It all starts with the resume. Stacks of papers and headshots start off the Lake Dillon Theatre’s casting process each season. Executive director Josh Blanchard estimated that they spent at least 20 hours looking over around 1,200 applicants for the upcoming spring and summer productions. Eventually, they will hire 22 people.
With the pool of potentials narrowed to about 350, Blanchard and five other Lake Dillon Theatre members headed off to New York City for a week of auditions and tough choices.
Casting a wide net
Not all of the actors in Lake Dillon Theatre’s plays come from out of state. Local auditions are a requirement of the theater’s membership in the Actors Equity Union. Once those are taken into consideration, the theater casts its net wider, seeking out talent from all over the United States. And the place they all gather is New York City.
“New York probably has the most diverse pool of professional performers who are based there that are auditioning for regional gigs for regional theaters,” Blanchard said.
Regional theaters from all over the country will hold their seasonal auditions in New York, so actors might do anywhere from 10 to 15 auditions a week, he added.
This month, Blanchard and the Lake Dillon Theatre crew spent a week in New York, listening to hundreds of auditions to find just the right actors for the upcoming season. The theater team included Blanchard, artistic director Chris Alleman, production manager Ben Whitmore, Jonathan Cable, Tim Paré, Chris Flowers and Britte Steele.
Once in New York, the team rents a studio and spends all day watching and evaluating auditions.
“Oftentimes people think it’s super exciting and it must be really fun, and it’s very, for lack of a better word, grueling. It’s difficult,” said Blanchard. “When they walk into the room, they get 60 seconds or 90 seconds to portray themselves and their personality and their talent, and you want to give them 100 percent focus. We want them to succeed, we want them to do their very best ... You can’t zone out, you can’t work on other things, you have to be focused. It’s a long process.”
For the upcoming play “Orphans,” for example, the team watched more than 100 actors perform monologues. Out of those, 39 were called back to read specific parts from the script. From those, 15 were called back to perform a scene from the script for final decision making.
Thanks to shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice,” people have a pretty good idea of what an audition process is like, Blanchard said.
“It’s always fun when someone comes in and does a great audition. It’s always fun when someone surprises you,” he said.
There is a whole list of qualifications that Blanchard and the team consider during auditions. This ranges from where a potential received their education to which plays they have performed, as well as their performance in the actual audition itself.
“We look at what we call ‘tracks,’ where they’re playing one role in one show and another role in another show, and … how they’re tracked through the different performances for the summer. So we’re looking at them for multiple capacities,” Blanchard said.
In a play like “Orphans,” for instance, physical appearance is taken into consideration, because the two main characters are brothers, therefore the performers need to look similar.
“There’s a lot of different factors,” Blanchard said. “Ultimately, the bottom line is it comes down to talent. We want to hire the most talented and the most appropriate person for the role.”
This is also the reason the theater doesn’t use a casting agency, but sends its own members to New York. Blanchard and the others prefer not to be too removed from the process.
“It’s important for us to find not only talented people but people that will be appropriate for our community and for our space and that’s right for the show. … This way we can hand-select the artists that we’ll be offering the job to,” he said, adding that “because our space is so intimate of an experience, every single person is super important. It’s about putting together the right ensemble.”
Traveling for the job
Once an actor is offered and accepts the part, transportation and accommodation is arranged for them. For many, it will be their first time in Colorado. Traveling, for these regional actors, is a regular thing.
In response to a questionnaire on why she’s interested in acting at the Lake Dillon Theatre in Colorado, 22-year-old Kelsey Flynn of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., replied, “I am willing and excited to travel to whatever theater will allow me to do what I love.”
Sissy Bell, also of Florida, responded that the travel was both a necessary and fun part of the job.
“Well, it’s no secret that life as a performer is hard, so if you want to work you often have to go where the work takes you,” she wrote. “That being said, I think it’s great to have your job take you to places you would never get to or think to visit otherwise. It’s wonderful to experience different parts of the country.”
Auditioning hopeful Colleen Roberts, 23 of N.J., was drawn to the Lake Dillon Theatre because of its intriguing play line-up.
“I was initially interested because of the line-up of shows for this 2014 season, but the audition room had a relaxed and fun as well as a professional vibe,” she wrote.
Once actors are set up in Summit County, they are free to explore it outside of rehearsal and performance hours, Blanchard said.
“Most of our cast will take advantage of the community, go to the different music festivals during the day and enjoy the outdoors, and our patrons are great too, they’ll invite them on hikes and invite them over to bar-be-cue, so it’s a great community and most of them will participate.”
Although the crazy casting period is over for the summer season, Blanchard and the others will return to New York once again this October.
“It’s hectic, but it is rewarding,” Blanchard said.