A Week in the (Theatre) Life

Kristen Coury is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director at Gulfshore Playhouse.

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Having come out of an incredibly jam-packed and excitement-filled season, we Neapolitans like to believe we have some “downtime” in the summer. I remember the early days of Gulfshore Playhouse when we didn’t have any employees, and so the summertime was practically a summer OFF. That is no longer the case. These days we have over 40 employees, most of whom are full time, and the summer is still just as busy as the rest of the year. It’s also a great time to catch up on several things: auditions, play-going, and conferences.

As a result, I’ve spent the better part of the last three weeks traveling, but it was all for a good cause.

In early June, I headed to Washington, DC, which has now become the second largest theatre market after New York City. I saw several wonderful plays: Ayad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand at Olney Theatre Center, Bedlam Theatre’s St. Joan at The Folger, Botticelli in the Fire (starring our former Artistic Associate Cody Nickell as Lorenzo de Medici) at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and The Book of Joseph at Everyman in Baltimore.

Great theatre always leads to enhanced thought. I’ve had many insights, revelations, and creative dreams based on those four plays. As I’m writing a play myself that takes place during the Italian Renaissance, it was especially a pleasure to dive into the play at Woolly. That is the gift of theatre: it transports you to different ages and times and cultures. In one weekend, I was transported to Pakistan, Medieval France, Renaissance Italy, and WWII era Poland and America.

This past week, I headed to New York City to hold auditions for our productions of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Revolutionists. I’m particularly excited about the selections of the season and thrilled to be bringing some of our finest collaborators back to work with us again this year.

Here’s how auditions work:

Our Casting Director, Michael Cassara (who has been with us since 2009, so officially he’s the longest-lasting contiguous “employee” of Gulfshore Playhouse) gets our ‘breakdowns” (descriptions of each play or musical and which characters are needed). First, he holds a general audition for any members of the Actors’ Equity Association that would like to attend. No appointments necessary. Each person has about 1 minute to do a monologue or sing a song. One after the other – it’s like an audition factory.

After that, we begin our “by appointment only” portion of the auditions. The days are full to the brim with appointments that Michael’s office has set up by talking to agents, and sometimes directly to the actors themselves. Each actor has about ten minutes to perform their “side” which is a scene that we’ve selected from the play or musical. The director generally will give this actor notes or an “adjustment” which means they will talk to the actor a little about the direction of the scene, a different perspective, or a shift of intention, and then the actor is encouraged to do the scene again with those things in mind.

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Matt Aument, Adam Cates, and Darren Katz.

Darren Katz is our director for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Darren directed our production of Leading Ladies, and we’re excited to have him back. Choreographer Adam Cates and Music Supervisor Matt Aument were part of the creative team for My Fair Lady (which I directed so I had the added pleasure of working directly with them on that piece) and I am over the moon that these two are back together again to help create more magic on our stage.

Auditions for Forum went like this: We started with some singing auditions. Since we are doing a “gender bent” version, meaning we’ll have men playing women and women playing men, we offered the actors the opportunity to sing the songs in a variety of keys. Sometimes Matt had to take over from the accompanist because the actor needed it in another key entirely and Matt can just do that (which I find so impressive). We then shifted to a very large room for the dance call. Adam taught them all a bit of choreography, and these amazing dancers threw themselves into it. We narrowed it down (yes, it really is like seeing a production of A Chorus Line) and asked certain people to come back and sing. And once that was finished, we decided which people we’d like to come back in and read scenes. “In the room” was Darren, Adam, Matt, Music Director Adrian Ries, Michael, me, some casting assistants, the reader, and the accompanist.

Casting a play is quite a bit different. Actors come in and read from sides, the director (which is me in the case of The Revolutionists) gives each of them an adjustment or two, and they leave. In the room were only Michael, a reader, and me!

But the results are in, and the actors will be STELLAR this year. I’m excited already and it’s only June.

This week, I head off to St. Louis for the annual National Theatre Conference hosted by TCG, the Theatre Communications Group. TCG is a great organization whose mission is to strengthen, nurture, and promote the professional not-for-profit American Theatre, and I am proud to sit on the board. Each year the conference proves to be stimulating, thought-provoking, educational, and a great way to connect with fellow theatre-makers from around the country. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the outcomes of the conference.

FullSizeRenderBut, the highlight of an already fantastic week, had to have been this. Long ago, I discovered a Broadway producer by the name of Ken Davenport through a blog he had started: http://www.theproducersperspective.com. Eventually, I invested in one of his shows. Later, the Playhouse produced a new play he had recently optioned called Do This by Karen Siff Exkorn. When he started a MasterMind group called The Inner Circle, I signed up. When he “challenged” me to take his 30-day Playwriting Challenge, I jumped at the chance. And when he invited me to become an investor in Once On This Island on Broadway, I said yes. And on Sunday, this play won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Isn’t that exciting?

What creative seed might be worth planting in your own life today? You never know what could happen…

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