Monday, October 17, 2011

Blog Prompt 2: "The Yellow Boat" and Casting

Last week we read Bloom's chapter on casting a performance piece, as a lead-in of sorts to reading David Saar's "The Yellow Boat". Now that you've completed both readings, write about how you would approach casting "The Yellow Boat" yourself. What would you be looking for? What are important attributes of actors for a specific part? Who would you match for joint-auditions to test relationship dynamics? Can you foresee any difficulties with casting a specific part? Support your response with examples from the text.

Please respond by class time, Thursday (Oct. 20th)


  1. When casting for The Yellow Boat there are a few key things that I would consider, beginning with their emotional chemistry. I believe that Benjamin, Mother, and Father need to be cast prior to any of the other characters in order to set the baseline for selecting the actors. I would narrow down my selection to a couple of actors and then put them in an improvisational "play" scene together (Mother, Father and Benjamin) in order to test their natural ability to connect with each other. When casting the female to play the chorus member that will become Joy I believe it is also important to test their emotional chemistry with the actor playing Benjamin. Joy's character needs to be able to exert a child like wonder similar to the one that Benjamin exerts. I think it is important to see the actor playing Benjamin interact with the actors up for playing the role of Joy, perhaps I would have them play children's games together to watch their compatibility in that area.

    I propose the idea of colorblind casting for this piece. The message of this piece derives from the idea of humanity. When Benjamin contracts AIDS he is ostracized from his society for it. The story, The Yellow Boat, resonates hope and understanding from the message portrayed that AIDS can effect anyone, that the disease effected all people alike, with no blame to those who would catch it. If a family is multiracial it does not have to make them any less a family. If the parts of Mother, Father, and Benjamin are preformed in a way that shows the true emotional aesthetic of a family their skin tone should be unimportant. Therefor I don't believe ethnicity would need to be considered when casting for The Yellow Boat.

    Casting Breakdown;

    Benjamin - Child OR late teens early 20s. Independent, strong willed, creative. Intelligent and posses the ability to comprehend topics beyond his age range.

    Mother - Late teens early 20s. Understanding, wholesome, young spirited, creative, nurturing, intelligent. Despite her wholesome understanding nature she fears strongly for Benjamin.

    Father - Late teens early 20s. Very similar to mother in that he is an understanding young spirit with creative nurturing qualities. However, he is more hopeful than Mother.

    Chorus - Late teens early 20s. Vibrant, should be very creative and willing and able to play various roles. They should posses a sense of urgency (doctors and parents parts) that can be drawn back into a strong voice, for parts such as Joy.

  2. (Phi Anh)

    I find the character of Benjamin most tricky. He is very intelligent and creative, and so all of his motivations and actions must not contradict with his mental capabilities. Benjamin can also feel unrealistic because he seems too sympathetic. I would prefer to cast someone who can show a sense of vulnerability despite knowledgeability, joyful carefreeness but also ignorance. Although he is characterized as a talented, sensible boy who learns a lot from watching TV, he is also just seven years old! If he learns so much from TV, he should also be able to realize that HIV means death and death is not exactly an easy thing to accept. Delivering lines when Benjamin explains his own blood disease and accepting that he has got HIV would be particularly difficult, because it must feel real. And maybe I’ve not read enough into the play, but I think the actor who plays Benjamin must be able to identify and project the transition Benjamin goes through: when does he start to realize the true intensity of his tragedy? When does he start accepting his fate? When does he start to define his attitude towards the next days in his life?

    I also think it’s important to look for an ensemble of actors and actresses who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They must also have a good sense of the musicality of the play, which I find rhythmic and melodic in many parts. Although the idea of a chorus may make it seem like the stage is going to be crowded, but in fact there are usually very few characters on stage at each scene. The subjects of death and diseases at the same time amplifies the sense of isolation, loneliness, sorrowful, claustrophobic. The ensemble hence should preferably provide a strong sense of unity. The play can get very melodramatic, especially as it involves the death of a child and HIV, so I would cast actors and actresses that can make the audience smile. Not exactly the type that makes you unable to stop laughing, but someone with that natural radiance that makes you keep smiling and happy for their decisions and what happens to them.

  3. I would be hesitant to direct this play, but if I were to, my casting would be all about flexibility. I would want the actors to be able to maintain the feeling of spontaneity in the play scenes each time through. I would want great professionalism and range from the chorus particularly. They are required to fill so many roles it is important each is believable, or the play will lose it's flow. They should be dynamic, approachable, and not overshadow the main actors.

    I think much of the success of this play hinges on casting the right Benjamin, one that can be vulnerable while still maintaining a strength of character. I would not want to see him older than 16 unless the actor seems particularly young. I would cast an Eddy who seemed a little younger than Benjamin to play up Benjamin's maturity without casting a more mature actor. Also, while I would want to cast youthful parents, I think Joy could be played by an older woman (though not elderly) if the actress approached her with the right spirit.

  4. In my opinion, the most important theme of The Yellow Boat is its attention to the details and magic of childhood. The playful and high energy aspect of the show needs to be created through cast members with equally high energy and playful natures. In my opinion, these sorts of people are incredibly necessary to create the surreal atmosphere necessary for this dream-like play. This can be solved by using hands on improvisational games with the prospective actors. These games should be group oriented to see the dynamic between the actors. An example would be sound and motion, a game that encourages silly behavior and a comfortable group setting. Additionally, props and fluid movement are an integral part of the show. During the audition process, I would use over sized props and have the actors improvise with them to see how they use and interact with these objects.
    Joint auditions would be important specifically for the main family unit in the play. Mother, Father, and Benjamin need to have an easy relationship based on a solid loving foundation. Additionally, I believe that this show should use color-blind casting, but be cautious of the family unit. The family should look as though they actually could have possibly had Benjamin. This isn’t to say that the Mother and Father should be of the same race, but that the son looks as though he could have been a product of the two parents.
    Also, I believe that the male that plays Benjamin should be a small child. He could probably be played by a child the age of 10-12 that looks younger. That would make it easier to have the actor completely aware of the subject matter and better suited for a main role. This part will be specifically difficult to cast since he will be the sole child in an all adult cast. He will need to feel comfortable in that sort of arena of work and be able to pull off being the protagonist in a full length play. It is important that the man who plays Benjamin is incredibly mature.
    Benjamin – Child, should look around 8. Creative, loving, and independent. Very mature for his age and Intelligent.
    Mother – Early twenties. Loving and creative. Worrier but strong willed.
    Father – Early twenties. Loving and creative. The foundation of the family.
    Joy – Early twenties. High spirited and energetic. Understands children and can interact like one.
    Eddie – Early twenties. Sweet and kind. Playful but shy.
    Chorus – Early twenties. Vibrant and energetic. Childish. Ability to move lyrically.

  5. When casting a play like The Yellow Boat one of the most important aspects would be finding actors who could bring a childlike air to the play, but who could also switch into a more serious role. Since the people in the chorus would double as both students and doctors they would have to have a young energy about them that they would be able to tone down to be able to be as cold and robotic as the doctors are. I think that the casting should definitely be color-blind since it is a story that so many people could relate to on so many different levels. The actors would need to be able to respect that they play that they are doing is about a serious subject but that at times they need to let loose and just have fun. During the auditions it would be really important to see if the actors would be able to really push themselves and go all out. I really like the idea of playing children’s games in the auditions and I think that would be a good chance to see if the actors were able to not take themselves too seriously.
    I think that Benjamin would be hard to cast, but also probably who you would want to cast first. I think he should be relatively young, 13 at the oldest 8 at the youngest. Benjamin is very smart for his age and the actor playing him needs to be able to convey that. They also have to have a sense of security and a sense of spunk.
    Benjamin’s Mother and Father are relatively similar in that they both need to be loving and kind but the mother is a little more vulnerable and the father needs to be the rock of the family. When casting the family group auditions are a necessity because if the family unit doesn’t work, nothing else will.
    Eddie needs to be played by someone with a sense of innocence but also a bit of an edge. Eddie just wants to make his friend feel better and things keep getting in his way. He needs to be determined and strong willed, but also still a child.
    Joy should be the oldest person in the play, but she is not old. She is around 30 and has a youthful, but not childlike air. She and Benjamin should audition together at some point because of how important their relationship is.

  6. There are several things I would be looking for in all actors I cast: creativity, wild imagination, playfulness/love of play, reliability and responsibility. I feel that much of the play’s dynamic depends on the imagination of the actors. For me, one of the most important aspects of “The Yellow Boat” that I want to explore is play. Therefore, I want all of my actors to be willing and able to play like children, to create and imagine and run around and be spontaneous.
    In terms of casting the chorus, I want to find a group of actors who work well together, and have a good ensemble dynamic. I want to cast a mixed group of men and women (all young adults) because there are many roles that the chorus plays. I want to use colorblind casting for this play. One idea that I wish to play around with is the idea of circus. Maybe I could cast acrobats in the parts of the chorus, who could then do tricks during scenes in which the chorus members are children and create a dynamic playing scene. Or I could cast acrobats as additional chorus members who don’t have lines to say but instead function as part of a large chorus. These circus folk could interact with the other actors and audience members. There could be brief interludes throughout the play in which the circus chorus entertains the audience with tricks. Perhaps some acrobats could accompany Joy in the scene in which she entices Benjamin to interact with her “ Magical Medical Circus—a really big show in a really small space” (Saar, 56). I can also envision the circus chorus using shadows in the scene in which saran wrap is pulled across the stage and the community is distancing themselves from Benjamin. I would use a cloth and project light through the cloth so that the acrobats could either use shadow puppets or their bodies to show how the families are walking away from the situation. I might also want play around with more puppetry and clowning throughout different sections of the play. Circus really is about play, so it is quite fitting that the circus arts would be used in conjunction with this play, “The Yellow Boat”.
    In casting Benjamin, I think I would look for a young adult to play the role (between 14 and 22 years old). Some important qualities that I am looking for in actors include: energetic, willful, independent, great spatial/visual awareness, joy and wonder at life, curiosity, strong, silly, adventurous, good storyteller, compassionate. I am looking for someone who can really run away with their imagination into adventures and stories, which require lots of energy and curiosity. Benjamin goes on many adventures with his friends and family; in one adventure he goes to Fantasy Island and meets the “teeny tiny midgetized King of the Svengalese” (Saar, 33). In addition, one aspect that I think is important is this joy and happiness with life that Benjamin experiences through play, drawing, and stories. This quality could help the theme of the play, the celebration of Benjamin’s life, be conveyed.
    I would definitely want to match the actors playing the roles of Mother and Father in joint auditions, as well as the whole family of Mother, Father, and Benjamin. I want the family to be able to work together well and feel comfortable and happy. I want the family to be able to function as a unit rather than individual, unrelated and distant parts. In addition, I think that the chorus requires much teamwork, so perhaps at a call-back or later audition I would find which group variation worked the best together. Doing some games that require teamwork and help build ensemble during auditions would help me to determine this. I want to observe the actors at play.

  7. The first things I'd be looking for would be flexibility (particularly important for the chorus) and a positive, playful attitude towards the material (this is critical for all the actors - though it's also important to take the work seriously). As far as sex and age are concerned, I'd only cast loosely - Benjamin should probably stay a boy, so that his name makes sense; the mother should remain female, so the birth scene makes sense, and it is probably best to keep the father male to avoid distraction from the intended themes of the play as written, though a two-mom family could work. One of the chorus needs to be female (most likely #3) in order for pages 555 and 556 to work (the "she likes you" "yuck" joke). So much for sex.

    Age is more important, but casting the right actor for the part would be the priority. Ideally, Benjamin would be the youngest of the cast, if not actually a child (though younger than about 12 is unlikely). Eddy should be the same age, or similar. The mom and dad can be any age, as long as there's a clear gap between them and Benjamin (it would be possible to cast them in their fifties and Benjamin in his twenties, and still have the play work). The chorus falls in a difficult place, needing to be young enough to play children, but old enough to play parents and doctors. Teens to early thirties is the most likely effective range for this, though I wouldn't hesitate to break out of it for a suitable actor.

    Race and ethnic background are irrelevant to the play, and should therefore be irrelevant to the casting of it.

    I would use joint-test auditions for several groups: the two parents, the two parents plus Benjamin, Eddy and his mother, possibly Benjamin and Eddy, and possibly also the entire chorus (as their collective efforts carry many scenes). These relationships absolutely must work in order for the play to be effective, and there's no reason not to cast the people who can make those relationships work rather than trying to build connections from scratch.

  8. I am going to throw a different idea into the barrel of ideas here.

    I have had this thought simmering for a while, I don't know why.

    I would cast Benjamin to a middle aged man, maybe a woman. Have the chorus be younger, maybe even children.

    It brings down the scariness factor of the play and it also makes for an interesting reversal of roles. Especially for Joy, making the children able to identify with her more easily.

    Eddy would also be played by a youngster, effectively leaving the role of Benjamin, the only adult in the cast.

    This setup also brings more humor and lightheartedness into the play. I also think it will make Benjamin's fear in the end that much more potent. One of the scariest things for a kid is when an adult is scared of something.


  9. In my mind, casting Benjamin as a child (age 7-13) is the most important casting choice, and thus the one I would start with. I would give the child actors their own auditions, playing particular attention to how they play, and how they can be serious if the scene calls for it. Benjamin is a lot of things, but at his core he's warm, loving, and attentive. He's exceptionally creative, yet he knows it, and it can lead to him being bossy.

    I think the Benjamin callbacks would be held with the rest of the cast's first audition, because I think seeing how adults (age 18-35) play with a child is extremely important to casting the chorus and the parents. The parents to see Benjamin as the pride and joy, love him unconditionally. The chorus has a bigger challenge of being able to play with him as though they were children, but also completely cut themselves off when they play doctors and community members.

    While viewpoint and improvisation exercises would probably be the best way to see which actors catch my interest, and can do the physical aspects of the text, doing joint readings will also be a huge help. Mother-Father seems obvious, as well as Mother-Father-Benjamin, just so I can see how people interact as a married couple with their dream-child, and as parents playing with their own personal sun. Benjamin with the school children is important to see that play that so permeates the play, but Benjamin-Eddy should probably be it's own reading, as their relationship is so unique. Benjamin-Doctors should be seen close to the school children, so I can keep an eye out for actors that are good at both. When looking at Benjamin-Doctors though, I'd want to see one at the beginning of the play, when they're robotic, and one at the end, after they begin to really care about Benjamin. That brings us to Benjamin and Joy, who should be seen because Joy, though not seen often, is a major player in how she changes the mind of the community at large.

    After finding Benjamin and Mother and Father, I think the chorus would be the hardest to pin down. Eddy and Joy need to be doctors, and parents who don't accept Benjamin. This is hard to wrap my head around because the main attribute of the actor should be their caring and free-spiritness, yet in some scenes they are ignorant and on the antagonizing side of the play. If I maintain the same chorus structure stated in the text then I'd just have to keep extremely well organized in the auditions for crossover in the chorus, but if the auditions don't yield an actor who's fantastic at both doctor and Eddy, but I had enough great talent anyway, I wouldn't feel bad at all about casting Eddy and Joy separate from the chorus.

    Lastly, I'd try to be as colorblind as possible when casting, because I don't think it matters at all. The only thing I care about in this department is that if the family ends up being anything but white, the chorus can't be comprised of entirely white characters. While race played a huge part in how AIDS was treated at the time, there really isn't room in this play for a race war.

  10. When casting this play I would take my time. I would want to try several different methods, some of which have been mentioned before. The first thing I would play with is age and this "scary" factor we have all discussed. I would like to see how older actors would improvise child like qualities. Once I had established that this would or would not be a possible idea, I would bring in the children. My second step would be to see all of the characters as children through playful and fun improvisation games again. My third and last audition would test the third option of both adults and children filling the role.

    Although this method would take an extraordinary amount of I time I feel it would be well worth it in the end.

    After this I would decide the actors that worked well together and that properly showed the characters qualities individually. During this process I would not be selective about race or age. This tactic of casting will open up the possibilities to many ways of seeing the show, so I could decide exactly which way I would want to show it.

    -Sierra V-G

  11. During casting, I would audition actors for the parts of the father and mother together, to make sure they had good chemistry. The chemistry between these two characters is especially important, because through the trying times that the characters go through, it’s each other’s support that enables them to keep going. They are also the two characters in the play that have an established relationship from before the play even starts, so it is important that their relationship seems well grounded and organic, and that they have known each other for a while, and trust each other enough to start a family together, right from the beginning.

    The most complicated actor to cast would be that playing Benjamin. If you cast a child in the part, they have to have the maturity and understanding to play such a serious role. If you cast an adult, they have to have the imagination and spirit of youth and the understanding of children and how a child’s mind works. (It is also important for the entire cast to have somewhat of this understanding, because the format of the play is in sync with the mind of a child, and is visualized in that way through set pieces, staging, and the dialogue itself.) In the end, I would probably cast a child, in order for the part to be more believable and less distracting, and let the natural imagination that comes from being young carry the performance. Children are also usually eager to learn, and hopefully the actor would be open to the experience. For the same reasons, I would also lean towards casting a child for the part of Eddy. The actor playing Joy would especially need to have that child-like wonder, in order to make her connection with Benjamin believable, as well as to make a connection with the audience.

  12. Sam Dean

    For the character of Benjamin, the biggest decision to be made is the age of the actor. Though there are many very talented child actors, Yellow Boat asks a lot of its lead. Not only is the play totally centered on the lead, but it is also a very heavy role. Though Benjamin spends more of his time on matters of imagination and play than HIV, he still goes through public alienation, which is something that most kids can relate to. This could contribute to a very real, emotionally driven performance, but it would also place a lot of weight on small shoulders. I believe the choice of Benjamin’s casting should be made based on the number of performances that are planned. If it only showed a few times over the course of a couple weeks, I would feel more comfortable casting someone between 10-12 years old. This would hopefully prevent the lead actor from getting too emotionally tired by the last shows. If it were a longer running show, I would look to cast an actor in his early 20s. I believe this would draw less attention than an older actor, or a teenager. I also believe it would be best if Benjamin was played by a male, rather than a woman playing a boy. While actresses can be completely believable in male roles, I believe a young audience could take issue with the casting. Children are used to young boys being played and voiced by women in cartoons and movies. When I was young, I was always annoyed when I could tell a child actor’s voice was being dubbed-over by a woman impersonating a child. If I had seen it in a play as a child, I would have had trouble getting past it, and it would make the play feel more “Hollywood.”

    Ben’s parents shouldn’t be nearly as hard to cast as Ben himself. Race wouldn’t be terribly relevant, and their ages can range from 20 to about 50. The most important thing is that they can be the rock Ben (and the actor in the case of a child actor) can lean on.

    The chorus MUST be diverse. AIDS (particularly the fear of AIDS) can’t be shown to be exclusive to one group. Yellow Boat is partially about a boy’s struggle with society, not a particular demo.