Last week, I started a series about the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Faire in Tavares, Florida, with “LotL-1: What’s the purpose of this Faire?” As we go forward, find all the entries in the series using the LotL tag.
Getting there and getting ready
On August 23, as Hurricane Fay made its way up the east coast of Florida, I made the 30 miles trip to South Lake High School for the cast auditions of the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Faire. I had never attended an audition before and was unsure what to expect. Upon entering the auditorium, I found a table sitting in the middle of the center isle, a stack of blank audition forms on one corner with pens and a stack of completed forms on the other corner. Sixty-some-odd people of all ages wandered the room, greeting friends, introducing themselves to newcomers, and trying out bits on each other as they waited for the auditions to begin.
Making my way to the front, I headed toward a cluster of people around the woman I guessed was my contact and Cast Director, Jennifer Julian. At a break in the conversation, I introduced myself and let her know where I was going to sit to observe, for it was indeed she. She welcomed me, thanked me for my interest, and encouraged me to let her know if I had any questions.
As I settled in my seat, I watched Kelly Morris, the Song Mistress, and her assistant, Lely Chaffee, study sheet music for “Rose, Rose, Rose” in the row ahead of me. Kelly explained to Lely that it was to be the theme song for the singers. Both agreed that it was a different version from the ones they had learned. They reviewed it quickly, quietly ran through a chorus, decided that it would work, and planned how they would audition the singers.
A shout of “Last call for paperwork” from Jennifer’s assistant caused several hopefuls to hurry back to the table and turn in their audition forms. Jennifer and Jay Carlage, with a little whistled assistance from Kelly Morris, got the crowd’s attention and requested that everyone sit in the first three rows of seats. With encouragement, everyone moved up. Jennifer and Jay played the old good cop, bad cop routine as they detailed which roles were available, the audition process, the rehearsal schedule, and the show dates. They were casting the roles of villagers, dancers, singers, pirates, and servants to the court. They announced that the Human Combat Chess Match cast auditions would be separate and happen later in the day. The last bit of news they shared–that singers and dancers could not audition for the fight cast–brought a quiet murmur from a few but they quieted quickly.
Jennifer began the audition by separating all those in attendance into two groups to play a couple of games. Each group formed a circle around a pile of items gathered from her daughter’s room. The rules of the game were simple; each person selects an item, states what that item is, and then makes up three other things the item could be. Examples from the group I watched included Mitch using a pink feather boa as his new ponytail, as a whip from his trip to Hawaii, and as trim for his new trench coat. After each explanation, the circle responded with “Yes it is.” Two other examples stood out to me and got the best responses from the group. Jennifer (one of those auditioning, not Ms. Julian) told the crowd that the cream-colored statuette of Buddha was a “Buddha Remote” as she pointed it at someone and pushed the imaginary buttons on his tummy. Lely, the assistant song mistress, wrapped a tape measure around her waist, and then held the ends vertically—one toward her legs, the other above her head—and told the group, “This is my Tape Worm.” The gathering roared with laughter and clapped as they agreed that “Yes, it is!”
When all in the circle had completed the first game, I moved to the second group to watch as Kelly Morris led them through an exercise to determine who could use movement to entertain. She numbered them one, two, or three, and then instructed them to move this way or that until commanded to freeze. She didn’t provide specific advice on what to do, though occasionally she called out things like, “OK, everyone move toward the right.” She examined individuals and groups to see what activity they had chosen, their facial expressions, their posture, checking to see if she could tell what they might have been doing and whether it evoked any response to her. She ran them through the exercise three times, each time pointing out members of the group whose postures and facial appearance she found entertaining. They finished the exercise before the first group, so Ms. Morris moved on to teaching “Health to the Company,” a song which all cast members are required to learn.
When the first group had finished the movement exercise, the entire cast returned to the auditorium. Ms. Morris called the hopeful singers to a different room for their voice auditions. Jennifer split the balance of the potential cast in six groups, assigned by number, and had them design a skit to encourage people to come to the Faire. The numbering process effectively split up friends and family, allowing the Cast Director to observe how they well they could work together when outside their normal comfort zone. She and Jay compared notes on various people as the groups prepared, making tentative assignments.
I sat with Group 6 as they developed their script, determined which part each member would portray, and developed bits around those characters. Some of the members of the group had experience from previous years; others were completely new to acting. One member of the group, Leann, is a teacher. She said that she works at the faire because her children want to be involved and she provides their transportation. Since she is there anyway, she participates. When the group began plotting actions and movement during the skit, she hesitated about stepping into the spotlight, saying, “If there are more than four adults present I clam up. I’m fine at faire because I put on my costume and persona.” Their skit came off well and they drew good laughs for several of their antics.
I moved on to the Singer’s Auditions after Group 6 performed. Kelly and Lely had taught the six young women the song; a simple round arranged for four-part a cappella harmony. I listened as they sang the refrain through repeatedly while the Song Mistress listened and watched intently. Satisfied that the voices sounded good together, she started encouraging movement and interaction, reminding the singers that they were not just providing a sweet melody but entertainment as well. Several of the group were returning cast members and able to show the newcomers methods of engaging with the audience and each other. Finishing up, Ms. Morris confirmed each role, making sure the singers knew their names, listed the twelve songs they would learn, and identified who would do solos. They then rejoined the main group and took the stage to perform the song they had just learned.
Ms. Julian and Mr. Carlage were still discussing role assignments when the singers finished their performance. Ms. Morris had all those from the second exercise, the ones who had been learning “Health to the Company,” join the singers on the stage. She led them in several choruses of the song and watched those remaining in the audience. As those seated around the room began singing along, she’d send them to the stage. It wasn’t very long before everyone was on stage singing enthusiastically. As they finished a verse, Ms Julian called for attention. The moment everyone waited for had arrived.
Before she began assigning roles, Jay called three young men to the side to discuss a separate role that he is considering. That character is still in development and Jay has not provided any details other than expressing a desire to have a storyteller who knows everything about the storyline and what each character is doing. While they were gone, Jennifer began calling names and assignments. I watched as faces lit up upon hearing their names. Everyone got a part; some are Villagers with roles like of Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker, Seamstress and Tailor, Weaver, Farmer, Spice Seller, Potter, Limner and Tavern keeper; there are Dancers and Pirates; the Singers were confirmed; and several were selected for servants to the Court. Everyone seemed pleased with his or her assignment.
The village will be set up with tents for each occupation as a learning opportunity for visitors to the faire and includes some hands-on activities for children. The cast audition finished up with Jay explaining character development and that he expected cast members to arrive at rehearsal each week with something new to share about their occupation. He looked at the newly appointed Tailor and said, “For instance, do you know what a needle looked like in the 1560’s? If not, you’d better find out.” Turning to the Butcher, he continued, “You’ll need to find out how a cow and pig were slaughtered and prepared for market.” I chuckled to myself at some of the expressions that crossed faces.
OK, that’s enough for this week. Next Monday, join us for a look at Fight Cast auditions. The Rogue’s Theatre was entertaining, even as they taught and auditioned those who showed up. I look forward to seeing how the Human Combat Chess Match evolves.Tweet This