I recently had to privledge to be a part of auditions and casting for The Cut– the semi-fictional adaption of my book for the stage. The play will premeir this January at Open Circle Theatre in Seattle. The process took about seven hours spread out over three evenings. Aproximately 35 people showed up to be considered for eight slots which span about 25 characters over 20 years.
Key scenes from the script were selected for the actors to read to show range and type. Everyone was given at least two opportunities to read for the panel of the director, Gary Zinter, and the playwright, Dustin Engstrom, as well as myself. Open Circle Theatre company member, Angel Welter, was on hand to assist with the process and will be the assistant director for the play.
Pairs and trios of actors filed into the little room and gave life to the characters of the play: my mom, my dad, my ex-wife, my best friend and various haircut subjects from my past. The most interesting thing for me was to see people audition for the three variations of me, renamed Derick. The script features a 20-something Adult Derick; a 10 year old Young Derick, and a psychological facet of me that takes shape as a female doll named Stefeny Calvert.
I marveled at the different interpretations of the script, some sharp and some dull. I put total trust in Gary, Dustin, and Angel to weed out the riff-raff and cast the show well. My input was welcome, but I was happy not to have the final say.
Just past the mid point of the first day, a young man came in a caught our eye. Something clicked and told all of us that we found our Adult Derick. Michael LaDell Harris was quickly offered the role. He had a level of sincerity and vulnerability that no one else did. Matching Michael’s nuances, William Cole Stevens (a youthful adult) was cast to play Young Derick and Monica Wulzen was cast as Stefeny Calvert. Scott Shoemaker, Joan Jankowski, David Rollison, Todd Van Der Ark, and Colin Scheiber round out the rest of the cast.
It is both exciting and flattering to think of someone playing me (well…three people playing me), but with that comes a responsibility for me to let go. The play is an interpretation of my book; not biographically relevant. There should be freedom to go beyond reality and history; to open up the story. Why limit ourselves to one perspective? The best thing I can do is trust the talented people involved and support them as they discover the layers of my story. I am excited to see what everyone involved will bring to The Cut and watch it turn into another art form.
I hope that viewers find The Cut complicated. Good art should be complicated. I don’t want people to have a simple reaction to the play or the book. As I started to share my story with people years ago, what I loved the most is the contrast of responses people had. Ten people would have ten very different reactions: amused, disgusted, frightened, threatened, touched, aroused, inspired: all over cutting hair.
The truth is my story isn’t entirely about cutting hair: it is about love and damage. Hair is just a measure for my (Derick’s) emotions, good and bad. Maybe an audience member of The Cut can see things for a short time the way I do; embrace the metaphor that was all too real for me. They may rethink their own love and damage as Open Circle Theatre explores mine.