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Balancing casting, education tough job

It’s tough being a theater director and an educator.

Recently, a local instructor told me that she knew when she cast a certain adolescent for a lead role that he would likely get a negative review (he did). But she felt educationwise, it was the right time for him to have the experience of playing that particular part.

In my mostly favorable Feb. 16 review of “Hairspray” at the Las Vegas Academy (which plays through tomorrow night at the Lowden Theatre), I suggested that teenage actors were not getting the direction they needed when roles were double and triple cast.

I received a reply from someone who asked to be identified only as an academy faculty member. He puts a different spin on the problem. I think his words (slightly edited) say it best:

“You wrote: ‘The performance I witnessed begs the question: Does the academy have the staff to give multiple actors in single roles the guidance they all deserve?’

“No, we don’t have the staff. We’re overworked and offensively underpaid for what the public gets night after night.

“With that, I think I need to explain what we are up against here in regards to training and casting young actors. Each acting student has 80 minutes a day in acting training. In addition we spend hours and hours after school with them putting these shows together. Currently we have approximately 200 acting students and still the major complaint from parents and sometimes our district administration is performance opportunities. You can’t imagine the flak we get from parents in regards to casting. Many parents send their children here primarily for them to be cast in our major shows for notoriety sake. It gets really ugly.

“Though we have improved in affording more performance opportunities to our students, we are still called to task about casting. Most of my shows are overcast simply because it is one way of developing a student’s performance skills. As tough as I am, I have a soft spot for trying to get kids onstage. It is a way for them to cut their teeth. It is a mentoring opportunity for more skilled actors to help the less skilled.

“You will always see female roles double cast. Seventy-five percent of our students are female. Many of them are talented, but because Western theater is sexist in its design, there are always more roles for men and less for women. Double casting allows us to provide opportunities for those deserved female actors that have the potential to do well.”

Good points. I would argue that a critic’s job is still to simply assess what he sees (based on the type and level of expertise of the theater he’s attending). The academy gives the community some of the best theater in town, and as a result, I hold the performers to high standards as actors, not students. It can be argued too that if a director is dividing his time among three casts, no one wins; no one gets the proper amount of mentoring.

But if I were in this faculty member’s shoes, I don’t know how I’d handle the situation.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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