by Rosalyn Mitchell (Tamyra)
There’s a certain type of audition I think any actors reading would recognize. It’s the audition for the project you know you want, the project that feels like it was created for you, the project you can’t let yourself think about too much because it doesn’t serve you to become invested in a job you don’t have. This kind of audition is rare and wonderful and terrifying.
My audition for Cannibal Valour was not this kind of audition.
It was another familiar type – the audition for the project you’re so utterly unsure about that you’re still debating canceling the audition the morning of. The project you’re not convinced you’d accept even if it were offered to you.
The casting notice for Cannibal Valour included all sorts of scary words like “immersive theatre”, “improvisation”, “devising”, and “audience interaction”. Faced with such threats, my normal instinct is to flee as far and as fast as possible. I like scripts and fourth walls. They keep us all safe.
But there was something about the breakdown that pulled at me. Perhaps it was the extremity of the role I submitted for – “part includes explicit onstage torture, intense mourning over lover’s corpse, and simulated, stylized sex (no nudity)”. (That’s something, at least.) Perhaps it was the total obscurity of the material. It may have been the simple summation, “This will be unlike anything you’ve done before.”
I chose to submit for the project.
I did not cancel my audition.
Upon arriving, I was presented with a page of text from The Unfortunate Mother and sent off to read through it a few times with Oliver Maxwell-Smith, one of the actors in the company. The first hurdle was adjusting my brain to the writing – spelling and punctuation weren’t really a thing yet at the time, and unlike Shakespeare, Nabbes hasn’t been standardized for modern readers. But once I’d cleared that, the rest was easy. Just text. Not particularly hard text. Oliver and I read through the scene for Brice, the director, and that was that.
The audition invitation had said to bring a classical monologue if we had one, and not to worry if we didn’t. I don’t really have a classical monologue at the moment. I’m bored with overexcited Imogen and don’t like manufacturing the dramatic start to Isabella, and I haven’t yet found anything I’m really happy with to replace them. I’ve been playing around a bit with Olivia – she has a speech I quite enjoy, but it requires handing a ring to someone halfway through, making it awkward for auditions. But hey, I had thought, I nearly canceled this one anyway, what better opportunity to test this speech and see how it goes? If I tank it and lose the project, oh well. So when Brice asked if I had a classical monologue, I said yes.
Don’t ignore our setting, he said. We’re in the basement of a pub. Be in the basement of a pub. Don’t perform your piece. Just speak it, the way you would say these things if you were with two strangers in the basement of a pub, which you are. This is how the productions are going to be. We will always be actors on a stage; we will never ask our audience to treat us as anything else. Be where you are, and speak the speech.
So I did. I ran into a little trouble when Oliver, to whom I had planned to give the ring, got up and left right before it was time to do that, but serves me right for not telling him I was using him. Overall, though, it went all right. I’d say it went all right.
Sitting opposite Brice a moment later, I found myself fighting an impulse to tell him why I was there, why I wanted to do this project at all, and realized to my surprise that I did in fact want to do the project. Precisely because it won’t be safe. Because sometimes safety is overrated, and I don’t want to spend my whole life doing safe art. There’s a marvelous line from the Canadian television program Slings and Arrows: “It is my belief that the best stuff happens just before the thread snaps.”
Not able to meet his eyes, I looked down at the ring on my hand and managed, “I’m very interested in what you’re doing.” It felt wholly insufficient.
I stepped out into the sunshine wondering what that audition had even been about. How well I handle text, it seemed. Ha. Text is what I’m good at. Nothing I did in the pub that day could have told Brice anything about how well I handle devising and improvisation, let alone onstage torture, mourning, or sex. It certainly didn’t tell me anything about how I handle those things. I still have yet to find out. But I guess it was enough, because five days later, I received an email offering me the very role in question.
Funny how so often it’s the auditions you almost cancel that yield the most amazing jobs.