Random acts

Inside the cattle call

What: WNC Theatre League Unified Auditions

Where: Blue Ridge Motion Picture Studios

When: Saturday, March 1

The main sound stage at Blue Ridge Motion Picture Studios is a giant cavern painted flat black. In the middle of the room sits a set for a TV pilot, a local cooking show called The Salsa Man (slated to feature Salsa and Zambra owner Hector Diaz).

The set is a sort of Caribbean-themed bamboo shack, and through its windows can be glimpsed a massive, hand-painted seascape. The structure, having nothing to do with today’s event, makes a kind of surreal, haphazard barrier separating a clutch of nervous actors from a crowd of local theater directors, producers and organizers (collectively known as auditors) waiting on the other side.

They’ve assembled today for a “cattle call” — a general audition for upcoming theater productions, as well as locally produced film and TV projects. For the next four hours, the auditioning actors will be taken from their jittery last-minute rehearsals and led into the giant studio in groups of 10.

Once there, they’ll have little more than a minute to make an impression.

Then, they get to leave, pressing their resumes and 8-by-10 glossies into the hands of the silent few who make the casting decisions.

Before the auditions properly begin, the auditors, in a generically jaded sort of way, joke among themselves. It’s the third full day of the cattle call, and today is expected to bring in the biggest crowd yet. There may be as many as 100 actors auditioning, and this critical crew expects to be bored more often than impressed.

With such a short time to prove their dramatic merits, many actors, I’m told, will opt for over-the-top monologues — emotional tearjerkers and painfully heavy-handed readings that invite impatient pacing and sheer overacting.

The process, however, goes fairly quickly, though only a rare few performers are comfortable enough to melt the proverbial wall between actor and audience (or auditor).

When this last kind of performance does happen, a flurry of pens begin marking on notepads and on the backs of resumes. These, I gather, are the moments that make cattle calls worth attending.

As an outsider, however, I was more entertained by the auditors’ creative comparisons and dramatic trash-talking.

“Doesn’t she know that everyone uses that piece to audition with?”

“Yeah, he was pretty wooden.”

“I wonder if that monologue was going anywhere?”

“Let’s just say I’d only cast her as the lead actress’ best friend.”

By the end of the day, the 20 or so auditors are visibly tired. There’s talk of getting back to work, of going out to drink and of going home. They take up their piles of head shots and collect their notebooks, wish each other goodbye and leave the black cavern for the light of day.

Front-row reviews

What: The Woggles w/ Antigone Rising and The Sexpatriates

Where: Stella Blue

When: Saturday, March 1

The Sexpatriates are not a subtle band; yet for a group that — at least thus far — exclusively plays ego-filled, beer-drenched cover songs, they manage to get a crowd hyped and moving.

With a newly added sax player and a one-man horn section, the group’s sound is richer than in previous months, and this Stella Blue concert saw a guest appearance by former Bitter Pills keyboardist Nathan Moses. As opening acts go, The Sexpatriates put on a very solid show.

In purely musical terms, Antigone Rising was the evening’s absolute shining gem. The all-girl group boasts a set of powerful, folk-tinged hard rockers: Lead singer Cassidy sounds like a screaming three-way argument between Janis Joplin, Pat Benatar and Natalie Merchant. The subject of debate? How to sing gut-level rock and still sound sultry. The band closed with an appropriately harmony-heavy cover of Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls.”

Every song the Atlanta-based, ’60s-powered garage-rock band The Woggles played sounded like a slightly harsher variation on an early Rolling Stones song (shades of “Brown Sugar” and “Gimme Shelter” were abundant), but their show was nevertheless immensely entertaining. The Woggles’ lead vocalist and tambourine player — a man known only as The Professor — has an uncanny knack for keeping the audience’s attention.

Band members’ matching frilly-fronted orange tuxedo shirts gave them an undeniably gimmicky air, but The Woggles’ music, built on tight, dirty grooves, was so filled with undiluted energy that it was hard to fault. Their set connected enough with the crowd to merit a three-song encore, which included the surprisingly satisfying “Jezebel,” — wherein The Professor physically mingled with his eager students in the crowd, giving them his Dionysian-rock all.

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