June 3, 2010

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Seacoast soap opera
Proper Manors auditions draw 5,000
Adam Coughlin acoughlin@hippopress.com

Five minutes is not a long time. Yet for an actor, it can be the difference between the spotlight and the shadows. Auditions are like job interviews on Red Bull. Submit a résumé and head shot, breathe life into your lines, listen to directions and then ultimately... hope.

“We had 5,000 submissions,” said Pietro D’Alessio, the creator of Proper Manors, a 26-episode soap opera that begins filming on the Seacoast this summer. “So I had to eliminate people quickly. A lot of it is beyond their control, as far as look and voice. The challenge for an actor is to get into the room. Then anything can happen.”

Many of the lead characters for the show have already been cast, including Melinda Chilton, Guy Nardulli and Leslie Taylor. But supporting roles are still available, which is why D’Alessio held an audition on Monday, May 24, at the MyTV studio in Derry.

“I’ve been working on this show since the seventh grade,” D’Alessio said. “It is semi-autobiographical. Most of the characters are based on people I know. Some I fictionalized. Others I just changed their names.”

If the characters are based on a real people, then doesn’t D’Alessio have a preconceived notion before an actor even steps into the room? “Sometimes an actor is a slam dunk of what I’m thinking,” D’Alessio said. “Other times the actor makes a choice and brings more to the character than I ever imagined.”

This choice needs to be made quickly. The actors had five minutes in front of the camera to make their case. Deb Barry, a producer, said the actors were given scripts in advance, and good actors do their research. The auditions were filmed to see how comfortable the actors were on camera. Barry said the final key is how well the actors take direction.

The actors came from every direction. D’Alessio opened up the auditions from New York to Los Angeles but he has been pleased with the level and commitment of local talent.

“I love theater,” D’Alessio said. “A lot of actors up here might not have television but have theater backgrounds. I would never hold that against them. On TV, you just need to dial down the theater.”

Dana Healy came all the way from Florida to audition for the role of Jean Pierre. He said the key for an audition is to get as much information on the character as possible.

“I do a back story,” Healy said after his audition. “If I don’t have one, I create one and I put it in my mind. I think as much like the character as possible.”

Healy said another key is to be flexible. The creators of the script have all sorts of opinions, and an actor needs to change his performance to fit their desires.

At only 16, William Erickson has been acting for more than a decade and has two national commercials to his credit. But success has not calmed his nerves. Before an audition, he rehearses the lines in his head, remembering the advice of the acting coach who told him: don’t be so set on your lines. These words turned out to be prophetic. As Erickson stood before the casting crew, he was told he had an old script. They handed him another, told him to take a few minutes, and then it was action time.

Erickson, who is from Lee, said being from New Hampshire helps his career.

“A lot of movies are coming to Boston,” Erickson said. “And the fact that I go to a typical high school and am not home schooled with a stage mom helps me portray a normal kid. I’ve got more experience in ‘real life’.”

Michael Berry, a writer for the show, said his experience with theater has helped.

“For television you need a good story line, but even more importantly you need good character development,” Berry said. “And theater helps with that.”

D’Alessio said the goal is to make it a five-days-a-week ongoing serial. It premieres Tuesday, Sept. 14, at noon, which is the day after As the World Turns goes off the air after more than 50 years — D’Alessio hopes Proper Manors can fill a void for that show’s fans. If that happens, Berry will have plenty of chances to write more characters. And actors will get another shot at an audition.


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Wake up to ‘night Mother