FRED @ Fringe Update #8

From the Director…

The process of producing Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning is filled with long days, late nights, self-doubt, ego boosting, and one quaint living room…

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

I’m in a quaint living room, chatting to producer/assistant director Phillip Hunting about the day we have ahead of us.

David McNamara and Ryan Stewart in an outtake from their photo shoot. Ryan’s cheeky grin was a factor in his casting. Putting it simply, it was Phillip’s smile.

We’ve seen a number of impressive actors audition for the roles of Phillip and Simon, and have narrowed it down to four and two respectively. I have an idea of who I want to cast in the roles, but these young men are so talented and enthusiastic about joining FRED the ALIEN in producing our original comedy of errors, that you are looking at the finest of details to find Mr. Right.

The first actor arrives. He was unable to attend the first round auditions, so I invite him to audition before the others turn up. If he’s not quite right, it will be easier to say goodbye without the others there. Of course, he commands a strong stage presence. It’s impossible to take your eyes off him and the original monologue he presents (one he has written) demonstrates that he is talented beyond performing.

I ask him to stay and it isn’t long until David McNamara joins us. He has already been cast as Michael; the role may have been written for him, but his mandatory audition for the part sealed his fate. Ben Campbell, cast as Blaine, is also in attendance. This is his first group audition and a great opportunity for him to learn more about the process.

It isn’t long until three other actors arrive: two more Phillips and one Simon. We begin with the general introductions and note about safety—a Legend of Zelda sword hanging on the wall grabs their collective attention and playful curiosity.

We run through scenes involving Phillip. David stands in for multiple roles and the auditionees are incredible sports about it, particularly since some of the scene run-throughs involve all of them playing Phillip at the same time! Each take it in turn to read a line. What they don’t know it that I’m looking for the actor who not only has a strong rapport with David and Ben, but who never breaks character.

There is no doubt that the men in the room are talented; their CVs, showreels, and of course, first-round auditions have already told me this. Just as soon as one actor leaves our second potential Simon arrives. And the process goes on. Bethany Griffiths, cast as the Bride, has turned up at this stage.

I keep asking one of the actors—a potential Phillip—if he can stay longer while we wish the other applicants well and give them the ‘we’ll call you’ spiel they’ve no doubt heard countless times before. This particular actor has been here for four or five hours of non-stop auditioning. He gets along with everyone, is incredibly generous, and never breaks character. I ask others to leave the room and we do an improvisation exercise, talk more about Phillip and the play in general.

I’ve been creating the final casting in my mind as the day has been going on until only Phillip Hunting, David McNamara, Bethany Griffiths, Ben Campbell, and I are left in the room. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve found my other leading man. I’ve found my Phillip.

But, of course, there was one other actor who I needed to see, one who was in my top three all the way through. Ryan Stewart knocks at the door and he greets us with a broad smile. We run through scenes and improvisation exercises. Once again, I invite everyone to step outside as Ryan and I partake in a final improvisation exercise, though my trusty assistant director Phillip stays.

The exercise is this: I interrogate Ryan (as Phillip) about the whereabouts of Michael. The reason being is that their marriage has been voided by the government and it’s my job to find Michael so that we can remove him from the country. I give my best performance, aware that I’m in the room with two trained and talented actors, but it’s Ryan who this exercise is for. And he doesn’t disappoint. I ask him to explain the motivation behind his performance and he absolutely captures the essence of Phillip.

Ryan Stewart on the train to rehearsal with his feet resting on a suitcase of costume options. Fellow commuters have no idea that such a talented actor sits in their carriage.

We discuss the logistics of the next several months and Ryan tells me of another play he is working on. This isn’t a problem for FRED the ALIEN Productions, but we also place a huge emphasis on the physical, emotional, and mental health of anyone who works with us. Ryan explains his schedule and I ask him if doing two productions at once will burn him out. He tells me no. I don’t particularly believe him and tell him as much. He reassures me and smiles. I turn to assistant director and producer Phillip and tell him to look at Ryan’s smile, asking how many crimes Ryan has gotten away with by simply flashing that smile. Ryan is amused by the question and shrugs knowingly.

But the smile does not seem to belong to Ryan anymore. It belongs to a good-natured, slightly naïve man named Phillip, who is blissfully in love with a guy named Michael.

But I go to and fro with the casting of Phillip. It has to be perfect. I will literally lose sleep over the decision and will have to psych myself up to phone the runner-up. I’ll have to tell him that, despite a stellar audition that went for hours, he hasn’t won the role he worked incredibly hard for.

The decision to cast Ryan, however, is reinforced with every discussion, workshop, and rehearsal I have with him. His work ethic is a director’s dream and it is an incredible feeling to know that you are working with someone so talented before more theatregoers know his name. Until then, however, there is something nice about knowing that the young gentleman on the evening train, resting his feet on a suitcase of costume options and a bound script, is a remarkably gifted actor who is on the verge of much bigger things.

 

Monday, April 10 2017

I’m in a quaint living room, vacuuming.

Producer Phillip Hunting is also tidying up. We want to make a good impression. We need to find our Simon.

I went through my list last month. My top choice isn’t available for our scheduled rehearsal period. My second choice can’t commit due to financial reasons. My third choice has found another project to commit to. And my fourth choice would always be an hour late to rehearsal every week… and that’s if the traffic is good!

So, here we go again! We have to find our Simon. We see a number of gifted young actors with varying degrees of experience, but all of which respond well to the character and the concept of the show.

Simon was always going to be difficult to cast. It is easy to dismiss the character as nothing more than two-dimensional eye candy. But he’s more than that and these actors understand this. Admittedly, the second advertisement we have listed—solely for Simon—is more explicit in what we are looking for:

Not all applicants come to the audition, and not all have the courtesy to let us know that they can’t make it, but late in the afternoon, assistant director/producer answers the door and is greeted enthusiastically by a prospective Simon. He is aesthetic perfection and has the sort of friendly, outgoing, and charming personality that I imagine Simon would have. It’s difficult not to fall in love with the positive energy this actor is projecting.

When he leaves, Phillip and I agree that the actor has the part. Every other actor we saw during the day came a close second. We could have easily gone with any of them; this specific audition has been that good.

But there is still another applicant. He had let us know that he was unable to attend today, but his CV and look are impeccable. I offer him an evening audition in two days time, but don’t hear from him.

 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I’m sitting in a café.

The FRED the ALIEN team are wrapping up our meeting. It is customary for members to be at auditions, but it is getting late. I have received messages throughout the day and into the evening from our last potential Simon. He’s keen to audition, he’s on his way…

More than a pretty face, Hayden Gridley’s commitment to the role of Simon was demonstrated before he even walked into his audition. In fact, he was so captivating that one of his scenes was extended to give the actor more stage time.

While he is either stuck in traffic or getting lost in a part of Melbourne he has hardly ever visited, the team gets impatient and one by one leave. Phillip and Bethany stand to leave when Hayden Gridley calls me. He’s nearby and I give him directions, telling him that I’ll meet him outside the building.

I tell the team that I hope for this guy’s sake that his audition is good, considering how much effort he’s put just to arrive at our venue. Ben tells me that he will remain to help with the audition, but Phillip and Bethany will only stay to meet with the applicant.

And then we get into it. Hayden asks the sort of questions that other applicants don’t, particularly revolving around the psychological dynamics between the characters of Simon and Tally. I break all the rules of how FRED conduct auditions and tell him that he’s made it to the top two and I will let him know my decision after Easter. I also inform him how the casting of Phillip had given me a sleepless night and that now the casting of Simon was going to give me another one.

But when Hayden leaves, Ben and I discuss his audition briefly. I don’t want to commit to one actor over the other, but I am confident I know which actor I will go with.

On the way home, I report back to the team. At 9.13pm, I tell them that ‘Hayden’s audition went for around 90 minutes… You can perhaps guess how it went!’ The team are curious about him and I surmise, ‘He was flawless.’

So much so that when I offer Hayden the role, I ask him if he doesn’t mind if I extend one of Simon’s scenes. His audition was that good, that he has inspired me to give Simon more stage time. That scene, it would turn out, would be Hayden’s favourite.

But, of course, it seems that Hayden was destined to be a part of Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning. When researching actors who I thought would be most suitable to play the lead of Phillip, my top choice is revealed in a document I have on my computer from 7 February 2017—Hayden Gridley.

 

Friday, 14 July 2017

I’m sitting in a quaint living room.

Producer Fulya Kantarmaci is sitting beside me, fine-tuning our fundraising campaign. Producer/assistant director Phillip Hunting is looking through paperwork and asking me questions that is taking my attention away from listening to Kylie tunes.

I’ve just shown Fulya Kylie’s Dancing Queen video. We’re trying to guess the height of her back-up dancers. Sounds silly, but it’s a reference to a line in Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning, one that is made at Michael’s expense. We chuckle and get back to business.

It’s not long until Phillip is on the phone, organising a future rehearsal venue.

A ‘quick proofread’ of the Indigogo fundraising campaign takes over two hours… but it looks beautiful. We cheer when it goes live. We cheer when it is shared to our Facebook. We cheer when it is shared to our Twitter.

We’re also delusional at this stage!

So much has happened in this quaint living room, but so much more happens outside of it too. To find out more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And of course, feel free to explore FREDtheALIENproductions.com for the latest on Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning.

Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.

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