Cut! The lawn. : Auditioning Vineyard style
Having decided to audition at the last minute, Whit Lasker, a 23-year-old gardener and artist, raced home after work, took a picture of himself, uploaded it onto his computer, and printed it on glossy paper. Fifteen minutes later he was sitting in a Vineyard Playhouse dressing room reading lines he had never seen before in front of a camera.
At some auditions, turning in a hasty headshot -dirty flannel shirt, unkempt hair - might hurt your chances of being cast. But not if you're trying out for "Mow Crew," a feature-length comedy by Oak Bluffs native Taylor Toole about landscaping on Martha's Vineyard.
On Tuesday night, May 13, the director and screenwriter held an open casting session for his new movie, which is loosely based on the adolescent years he spent working for the Chilmark landscaping company, Tea Lane Nursery and Farms. With a crew of 20 and a budget of $200,000, Mr. Toole will begin production on Memorial Day weekend. The film will take three weeks to shoot and is set entirely on Martha's Vineyard.
While Mr. Toole had already held casting calls in New York City to fill certain key roles, there were still about 25 speaking parts that he hoped would be played by Islanders.
Zorinah Juan, the film's producer, insisted that she and Mr. Toole want "Mow Crew" to feel authentic, citing Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone," a film that uses local talent to portray Boston residents, the director's hometown. Said Ms. Juan, "Taylor loves Martha's Vineyard and is very proud of where he's from. I think when he was writing the script he really intended for the Island - the culture, and everyone who lives here - to be a character in the story."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Since graduating from Emerson College in 2001, where he was honored with a Senior Screenwriting Award, Mr. Toole has made a number of short films and held several positions in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and New York City.
Ms. Juan summarized "Mow Crew," as a "comedy about two people who are discovered playing music, and get offered to go out to Los Angeles and basically make their dream come true." The film documents Eric, a landscaper and guitarist, and his girlfriend, Sage, a singer who works in a hair salon, as they try to decide whether or not to leave the Island.
The movie, Ms. Juan said, is about making adult decisions and being a couple, "and there's a lot of mowing lawns in between."
It is only natural that a film about music would attract musical people. At the casting session, artist Eric Hawkes, and musician Rob Meyers, both of whom deejay at WVVY (Martha's Vineyard Community Radio, Inc.), relaxed at a small table, waiting for their turns to try out. They were both called back after the first session, for which actors were asked to prepare a two- to five-minute monologue.
Typical of the casual and creative style that Martha's Vineyard fosters, both actors made up their monologues. Mr. Hawkes said he put together a "3-minute monologue talking about grass and, you know, how to mow it," while Mr. Meyers, short on time, was forced "to totally improvise it. I got up there and did the Bob and Bob routine, which is, like, the two ubiquitous sports announcers who can be inserted into any situation."
This time, Mr. Meyers was reading for the role of the foreman of the rival landscaping crew. "He's supposed to be all clean-cut with slicked-back hair and a shiny new truck," Mr. Meyers explained. "His crew probably uses more chemicals." Mr. Hawkes was auditioning for the part of the record producer who wants to sign the couple.
For Denise Catoni, who moved to the Vineyard in November, the audition was a breeze. "It was very relaxing," she said of the experience, adding with a burst of laugher that it was "a little strange. You'd think it would be intense, but nope, Taylor made it very natural." Moments later, Cliff Earle, Ms. Catoni's boyfriend, emerged from his audition.
Unlike Ms. Catoni, who had participated the Playhouse's production of "The Home Coming" during the previous winter, Mr. Earle had no real acting experience. He was just trying out because he loves movies. "I've been a movie buff all my life. I used to go to every movie when it came out with my dad. The first day, we were right there," remembered Mr. Earle.
Vinny Padalino - musician, deejay, and stonemason - was the last to arrive. "I think the script actually says, 'Greasy Guy in a Harley Shirt at the Ritz,'" Mr. Padalino said. The part he was auditioning for is a minor but pivotal character whose fictional existence revolves around hitting on the main character's girlfriend in an Oak Bluffs bar. When asked whether or not he felt equipped to play the role, he smirked. "It's a stretch. But I think I could probably handle it." The extent of his acting experience is a single high school play. He laughed when it occurred to him that he is typecast. "Now that I think about it, back then, I played the character who hit on the secretary."
The night's turnout was so successful that Mr. Toole had to summon extra help. "Zorinah had to go to the selectman's meeting to get permission to shoot on Circuit Ave., so I had my mom and dad here signing people in," the director admitted. While confident that another casting session wouldn't be necessary, he acknowledged that there were still roles that might require a few persuasive phone calls. There are parts for people who "have to be willing to get caught in some compromising positions," Mr. Toole conservatively explains. "There are some actors from tonight who I could contact about those roles, but I'm expecting people to be like, 'you want me to get spanked with what?'"
Unsatisfied with his audition, Mr. Lasker was not at all hopeful about his chances of being cast. He was preparing to return to another week of real-life and painfully unglamorous yard work, when he received a call from Mr. Toole. "He called me while I was driving and said, 'Welcome aboard!"' Mr. Lasker later recalled. The director informed him that he would be playing a construction worker and that someone from wardrobe would be in touch. "We'll see what happens," Mr. Lasker said, holding back his excitement. "I don't even know if I have any lines or not."