AN INSIDE LOOK INTO CASTING THE MOBILE UNIT’S TWELFTH NIGHT
By Daniel Bryant, Artistic Producer/Director of Community Programs
Usually when casting for a play, I go into the process being extremely familiar with the story and its players…the characters in the world of the play.
From there, it’s usually about choosing the most talented actor to play the part. Is the actor believable? Can they inhabit the role and become that character? How well do they understand the language? Do they look and feel like an idea of that character? Does the actor bring their own interpretation of the character that challenges or enhances what I had in mind?
Also, in the Mobile concept, the play is performed up close with the audience at arms-length, in the round, on all four sides. For the actor, this takes an added focus and level of commitment to playing the character because there’s nowhere to hide. No set. No backstage. Mobile Unit actors must be consistently aware of the audience.
Once I’m able to determine, as best I can, whether the actor has the skills and technique to play the role, I think about what it might be like working with the artist. Do they have a pleasant personality, do they seem easy to work with, can they take direction? Critical questions to consider in just 15 minutes of meeting the actor, watching them perform a monologue, and perhaps having them read ‘sides’ or excerpts from the play. Sometimes we see hundreds of actors for one role before making a choice.
However, actors auditioning for the Mobile Unit require three additional qualities that are just as crucial as having the skill to perform. Empathy, generosity, and flexibility are tools they should be just as prepared to use in the process as their ability to memorize lines and remember blocking.
The ethos of the Mobile Unit is community. Because our audiences represent the full spectrum of Baltimore’s economic, cultural, and geographic population, it’s important for actors to have empathy for the various life conditions we experience on our two-week community tour. Whether performing for theater patrons or for the elderly, homeless, or incarcerated, our work as artists is to tell the story authentically, in a way that resonates with everyone. The challenge is to meet and honor our diverse audience wherever they are as human beings… without judgement or condescension.
Generosity is another trait we look for in a Mobile Unit actor. Doing this work is not about attaining fame. The performances aren’t reviewed by theater critics. There’s nothing glamorous about performing in a prison or homeless shelter. Actors who use their craft doing community work are a different breed. They are keenly aware that this work calls for a generosity of their time and talent that isn't necessarily required when performing for a theater audience. Actors in the Mobile company know that part of the job requires them to be available to the community in that moment when we share creative space.
The Mobile Unit performs in non-traditional spaces like cafeterias, gyms, and community rooms for a variety of audiences often under all kinds of circumstances. Being flexible and willing to go with the flow is invaluable to actors doing community tours. Anything can and does happen during a performance. The actor, like the Mobile production itself, has to be able to adjust to whatever the situation requires, all the while remembering lines and giving the best performance possible.
When it boils down to the nuts and bolts of casting for the Mobile Unit, talent and training are important because we want the best actors for this work. But it is equally essential to believe in the power of theater and share the passion of storytelling. The purpose of what and making quality theater accessible to everyone in our community— by any means necessary.