Where have all the good men gone?
Blanca Florido has been working the phones lately, and working them hard. Using every trick, charm and persuasive skill at her disposal, Florido has been single-minded in her quest to nail down a few good men, and whenever possible, to have those men recommend a couple of others. Unfortunately, she¹s had only intermittent luck.
It all started when Florido agreed to direct an upcoming May production of Carousel for the San Anselmo Town Players. The popular Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has, over the years, become a staple of community theater around the country, renowned for its serious tone, haunting music and—being that it takes place among a motley crew of carnies and circus performers—for its colorful cast and setting. Unfortunately, there are a large number of male roles in the show, and an apparent dearth of male actors in the North Bay. Florido has been struggling to find enough men to even out a conspicuous gender imbalance in her large troupe of players: at the moment, she’s cast 47 females— but only seven males, and those seven weren’t all that easy to get.
Says a bemused Florido, “I’ve had to promise all sorts of things—negotiating rehearsal times and everything, agreeing to let some of them start rehearsing in mid-March, after their schedules have freed up—just to get enough male bodies to fill the men’s roles. But I still have a number of small male roles left to fill, so I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”
What Florido is describing is a problem that has been facing the community theater and small-theater world of the North Bay for some time now. It’s become a common theme: whenever a show calls for a cast of youngish representatives of the manly persuasion, the casting folks have a terrible time luring in enough guys to pull off the show. The situation is bad enough when a company seeks to stage a Shakespeare or David Mamet play, but the problem grows especially acute when it’s a musical, since young, triple-threat men (those who can act, sing and dance) are nearly impossible to find. As a result, those few qualified guys seem to have the pick of parts they might not always be suited for, resulting in middle-aged dudes and unseasoned youths straining believability as they take on the parts of dashing twenty- or thirty-something leading men.
“I think it’s pretty universal around here that when men go out for parts in community theater, they have very little competition,” Florido states. “It’s not that tough for men to get good parts, while for women, there’s a lot of fierce competition.”
Argo Thompson, executive director of the new Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, currently staging the female-centric musical Mame, agrees. “This problem,” he says, “is one of the reasons why we are seeing more all-female productions of everything from Hamlet to True West. I’ve personally been thinking of doing an all-female version of Glengarry Glen Ross.” The shortage of quality males has also affected local play selection as well. “When the Players are choosing musicals,” he says, “it is much more likely that we would choose Sweet Charity than South Pacific.”
“It isn’t necessarily difficult to find men so much as it’s difficult to find younger men,” adds Holly Vinson, artistic director for Santa Rosa Players. She cites the recent auditions for Santa Rosa Players’ upcoming production of Guys and Dolls, which attracted plenty of men ranging ages 40 to 65. “When you’re doing a musical that calls for a guy in his 20s who can sing and act and move,” she says, “it’s almost impossible to find him in this town. That’s been true for quite a while.”
“My personal take on the subject,” says Gene Abravaya, who recently directed Pacific Alliance Stage Company’s all-female version of The Odd Couple at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, “is that the arts have always attracted only a small percentage of our population, of any gender.” Additionally, Abravaya believes that the younger generation does not share the same fondness for live theater as do older generations. “Ask a sampling of young people today if they would rather be performing in a Broadway show or a rock concert at Madison Square Garden,” he says, “and they will choose the latter practically every time. So our rapidly depleting ranks are not being filled the way they once were.”
The problem may also be related to the success of North Bay community theater as a breeding ground for young talented actors who, once they reach the right age, tend to head off to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York to try their luck in professional theater—that is, theater that includes a hefty paycheck.
“In local community theater,” says Florido, “we’re relying on people’s volunteer participation, and we’re lucky to get as many good people as we do.” That said, she is confident that she will eventually find enough capable men to fill the remaining roles in Carousel.
“If you can sing and dance, even a little, it’s not too late!” she laughs. “Come join us! We need you!”
All singing and dancing males are invited to call Blanca Florido at 415.454.7602.
From the March 2-8, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.