Civic casting crisis? Professionals take stage at community theater

October 11, 2018

Kevin Miller’s mantra is that Rochester Civic Theatre is the community’s theater.

But when “Barefoot in the Park” opens next week at the Civic, most of the actors on stage will be professionals hired by Miller from elsewhere.

“We only had two people show up for auditions,” said Miller, executive director of the Civic. “We had nearly 100 show up for ‘Shrek’ and we had 150 for auditions for ‘Annie,’” he said of the Civic’s musicals this fall. “We know the community wants to be in the musicals.”

But not every show can be a big musical. On the other hand, Miller also had to bring in professionals to round out the cast for the smaller-scale “Ring of Fire” summer musical.

Is the Civic facing some kind of casting crisis?

“I’m not concerned at all,” Kay Hocker, president of the Civic board, said of the “Barefoot in the Park” auditions. “I think it was timing, people’s availability, a combination of many things.”

Asked if the Civic’s dispute last year with a large group of volunteers — most of whom have not returned to the theater — is a factor, Hocker said, “I don’t think there’s anything to be read into it.”

That’s not exactly the way others see the situation. “I don’t know why they choose to ignore that there’s still an issue with their long-standing, very loyal volunteers,” said Debbie Fuehrer, who has volunteered in a number of capacities at the Civic for 30 years. “They still have not addressed the voting rights and membership,” she said.

Those issues were among several that caused a break between the volunteers and the theater in 2017. As a result, some of the actors and musicians who regularly performed on the Civic stage have stayed away from the theater.

On the other hand, longtime local theater directors said it’s not unusual to run into an occasional shortage of actors to fill certain roles.

“It depends on the show,” said Jeanne Skattum, a founding member of the Rochester Repertory Theatre. “There are a lot of variables. You just never know.”

If not enough actors audition, she said, “Then you contact people and say, ‘Are you interested in reading for a part?’”

Even Fuehrer said she’s wondering about the eight men she needs for roles in her upcoming original prison drama, “Three Hots and a Cot” at the Rep. “We’ll see what happens,” she said.

Obviously, the big musicals are popular with audiences and performers alike.

“I think it’s typical that more people are confident being in large-scale shows,” Skattum said. “Non-musicals are a bit more demanding of individuals.”

However, after “Annie” for the holidays, the only musical left on the Civic schedule this season is “Jesus Christ Superstar” next March. Still to come are the non-musicals “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “The Graduate” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

“We’re doing three musicals this year,” Miller said. “This could be what the model is. We support them with ‘professional’ shows. It’s still emerging what we will ultimately become. Our community will inform us what they want to see.”

Miller rejected the suggestion that hiring professionals is shutting local actors out of Civic shows. “By the time we get through ‘Annie,’ there will have been more than 100 local artists performing on our stage this season, and we will have hired four equity actors,” he said.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting coincidence: When the Civic staged “Barefoot in the Park” in 1967, the director had to take the lead role because no one auditioned for the part.

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