My Story. My Type. How 10 Actors Cast Themselves To Perfection In A Short Film
In times like these I’m certain that every artist is stymied when bloodshed and battery shatter into our daily lives and leave our hearts in shards and pieces.
But after a positively mind-altering on-camera bootcamp weekend, (July 9-10th) my shattered heart and mind was able to begin stepping away from the relentless on-screen killings being telegraphed by the cameras now embedded in our phones. My heart whole, but bruised somewhat, went back to the work. I told the group at the top of the day that I felt unsettled and the mood resounded around the room.
Ten actors had signed up for the bootcamp. We were variously, Koreans, African-Americans, Native Americans, Russians, as well as "ethnically ambiguous", Caucasians, Black, British, multi-lingual ... This was not Dallas or Minnesota, Chicago, New York or even Seattle. It was Spokane, WA.
Day 1 ‘Type’, what is your ‘type’? how does 'Type' works for the Actor in film/tv.
Was it inevitable that we should encounter tensions and emotional struggles around the questions: “who are you? what role would I cast you in?why?” my perennial question to Actors in coaching. I noticed some of my Actors of color struggling to come to grips with this ‘type’. From personal experience I empathised. African-American fiction and non-fiction is replete with theories about multiple identities (not personalities) and the ensuing multiple jeopardies and multiple dilemmas that ensue as a direct result of this schism. In the 19th century WEB DuBois referring specifically to African American spoke of the agony of embodying two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings and the inner conflict that must arise out of that dualism. Numerous other writers have written of these multi-versal selves doing battle in a "universe”.
As Actors and artists we have a unique voice. Just as our vision, our lenses onto the word are unique. We do not all don the same lenses, thankfully! In fact, some of us have a strong sense that our lenses are differently shaded, or coloured, some are cracked (perhaps), some held together with band-aids or…. Nevertheless they are our own unique and remarkable lenses unto the world and our individual Power as Actors lies in these unique lenses along with our unique voices. Rarely does our power lie in the neutralizing and politically correct pseudo- unifying voice of neoliberalism, rather it lies in the Actor's striving; in the two-ness, in the fines lines where characters and intentions and motivations play out their differences and struggles. Yes, that is where we stand up and declare our type, the type that has a story so powerful it moves, touches and then inspires others to declare their stories too, causes others to celebrate the rugged and relentless contradictions in life and in art, on stage and on screen; the very differences as opposed to the samenesses.
Each individual Actor is a multiverse of stories
We battled. We wrangled. We struggled over the two days of that unforgettable weekend. We would not have it any other way. They invited it from me and I, in turn, demanded it from them. All I could guarantee them was this: that in the coaching process I would move, touch, and inspire them individually and collectively, to see their own greatness/possibilities (strengths and weaknesses) and act on them. It was my intention for them. NOT to resolve or “make better” (anyway there is no sickness or wrongness!) their struggles as Actors but to hear them, embrace that which I heard, make it good (whole, complete, perfect) and then offer cogent ways forward out of the mire, into their might. Why offer less?
Day 2 - 'Type' Casting and Diversity - How 10 Actors Made it Work!
I will always remember the role-play. I gave the actors a short film to cast and they each took on the role of casting producer.
In role I was strict Executive Producer. For the role play I informed them I had put $250.00 into an $8K, ultra-low budget project and I was not confident, as an investor, that I would get my money back. I asked them to each invest an amount and to liquidate assets if need be. In this way they had a stake in the game as casting producers. And could think seriously about eg: casting a real nurse in the role of a nurse, or casting a “really good actor” or casting their buddy, and directing them to "act like" a nurse.
They were to cast the film using only Actors in the room, or they could send me as their CD to do a casting session in Seattle, or even LA although this would incur further $$$. Of the 8 roles the script only called for 1 person of color, (Latina) and 7 Caucasians. We had no Latinos, 3 Caucasians, 8 Actors of Colour/“ethnically ambiguous"
But they did it.
By working with type (which the day before had caused such pain/discomfort and consternation) and with strict adherence to the story being told, each team cast this film to perfection using actors in the room and/or casting actors they knew within their immediate community. Mostly they cast people in the room, especially for the lead roles. What did they do given the call for 99% Caucasian actors and a room with only 30% Caucasians? They recognized the value and power of ‘types’ and story. Both the story in the script and the story in each Actor. Suddenly a “Korean Actor, adopted by white parents married to African from Mozambique who shared about her crippling sense of multiple identities and multiple dilemmas, was PERFECT! for the lead role intended for a Caucasian actress. Her being resonated with the lead role: her faith shaken by life ... keeps searching for her own north star to sail by ...powers through life's challenges ... sheer determination. woundedness ... comfort in her own skin, razor sharp wit ... surfaces in sarcasm ... common defensive maneuver. “Young reserved actress”, also Korean who had shared, with great vulnerability, her anxiety around certain issues was PERFECT for the role of the silent, unspeaking, yet all-seeing, highly intelligent daughter. And so it went; the story on the page resonating at deep, core emotional levels with the Actors, the types in the room. It was magical to observe the casting producers speak to the individual stories, the Actors they would cast and why. In one moment, a short story unfolded into multiversal acting possibilities for the Actors in the room. With one simple exercise, everyone came to a profound understanding of their type.
Now each Actor recognized and embraced their strivings, their jeopardies, their dilemmas and their multiplicities rather than battling or feeling the wounded by them; now self-acceptance and self-love begins. Thus the extraordinary gift and power of the Actor to the self, and to others.
This blog is surely dedicated to the 10 participants of the On-Camera Bootcamp, Spokane, WA ,July 9th-10th.
Photos top: Academy of Motion Pictures event, The Art of the Casting Director, April 2016
Middle: Henry Thomas (Elliot in ET), Mike Fenton CSA , and dir Richard Donner (The Omen, Goonies, Lethal Weapon)