. . . you could do worse than 'cast' a glance at this posting on the Stage Source blog. (Be sure to read the comments.) The post, by Member Services Manager Jeremy Johnson, is the result of an anonymous letter left in melodramatic style at the Stage Source offices, alleging that our local cast system is largely, well, a caste system, with most of the roles in the Boston theatre season going to folks in a few "small-town cliques," who together are giving the scene "a community theater feel." The writer, clearly a frustrated - or exasperated - local actor or actress, lamented that "We see the same people on stage over and over again."
From the number of responses to the post, it also seems clear the letter touched a chord. It looks like half of the Actors' Shakespeare Project has weighed in - as has SpeakEasy founder Paul Daigneault. Which is a bit ironic (or do I mean inevitable?), as ASP and SpeakEasy have the reputation for running the tightest casting cliques around; but then again, the ASP folks say they're looking for new people, and Daigneault has run numbers exonerating himself.
All I'll say is that I'm on the fence about this particular issue. What the letter writer alleges, I think, is to some extent true - but at the same time, theatres generate both their identities and their loyalties largely from "cliques," don't they. A better argument would be that people with lesser talent were being promoted to prominence onstage because of their connections - but I don't think that's the case (aside from one or two obvious examples, but then no system is perfect). Of course it's hard for a frustrated actor to appreciate what a risk it is to gamble on an unknown - or to appreciate that a theatre's established audience does develop loyalty, for better or worse, to a certain set of familiar faces. Still, you never hear of an untried actor saying he or she will guarantee a shortfall in revenue if their performance doesn't work out, do you. Indeed, if actors don't do their jobs properly, they nevertheless always walk away financially unscathed. No, this kind of thing is always about a one-way demand for trust - a kind of complaint that's far from unusual in other fields, btw; how many critics who wouldn't part with a dime for a theatrical project are nevertheless always railing that other people aren't risking more of their own money on daring scripts? Too many to mention.
On the other hand, I have to admit it would be good to see more fresh faces on Boston's stages. So I always try to applaud actors who make work for themselves, or who struggle in spaces on the fringe. And if it's a trust issue that's holding untried actors and actresses back, I wonder if StageSource might do more than just hold auditions. Would low-tech StageSource "showcase" productions offer casting directors more confidence in unknowns? Would established theatres like SpeakEasy or the Lyric (or the Huntington!) be willing to give over their spaces on dark nights to these kinds of performances? That might be one way to build a bridge between the cast and the uncast.