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Blog - Gary Thomas

Playing around with… Plays…

An actor and actress dressed in white against a dark stage

Rebecca Ormrod as Sharon and Tom Phillips as Dave in Gary Thomas’s Wedding Comedy

In April & May this year I embarked on what appears to be my annual Wandsworth Fringe show. I’ve done a show at the Fringe every year for the past three years, which is why I say it ‘appears’ to be annual. It’s a great opportunity to look at new work and explore new ideas.

This was a wedding comedy project I’ve been working on for ages, and what excited me most is to finally, in some way, bring the characters to life. Over Christmas and until March I wrote the play, which was more like a rewrite to be honest. I started to write with four characters, to be played by four actors – then I did the rehearsal budget for four actors. And cut two of the characters. It really was that simple / tragic. Four characters became two characters, and a ‘duologue’ was formed.

The first steps in to hearing it read, was to attend a Sunday Surgery, run by MSFT. I’ve been to a few of these now, they’re run on the last Sunday of every month, and normally they’ve been pretty good. It’s an opportunity for writers to get a section of their script heard and get feedback.

For a lot of my films, I’ve mostly worked with actors who I’ve worked with before, or I’ve asked actors I don’t know to submit video auditions. For this project I got Lennie Vararides in as casting director to hold auditions in the room.

We needed one male and one female, and were due to see 30 actors on the audition day. 3 (male) actors didn’t turn up. That, to someone running auditions, is very annoying, simply because someone willing to turn up could have auditioned that day. I’m not talking about emergencies, which I understand occur every day. But to not show up without explanation is annoying.

We paired everyone up, but this meant that some girls had to be seen with another girl, rather than every pair being male – female. It was so interesting being in the casting room again, and it’s always exciting to see new actors. I personally believe I have a bit of a ‘casting head’ on me, so I like to think I’m pretty good at this. Another factor I think I’m good at is knowing who may work well together and knowing who’ll look good on screen (or even in a play). This is actually a pretty essential skill as a director.

A number of actors didn’t bring their printed CVs, which isn’t a major problem except we do like to make notes about the actor and that’s generally where we make them.

Having narrowed it down to six, 3 males & 3 females, we set a date for a recall. I took their CVs home, and met director Alistair Wilkinson, who I brought on board to direct the play.

The recalls were great fun. It’s often a more relaxed atmosphere than the initial auditions. Again we paired people up, and were able to swap the pairs so most actors got two chances to audition, as a lot of this part of the auditions was improv, it was interesting to see the different pairings.

By the end of it, Alistair and I knew who we both wanted, and thankfully we both agreed on this, without any argument.

The pair we chose worked really well together and it was clear they would never run out of conversation when they were improvising.

It was a great to be able to audition again, and to work with a casting director. I really enjoyed working with the actors on the play, and the director, and it was great to be able to watch the whole process.

What we knew by the end of the 1st day of auditions:

We knew who the best actor who’d auditioned was. We knew who was funniest. We knew who worked best in pairs. We knew who shouldn’t have been put up for the roles.

What we knew at the end of the process: The best actor who auditioned got a recall but didn’t get the job. The two who did get the job were the best at improvising and being funny. When we watched them it was clear that they wouldn’t run out of conversation and they worked really well together.

All in all it was a great opportunity and great experience. It may have temporarily broken the bank account (shhh!) but not many experiences come close to an audience finally seeing your characters come to life, and said audience enjoying the show 🙂

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