about the show including me.

The auditions proved to be very competitive. I had many students I had never seen in the program before show up as it became an exciting word of mouth opportunity. I posted my cast list and an adventure in theater I hadn’t experienced before slowly began to evolve. In the process of rehearsal I found myself asking students to do something a white director couldn’t really conceptualize from the acknowledgment of hoping to get out of poverty to dealing with a white consultant for a neighborhood this black family could afford to live in based upon an inheritance. They never dreamed of being shunned by a white neighborhood that thought their lives would tumble into hell because of an influx of black families moving in, theirs being the first.

I remember asking my students to play out roles that I had to realize went against everything they believed. They were taking on characters that represented all of the discrimination and systemic injustice the majority of their families and community lived with every day. I was asking my students to act out their worst fears on stage. As a white director I went home many nights wondering if I was doing the right thing, holding rehearsals where the majority of the players would go home frustrated and angry every night. I hadn’t really thought about why. One day I brought one of my students home, he missed his ride and he told me how difficult it was to play a Nigerian student with a significant role in the play. He said it is hard enough to be black in the show now I have to be one from a native country? We talked about it for some time outside his home in a tough part of the neighborhood. He smiled and said good night and I waited for him to enter his house before I departed.

From that point on I began to tell the students this is their show and I was only going to advise them. They took ownership, including the sole white character who withstood the scrutiny of the family the entire performance. I remember thinking back to my colleagues who didn’t think I had enough students to cast the show and hoping they would attend. The majority did not go to the show.

What I did learn from directing this show is that when we put something on stage we have to ready ourselves for the questions that evolve. We had many sit down round table discussions about the characters and their roles in setting the tone. The students took the lead and defined their characters. I basically provided them a set. It was the most fascinating show I ever directed because I learned more than I might ever imagine. The students educated themselves and many expressed a sense of empowerment.

This show taught me that I’m not always right and being a good listener is invaluable to staging a play.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022

Why Do I Need A Monologue?

Years ago, when I was pursuing the stage, I was told by my mentor to always have a couple of monologues ready to go – preferably one comic and another tragic, perhaps contemporary or classical, even better always carry one of each in your back pocket and have them all memorized. Have a resource of around four or five memorized monologues. An actor really hasn’t any idea when this prep will come into play outside of the called for monologue in an audition.

As a high school theater director I always instilled this upon my students. I often held auditions that required memorized monologues, if not at least holding it in their hand. This was still high school so I was reasonable, but the emphasis remained. Unless it was a cold reading from the script I wanted students to take the audition seriously. The effort alone to present something outside of themselves was valuable.

My students would shirk and moan and dismiss the idea often just reading off a script found minutes before their scheduled slot. Like I said, I would give them a break but then afterwards cast or not try to explain to them how important it is to represent a character outside of themselves. If they walk into the room beaming with confidence can they express the sensitive nature of vulnerability or emulate the complete opposite.

I always tried to remind them of a funny story of an actor who once auditioned for a Hollywood cop show and after reading a piece for the director as he was dismissed the actor jumped up on the table and delivered a barrage of indignant banter to the director. He was cast in the show as an undercover cop with a personality that expressed a barrage of indignant banter. Now, that wasn’t the practiced theory of a monologue but this fellow knew what he was doing and he got the director’s attention.

I’m not suggesting students jump up on my desk and go crazy but the point was made. This actor knew what he was doing and presented that in their audition. I once had a student do that to me with the monologue “You can’t handle the truth” in true Jack Nicholson form. He scared the hell out of me and I gave him an A because not only did his stance work, he also knew the piece, word for word.

I would share the story of my own experience of an audition with the creative director of a well known theater company in the city. The audition called for cold readings, monologues preferred but unnecessary. So I went with the latter and didn’t tune up my library of monologues not expecting anything from the audition. I was in the last group of about eight people for the session and at the end of our cold readings he asked me to hang back. I was alone in the room with the artistic director. I was quite excited. He then asked me that dreaded question. “Do you have a couple of monologues you can show me?”

Silence.

I told him I had a couple but didn’t have them with me and I probably wouldn’t do them any justice.

“Well, that’s too bad, thanks for coming in,” he emoted and I walked out quite embarrassed. This man wanted results and preparation and I failed on both accounts. This is a message I did tried to implore to my students whenever delivering the ‘monologue’ lecture in class.

Are you earnest about getting a part, or just showing up to check things out? The former will be imperative.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022

In A Short Minute*

IMG_3639

Life ends

simple bitter finale

minutes before our ideas

thrive in the mind

of the present

For the nether

a mystique in soul,

deep resonate despair.

We want control of that

scope beyond, infinite magic.

Sweet mystery is love,

realistic to the wakeful eye,

more impactful in fear,

when our lives become

measured.

A life spent

entertaining the seats,

mentoring the masses,

forgiving the ill,

now manifests a timely

farewell,

one sure to confuse

a following,

heart-wrenching pain.

 will us all say good-bye

now.

~

*we lost a master of the stage to tragedy today.

Stable Motive

Ceal Floyer
Ceal Floyer

What, tell me, what!

What does it mean to find separation

to compartmentalize,

to be able to suggest

to yourself

its your forte and nothing else

no excuses

no redos

no you cannot feel bad

there are no allowances

for human error.

Life suggests we disconnect

when our needs are met,

the task at hand has been satisfied.

Forget about the tears, the confusion, the lacking

empathy that drifts away with stability.

The time is long enough for me to question

how fitting,

what aspect of my life,

where does it belong,

such a lengthy attribution,

oh, damn, another,

here we go –

because words are easy to release,

its the later ons,

its the oh, maybes,

the ‘if’

When might I understand my ‘if’ moments?