Why artists are upset Stratford Festival re-auditions cast for Chicago musical

A number of musical theater artists have taken to social media to express their disapproval of making theater artists who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic fight to get them back.

Chris Young / The Canadian Press

Back when the 2020 Stratford Festival season was closed due to the pandemic, artistic director Antoni Cimolino told his artist company (and the press) that he was committed to presenting at new all canceled productions at a later date.

But, now, as the theater company begins preparations to resurrect one of the biggest of these canceled productions next season, controversy is unfolding online that Cimolino’s engagement does not extend to all the actors initially selected in the closed shows.

Indeed, many performers have to re-audition for roles they had already started to rehearse.

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On September 14, director and choreographer Donna Feore held a dance call to re-audition the ensemble members who had previously been cast in her 2020 production of Chicago, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s hit musical about celebrity and crime, for its next production in 2022 in Stratford. A dancer, Adam Sergison, has already been informed that he will not be returning to the show.

ChicagoThe lead and star performers will soon be re-auditioning as well.

A number of musical theater artists have taken to social media to express their disapproval of making theater artists who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic fight to get them back.

Sharron Matthews, a well-known cabaret artist who also starred in The mysteries of Frankie Drake, tweeted in dismay that the choir members were scheduled to audition for a show they had previously rehearsed. “Can you imagine being one of those artists? Wait all this time? & get this news? “

Ali Momen, one of the stars of the Toronto production of Come from afar, also spoke on Twitter. “If a show stops because of the pandemic and an entire group of artists lose their jobs, if that show comes back, every one of their jobs should do the same,” Momen tweeted.

Indeed, Mirvish Productions, a commercial company, confirms that the Come from afar the cast that was on stage in Toronto in March 2020 will return when the show reopens.

Why doesn’t the non-profit Stratford Festival offer the same courtesy to its actors whose contracts they terminated in 2020?

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Cimolino told me in an interview that the festival intends to hire this season’s performers where possible, but said there are complicating factors.

The first is that Stratford will be back bringing plays and musicals to the repertoire next season, which means most artists will be performing in two or three different productions at a time.

The theater company’s 2022 poster will also be both smaller and different from what was planned for 2020 and therefore even re-hired actors will have new ‘leads’ involving new ‘plays’ (that is – i.e. new parts in other shows).

Specifically, Cimolino notes that he intends Stratford’s next season to include more “pieces from a larger world, other storytelling lore” – and will therefore require a company of actors capable of playing in. these parts.

In short, the 2022 Chicago the cast might very well need performers from a specific background not represented in the 2020 cast, as they will end up intersecting with another culturally specific show.

While these factors help clarify why a redesign might be needed, they don’t really explain why Stratford is re-auditioning its cast for Chicago… for Chicago. Or why now.

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An Asian actor, for example, doesn’t have to be invited for a dance call in front of Feore and Stratford casting director Beth Russell for the company to realize that they won’t fit in, say, in the African American family of A rising sun. In addition, the 2022 schedule is not yet set, according to Cimolino, and the exact needs are therefore not yet known.

Regarding the recent dance call, Cimolino explained that Feore is not seeing his 2022 production of Chicago as a reassembly of that of 2020; it will include some changes in the choreography. “The relevant strength of the ensemble with the new choreography in mind was something she wanted to see,” he says.

Cimolino says he expects the “vast majority” of 2020 society to return eventually.

(As for the unrehired Sergison, you can see him dancing next in Holiday Inn at the Shaw Festival in November and December; in fact, he’s the dance captain of this show.)

The Stratford Festival is a large institution, generally the largest non-profit theater company in North America, with a lot of hassle to juggle.

But it doesn’t seem entirely fair to surprise the performers with a dance call for a show they had already booked – on just 11 days notice, in the midst of a pandemic, as it did here. (They even had to pay for their own ride to Stratford.)

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I can’t think of a group of artists who have struggled more in the past 18 months than the dancers; in many locations across Canada, they were only recently able to regain access to indoor studio space.

I’m not surprised that the festival is pilloried on social media amid all the conversations about how to better rebuild the theater industry.

And better is possible: The Shaw Festival, another great repertory theater in Ontario, both figured out how to keep its artists employed the year the pandemic started – and offered them all the maintenance of their contracts in 2021 when many of his shows canceled in 2020 finally took place.

An overhaul may be needed in the case of Stratford, but the process can certainly be more humane.

Part of the measure of the festival’s success as we emerge from here on out should be how it welcomes and cares for its most modest ensemble performer, not just how it welcomes and cares for teams. creative stars.

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