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Inside Thebes: A casting nightmare

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Rex director Michael Burke gives notes in rehearsal. - SCOT MCKIM
  • Scot McKim
  • Rex director Michael Burke gives notes in rehearsal.

This spring, NoExit Performance Company will mount the entire Oedipal play cycle (Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone) on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with a single cast presenting all three plays. Have the members of this relatively young theater company bitten off more than they can chew? Katelyn Coyne, NUVO theater writer by day and a member of the chorus for all three plays by night, is effectively answering that question by blogging every other week about the rehearsal process. This is the second installment.

Week Three: A Casting Nightmare

When I sent off my last communique, I was a member of a four person chorus in NoExit's Oedipal play cycle. Two weeks later our numbers have dwindled to only two: myself and Zachariah Stonerock. More of the spotlight for us; Zachariah and I will now become the stars we were always meant to be. Or at least that's my running joke in rehearsal.

There's more: Shortly before the rehearsal process started, our Ismene announced that she was pregnant. After doing the math, the company realized that by opening night, the actress would be sporting a basketball-sized belly. The subtext of having a pregnant Ismene simply won't serve the directors' concepts.

Our Eurydice and Theseus have also dropped out, due to an injury and concert tour, respectively. The state of things in Thebes are looking a little bleak, which actually seems appropriate, given the trilogy's subject matter of a kingdom in shambles.

The news that our chorus would be halved came via text message. "Our [quartet] is down to two," said Rex director Michael Burke. "I am canceling rehearsal tonight. Our stumble thru would be more like a hobble thru. I need to regroup a little bit and discuss with George."

Georgeanna Smith (in red pants) leads dancers as Burke looks on. - SCOT MCKIM
  • Scot McKim
  • Georgeanna Smith (in red pants) leads dancers as Burke looks on.

George, short for Georgeanna Smith, is the artistic director of NoExit. Later that night, Zach and I received an email from her explaining the situation. The statement she made that most struck a chord with me was this: "I know it can be demoralizing to lose some of your team." I hadn't felt demoralized before I started reading, but my spirits were, well, a bit dimmed afterwards.

After completing casting more than six month ago, NoExit leadership is now in the position of scrambling at the last minute, knowing that every delay puts will put all three shows further behind schedule.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword in a way," Burke told me. "We are making every effort that we can to be as professional as possible. That does require us to put in a lot of work for very little in return. We all do it because we really believe in what we are doing and what the future holds for the company. [But actors] come in and, we don't expect them to commit every waking moment like we have, but at the same time they've made a commitment to the show and we planned accordingly. It's very disheartening when people decide we are not worth the commitment."

Smith remains optimistic, an essential quality for the director of an adolescent company. "It's been a great opportunity to explore the talent that Indianapolis holds," she said of her quest to recast. Smith chalks it up to growing pains: "I kind of expected this to happen. It was the first time we did general auditions months before a project. [But] I should mention that this whole thing was stressful. It has prohibited me from working solely as a director and a cast member."

NoExit is still in the process of recasting the needed character and chorus roles. Replacements for Ismene and Eurydice are already in place; actors are still being read for Theseus and the chorus.

Smith is confident that this whole project is "do-able." But is her confidence and leadership enough for this small, but growing company, to produce three plays in repertory? I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that no one else is giving up. Or at least, I hope.

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