The Jasmine Diaries Day 2ish - What Happens Before Auditions?
Updated: Mar 5
In 2023, The Knack Theatre will be producing “The Jasmine Suite” by Michael Olsen. For transparency, education, and mostly entertainment, the director is keeping a diary of all the excitement, pain, and embarrassment that goes on behind the scenes. Join our mailing list to follow along, as well as find out what other exciting shows lie ahead.
Our First Production Meeting on The Jasmine Suite!
So what has happened during the months since I became director of The Jasmine Suite? Turns out, a LOT. While it took two rainchecks thanks to other jobs, we had our first AND second production meetings for the play, successfully got out an audition call and quickly had our calendar filled with great potential actors.
Production meetings can be very laid-back affairs when you trust everyone on the team, and even more relaxed when your entire team won’t break six people. While we will hire a tech operator and stage manager, the only other backstage people are me, the producer, Lourdes, and our marketing coordinator, Marcey.
Our first meetings were just me and Lourdes. We finalised the budget, confirmed our venue and performance dates (28/06-08/07 at Club Voltaire!), and discussed the details of the audition. As I’m one of those directors who likes to over-kill when it comes to preparation, the audition is unlike anything the Knack has done before, but they've been more than willing to accommodate my needs. They even turned my terrible draft of a package into something that makes actors think I know what I'm doing!
Making a Micro-Budget Show - Numbers You Don’t Normally See
The Jasmine Suite is definitely “micro-budget”, especially considering some of the props required to pull it off. I’ve encouraged Lou to set aside four thousand for the show, with the aim of putting on nine performances over two weeks. Of that, nearly forty per cent goes to rights and venue, while we will probably need to spend over a thousand dollars on props and set. This latter expense cannot be avoided as some “special” props may need to be custom-made.
There are a lot of advantages to producing a micro-budget show. The obvious one is that you can turn a profit easier. It is nice to tell future partners how many shows turned a profit, and it is a good psychological boost for the people involved. It also comes with disadvantages...smaller budgets usually mean smaller venues, making it more difficult to turn a profit of any substance.
Most shows in Melbourne could not turn a profit if it weren’t for grant money. While it is difficult to give real numbers, as most companies are not so transparent, you can do the math yourself. The average audience participation at Theatreworks (one of the largest venues in Melbourne) is fifty people a night. That is only $1500 a night in sales to pay for a production that might run nine nights at most ($13500). If you've seen some of the incredible shows put on my Theatreworks, you know they cost way more than that.
If earning award rates, each actor should be receiving $200 each night. If you have more than six actors, there go your entire ticket sales. The reality is that theatre doesn’t survive without grants, advertising, and artists who work for love instead of money. According to TNA’s 2022 report, the average pay rate of your established artist working with an established organisation is less than half the award.
I feel pretty passionately about this. While there is no chance that The Jasmine Suite will be able to offer award rates, I’m determined that my cast and crew will at least make minimum wage for their rehearsal and performance time.
The Knack Theatre feels even more strongly. Writers for The Knack are paid rights upfront before other costs are even considered. The co-founders are volunteers who both put up the initial capital for the company and have never taken a cent for their role as organisers and leaders.
What would happen if we suddenly had extra financial support or a grant? Well, maybe our artists would get closer to the money they deserve.
The Pre-Audition Process for The Jasmine Suite
This is, oddly, the first time I’ve undergone the audition process as a director. While I’ve put on quite a few shows, I’ve already had cast in mind for each and every one of them. This time I’m going in with only some vague ideas about the type of actor I’m looking for and just seeing what is out there. It’s both exciting and terrifying. What if I can’t find the right person? What if I find too many “right people”?
There are only two characters in The Jasmine Suite. While I have a vision of the type of “Kathryn” I want, “Richard” is someone I find much more freedom with. Does the character need to be “Richard” and not “Elizabeth”? Having talked with the writer, that is a real possibility.
Directors all have their own way of approaching auditions. For me, there are three key aspects - I want the potential actor to know as much as possible going in, I want to be able to see and hear if they can capture the general character I’m looking for, and I want to know that we can communicate on the same level.
For these reasons, I’ve been a bit controlling.
The audition package I’ve created for people considering the play includes the most important information about what would be expected of a successful actor. I’ve clarified that Richard could end up as a man or woman and that strawberries are involved. I want the actor going in to not worry about getting a role they might then need to reject or, worse, “power through”.
I’ve offered monologues to perform or give actors an idea of what I want to see from their own monologues. I’ve actively avoided giving parts of the script to use, as I don’t want to colour my opinion based on their interpretation of the lines.
Finally, I’ve intentionally gone a little overboard with details because that is what they will get in the rehearsal room. I’m not a “let’s just chill and explore” director. I’m halfway through notating the script with directions for dialogue, movement, etc. I want actors ready to push back against my vision rather than actors expecting to make a vision together or actors there to do whatever I say.
What Happens Next for The Jasmine Suite?
Well, auditions, obviously. Tomorrow there will be nine hours straight of people coming and going, and I would love to avoid doing callbacks. I've recognised a number of the names on the list as incredible actors I've seen from audience seats, and I'm currently struggling with some imposter syndrome. I'm thankful that the Knack leadership will be dropping by to help out, as well as Michael Olsen, writer of The Jasmine Suite.
After auditions, I'll be reaching out and confirming our cast, arranging our first cast meeting, and getting to work on sourcing a statue of Anubis….don’t ask….well, not yet. I’ll continue making my notations on the script and probably have a meeting with our marketing coordinator to talk about early-stage ideas for getting the hype train rolling.
As for The Knack….. It’s kind of insane. Table Reads are back on, the “Pilot Episode” performance of “Hey, Is Dee Dee Home?” is in pre-production, and there are rumours that a new show may be popping up between it and The Jasmine Suite. The Knack has another two shows that are going on in the second half of the year, with their respective producers and directors already making plans.
Keep an eye out here because next week I'll give you all the numbers, drama, and consequences of tomorrow's big audition!