Arts, On Campus, Arts Features

Trying Out the Spotlight with ‘Stop Kiss’

Instead of spending their first weekend back at school relaxing, catching up with friends, or mentally preparing themselves for another semester, a few dozen Boston College students are spending it in Robsham Theater. This is to say, these students have been preparing and memorizing a monologue in preparation for the Friday and Saturday auditions for the two newest productions at BC—Stop Kiss and Peter and the Starcatcher. On Sunday, a select few of these performers will receive callbacks to return and be cast for roles in each show. The Heights sat down with the student director of Stop Kiss, Taylor Tranfaglia, MCAS ’18, to discuss the audition process that these students undergo and her role as director in the upcoming play.  

The auditions for Stop Kiss, took place for most of the afternoon and evening on Friday and almost the entirety of Saturday. The time was divided up into seven-minute slots for people to audition. The first couple of minutes of the allotted time would be spent on the auditionee’s monologue. Tranfaglia watched and listened to the performance, searching for a deeper connection or a gut feeling, a signal that this performer might be a fit for one of the roles in the show. After the monologue, Tranfaglia would call for a redirect. A redirect is a technique employed by directors (and anyone who is in charge of casting) that provides a glimpse into the range and ability of the actor to embody a character in different ways.

“I’m trying to think of a funny one,” Tranfaglia said. “I would say, can you try it [the monologue] as if you were a teenager who just saw their first crush, or try it as a first-time mother?”

Sometimes these redirects can be what makes an audition stand out to a director. A redirect to a businessman—another of Tranfaglia’s examples—couldn’t be farther from the actual characters in Stop Kiss. Yet, the ability to command the director’s attention that a redirect confers, even if the redirect doesn’t apply to the role, is paramount. Tranfaglia elaborated on this goal as someone who has auditioned for many roles in her theatre career.

“When you’re auditioning, especially in college, you just want the director to fall in love with you.”

If this can be accomplished, the director will have a clearer choice when it eventually comes down to callbacks.

“The initial audition is all about making the director think you’re great,” Tranfaglia said. “The callback is all about what you can bring to the character.”  

When choosing someone to receive a callback, and eventually to be cast in a role, Tranfaglia is, as would be expected, looking for people who are talented. Clearly, talent is an important aspect in any production, from a play at BC to a Broadway show or an Academy Award-nominated movie. But Tranfaglia is searching for performers who fit criteria that is less readily apparent.

“The biggest thing is not only finding the people who are best for the roles,” Tranfaglia said. “It’s finding the people who are best for each other.”

Finding people who are best for the roles differs in difficulty and flexibility depending on the show. Tranfaglia, who spent much of her acting career playing in musicals, explained that often directors are casting for specific voice types or singing quality. In a play like Stop Kiss, Tranfaglia can operate outside of these restrictions. Instead, she is searching for people who can work with her vision of the message the play will present.

“I know what I want the characters to say about the message,” Tranfaglia said. “I don’t necessarily know exactly who that character is in my head yet.”

The message of Stop Kiss is a very important aspect of the production to Tranfaglia, and is one of the reasons she selected this play as one of her proposals to the theatre department. The play is set in the ’90s, and is focused on two women who meet and fall in love with each other. This expression of sexual identity precipitates a hate-crime, in which one character is attacked and falls into a coma. Stop Kiss runs out of chronological order, so the audience watches these scenes in conjunction with each other, witnessing the aftermath of the attack at the same time that they see the ways the women have fallen in love. This message is one that was just as important in the ’90s, when the play was first written and performed, as it is today. Tranfaglia is looking for auditions that might signify someone who would be good at sending this message through their character and through the show.

Finding those who would be right for each other is an easier search. The theatre department at BC is fairly small, so most of the upperclassmen, especially seniors like Tranfaglia, know each other well—after all, they have been taking classes and playing or working in productions alongside each other for years. Tranfaglia is using this familiarity to anticipate the on-set relationships she could create with her casting choices.

She cited wildly different acting styles as a source for potential dissension or disruption in a production. A play she starred in last year, What Every Girl Should Know, is a success story for the now-director in terms of the close relationships she formed with the three other actresses. Tranfaglia describes her own approach to acting—and to learning lines and blocking in a production season—as “kind of crazy,” but in What Every Girl Should Know, her style and those of the others blended into something dynamic and cohesive. Tranfaglia wants to avoid casting one performer who takes a very serious and intense approach to their character alongside five performers who prefer a more laid-back approach. Both styles are completely valid and effective, but there is potential for tension when paired together in a small show like Stop Kiss. If the actors work well together, and enjoy working together, everything runs much more smoothly.

“If I have the best actor in the world, and they’re going to be miserable for six weeks, I would prefer to potentially have an actor that I know is going to love being in the room, having conversations and being involved,” she said.

Once her performers are chosen, callback time begins. All of the performers who were cast for Stop Kiss, and for Peter and the Starcatcher, get into a room with the directors and work with each other to hammer out and solidify what role each person will fill. At this point, Tranfaglia’s job has only just begun. Now the production season begins. No longer are the performers striving to connect with her in auditions. For the next eight weeks, Tranfaglia has a duty to her cast and to the people who work with her behind the scenes. And this dynamic is very new to her.

“This is the first time in my life that it’s just not about me on stage at all,” Tranfaglia said. “Which is super scary.”

For the entirety of her theatre career up to this point, Tranfaglia, like the actors who will be in her show, has been able to rely on the vision of her director. She could focus on exploring the character, learning lines and blocking, and building relationships with her fellow performers, while the director of the show calls the shots. Now, the buck stops with her, and she plans to take this job very seriously.

“My job is to set them up for success,” Tranfaglia said. “I try to avoid saying ‘my team,’ this show is all of ours.”

By creating an environment in which the actors feel comfortable and can work well, Stop Kiss will be a successful show. Tranfaglia is not the one on stage, and she is not the one who ultimately presents this show to an audience. At curtain call, the performers could very well go out and play it differently than Tranfaglia envisioned. Over the course of the next few months, until Stop Kiss has its run in late March, she must build a level of trust and partnership. Once trust and collaboration are established, an environment where everyone can learn from and help each other is possible. This is, after all, a learning experience for the first-time director. All of these actors have acted before, but she has never directed. She is getting university credit for this production, but more importantly, she is learning about a process that she may want to make into a career.

“I’m not too proud to say that I have no idea what I’m doing,” Tranfaglia said. “Ultimately, when we get into that room for my first rehearsal, I’m going to be the least experienced person in the room.”

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphic Editor

January 22, 2018