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Pamela Rabe auditions for John Hirsch

Trying out for Stratford

It’s been only a day and a half since Gillian Barber first heard that Stratford Festival artistic director John Hirsch would be at the Granville Island Arts Club on Thursday conducting auditions for next year’s season, and with the Talking Dirty matinee Wednesday, she’s had only a day to prepare.

She’s chosen speeches from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Michel Tremblay’s Forever Yours, Marie-Lou, but rather than follow the lead of some of her colleagues who are silently mouthing their texts one last time, Barber is sitting idle, and outwardly. at least, composed.

When she auditioned for Hirsch last November he stopped her performance to offer some suggestions.

“I gather from other people that the people he did stop and work with were the ones he was interested in,” she says optimistically.

If there’s any truth to the rumor, the situation looks good for Barber’s predecessor, Pamela Rabe. Asked to run through her speech, also coincidentally from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a second time, Rabe is scarcely allowed a line before Hirsch interjects.

“Taste what you are saying,” he urges from a seat several rows back of the stage where Rabe is doing her best to navigate around furniture left from the Talking Dirty set. “Taste the words, chew them, and spit them out. Don’t let a single syllable escape you.”

Pamela Rabe auditions for John Hirsch 1982 | Photo by Ralph BowerPamela Rabe auditions for John Hirsch 1982 | Photo by Ralph Bower

Later, Bent star Allan Gray, who follows Barber on the hot seat, emerges from the theatre rolling his eyes and railing: “On the spot, he makes you do a whole different character with your speech.” But Barber is allowed to proceed unhindered. Hirsch, having heard her read last year, expected her only for an interview. Her preparations, though appreciated, were unnecessary.

“Some people are obviously at a stage in their careers where you don’t have to read them,” Hirsch explains after bidding the morning’s 11th and last candidate good-bye. “Others, well, you want to give them a chance to show you what they can do.”

But beyond that, the man who could arguably be called the most powerful in Canadian theatre is remaining close-mouthed about this morning’s hopefuls. Nor will he say if he plans to return to Vancouver for further trials.

“It depends on my assessment of what I’ve just seen. If there are enough people of interest to warrant us coming back, we will.” Hirsch is expecting to field a company of 100 actors next season. He won’t say how many he has already chosen, but he is expected to have a final list by the end of December.

The names of Thursday’s Vancouver aspirants were culled by Hirsch’s staff from among thousands of applications submitted this year, and will be added to those of 300 other sweepstakes entries from sessions in Montreal, Toronto and Calgary.

“Because it’s a classical company where the focus is on a difficult text, I look for intelligence, a good voice, and the ability to speak clearly,” Hirsch says. “I also want people who are able to absorb the text with imagination, and present it in a truthful fashion. I’m interested in seeing a sense of reality and a sense of liveliness.”

Winning an audition to Stratford means an eightmonth commitment for an actor, a factor Vancouver actress Nicola Cavendish is weighing heavily in deciding whether to return to Christopher Newton’s Shaw Festival next year, or accept an offer from Hirsch — should he make her one.

But despite the luxury of the Shaw alternative, Cavendish is still anxious about meeting the man from Stratford.

“My hands haven’t felt this cold since my last stroke.”

Sun Theatre Critic

Source: | 19 November 1982

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