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January 07, 2008

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Tony

Here's an even better long-term fix. If more regional theatres hired local actors, they would have better actors around them.

Why would actors want to go to American City X? If theatres in Other Major American City only cast out of NYC, and sometimes LA and Chicago.

Karl Miller

Thank you for posting this, Isaac. For all our talk about commodification of the theatre, we forget that the script is already a commodity in the strictest sense and that the actor cannot be commodified unless s/he goes into film.

Actors are primary and it's strange that we try to export them like tangible widgets from a centralized head office to franchise houses across the country. I think most theatres welcome the chance to hire local talent whenever they can -- the added costs of agent commissions, travel, housing, and per diem could be avoided. It amounts to a hell of a premium on this most essential resource.

But again, I come from my cushy DC-lovin' example ... where the local-to-import ratio tilts happily to the former and where live theatre can exist and sustain its constituent artists as an industry unto itself (i.e. without the competing/contaminating influence of film, tv and celebrity).

VW (SF Actor)

Tony beat me to it - hiring local actors. I've been thinking a lot about this lately - if we could get audiences to realize that local means quality - similar to the way the local food movement is taking off - could actors equity or APASO (Association of Professional Arts Service Organizations) create a local artist designation or symbol, and put that in programs w/a cast list?
Theatre Bay Area has just started a program called ATLAS - basically actors will take classes in business skills, then write business plans, and based on their business plans, the 'top 5' will receive $2,500 worth of funding for their plans - it's an effort to support local actors and keep them local - one of the qualifications for this program is a willingness to stay in the Bay Area through 2009. I've been selected for the pilot round of this program - will let you know how it goes.

Scott Walters

Absolutely hire local actors -- and not just for one show. Offer them a year contract -- create a company. The director above is right -- older actors don't want to travel travel travel. But if they could work full time for a year in one place -- and maybe stay on for additional years. The actor-as-migrant-worker model works as much against the development of the American theatre as the lack of new scripts.

Kerry Reid

I think that there are also connections between hiring local actors and building local audiences. I hate to use the exhausted Steppenwolf example, but there's no doubt that part of what made them successful was that there was a mystique and excitement about having this company of local people who all worked together (and lived together, in many cases) in creating terrific shows. When audiences return to a theater time and time again because they feel a connection with the specific performers, that helps create a healthier regional community, too.

And the School at Steppenwolf has also helped produce two of the stronger storefront companies I've seen in Chicago in recent years: Gift Theatre and Pine Box Theatre Company.

Kris Vire

Count me in with the rest of the voices telling Established Director B to cast locally. It drives me crazy, as a critic in Chicago, to see theaters like the Goodman and Chicago Shakespeare importing actors from New York or Toronto for every show, as if we don't have perfectly good actors here who'd like the work. Like Kerry said, I want to be able to have a relationship with actors, follow their careers. When Gary Griffin casts all three of his leads in CST's Passion from out of town, that doesn't do me any good.

We did an interview with Judith Ivey about a year ago when she was here directing a play. Her answer about why she left Chicago for New York in the late ’70s is pretty telling:

”To be honest, it’s what I call the regional-theater disease. They kept bringing young actresses from New York to play the leading ladies, and in two instances—this was at the Goodman Theatre at that time—they ended up being disappointed in them and came to me privately and said, ’We may fire this actress. Would you take over the part if we do?‘ And of course my answer was, ‘Yes.‘ And they would end up not firing her and then just letting that role not be done as well. And then the next production would come up, and they would still go to New York and cast yet another actress that, to be honest, wasn’t as good as I was. And so I thought, Well, I’m gonna go to New York and see if I can at least get a job to come back to Chicago, you know.”

midwest director

I would agree with you all, I think having local actors is extremely important to the development of American theatre.

I would suggest however, that there needs to be some mechanism that allows for interaction. The particular area I hail from has, for some time, had a group of people who work localy quite a bit.

However the introduction of actors from other areas tends to keep things lively and sharp. Just what an audience deserves.

Local work is a boon to us all. i don't want to have to "go to New York to get to come back to Chicago" etc.

Mr. Actorman

I have seen both sides of this equation.
Sometimes it is thrilling to watch the same actors over and over and you do develop a wonderful connection to them- ala Steppenwolf. But these were exceptional actors and unfortunately that is not always the case. I have also experianced working in a regional theatre in a medium-sized city and heard the audiences complain about the resident company of actors. The patrons were tired of seeing the same bag of tricks from the same actors (some of whom were too content and quite lazy) show after show. They were desperate to see new faces and experiance exciting acting from actors who were skilled enough to compete and succeed in the New York or Los Angeles acting pools. They appreciated well travelled actors who had learned their craft from a wide range of directors and also from fellow actors from all over the country and the world.

Anyway,
follow this to its logical conclusion:
All cities vow to cast locally only.
New York producers decide to only cast locally and all these wonderful actors from other cities (including the Steppenwolf actors from Chicago) never get a chance to work on (or off) Broadway. Would that be fair? Or desirable? I bet all those actors who are complaining that they get passed over for someone from NY would kill for a chance to work there. But, alas, they can't because every city should cast locally. Yes, it is hard to watch a good role get mangled by an actor from out of town when you can do it a thousand times better but that is the way of the world. And life just isn't fair. It just isn't. If you do really excellent work, you will get those jobs no matter your zip code. Directors will notice and they will want to hire you.
I think all actors should work in all cities. The opposite of casting locally. Actors would grow from the variety of experiances and audiences would have the benefit of seeing the best cast possible instead of the one that was nearby.
How to do this is another question...

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