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Amateur Plays - Choosing The Cast

( Originally Published 1923 )

OBVIOUSLY, the choice of the cast should depend upon the ability of the actors, although in the case of an organization like a school or college dramatic club, this system is not always practicable or even advisable. Every member of such a club should be trained to work for a common end, and a system by which amateurs are made to understand the necessity of assuming first small and unimportant rôles and working up gradually to the greater and more important ones, makes for harmony and completeness of effect in performances. It should be one of the chief ends of amateur producing to get away from the curse of the professional stage : the star system. It has been stated here that the greatest emphasis must be laid on the play itself, and no actor, professional or amateur, should ever labor under the delusion that he is of greater or even as great importance as the play in which he strives to act his part. The average actor is inclined to judge a play's merit according to the sort of part it furnishes him ; the amateur spirit has done much to do away with this attitude, and it is to be hoped that no coach will ever do otherwise than discourage it.

Competition as a means of selecting a cast is in most cases the best method. The play once selected, the people from among whom the cast is to be formed are assembled. It is a good plan to have every one read the play first, and make a study of at least one scene of it. Then, either alone or in company with one, two, or three others, he reads or recites from memory the scene in question, either before the entire club or before a committee of judges. Each actor is judged on appearance, ease, voice, and insight into the character he is portraying. The judges, seconded possibly by the members of the club (whose votes should, by the way, be of only secondary importance), then select those whom they consider best fitted for the parts. In every case the director should give final sanction to the selection. In cases where members must at first assume only minor parts because of club rules, there may arise some difficulty : for example, a beginner may be better fitted to assume an important rôle than older club members. Such cases must of course be dealt with individually.

In organizations which are not run on so democratic a basis, the director selects the cast himself. On the whole, this is much the best system, as the director is left a free field in which to work out his own problems in his own way. If it is at all possible, an amateur club ought to put everything, including the responsibility, into the hands of a competent director. In this respect, the despotism of the professional stage is most beneficial. 'Whether the coach be an outsider hired for the occasion, or a regular member of the club, in nine cases out of ten he will establish and maintain harmony, allow no real talent to languish, and be at least in a position to produce definite artistic results. Amateur management has spoiled much good material. A director with full authority can work more easily and efficiently if left to his own devices than if trammeled with rules and regulations.

The theater, behind the scenes, is a despotic institution ; it must be, but the greatest care must be taken in choosing the right despot. Should the coach be a professional manager or actor, or should he be an amateur ? The question is a difficult one. There are, it goes without saying, many excellent directors who are or have been professionals ; on the other hand, it cannot be denied that some of the best amateur work in this country has been done by directors whose experience on the professional stage has, to say the least, been limited. Some such training is beneficial, but to put a professional of many years' experience in charge of amateurs is likely to make of the amateurs a company of puppets imitating only some of the externals of professionaldom. The best director, therefore, seems to be a person who has some professional experience, but who has likewise dealt with amateurs ; one who enters into the amateur spirit, and under-stands its difference from the professional world, and does not try to train his company to imitate stock actors or " stars."

Understudies may be chosen in the same manner as the first cast.

After the choosing of the casts, the next step is rehearsing. To this complicated process the next three chapters are devoted.

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