Local Arts

Quick: You’re the casting director. Who will star tonight in this play?

Here's what can happen when an audience casts a play

We asked Donna Scott and director Tonya Bludsworth to explain what they're doing with the Charlotte premiere of "Eat the Runt" - and to show us how it might look, too...
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We asked Donna Scott and director Tonya Bludsworth to explain what they're doing with the Charlotte premiere of "Eat the Runt" - and to show us how it might look, too...

Think of the taboo topics you know better than to discuss in a job interview: gender, sexual orientation, race, religion. All of them come up in the interview depicted in Donna Scott Productions’ fall comedy, “Eat the Runt.”

The actor playing Merritt, the hapless interviewee, is portrayed by … well, no one knows yet. The audience will cast the play.

Every night.

Fresh.

Eight local actors have accomplished a feat that seems nearly impossible: They have learned every single line of Avery Crozier’s script. Each actor has to be prepared to play every part.

And because gender and racial politics figure into “Eat the Runt,” every line can take on a different meaning, depending on who’s saying it, and who they’re saying it to.

Yet Scott insists this is not a heavy show. “It’s fast-paced and fun and potentially offensive, given some adult language,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun for the audience and fun for the actors.” (Oh, and the title? Scott promises its meaning is revealed during the play.)

Voting/casting takes about 10 minutes: Actors line up onstage. The audience will be told who they are, who the characters are, then it will vote – by texting (there’s also a no-phone option) – on who plays which role.

There are nearly 40,000 possibilities, said Scott. One night, Tracie Frank might play one of the leads. The next night, she could be in a supporting role. It’s entirely up to the audience. “This is one show you do not want to be late for,” quipped Scott, whose company is giving the satire its Charlotte premiere.

Cast members don’t know who they’ll play – or who anyone else will play, either. So Frank can’t look at castmate Stephen Seay, for instance, and know who he’s playing: She’s got to remember who the audience voted him to play.

There’s no time between voting and when director Tonya Bludsworth calls “Action!” for actors to get into costume. So they use props as visual cues to help them (and the audience) identify who’s who. One character carries a coffee cup everywhere he (or she) goes, for instance.

The casting isn’t the only innovative thing about this production. Not only is the action set inside an art museum, but opening night happens inside one, too. Thanks to an Arts and Science Council grant, Donna Scott Productions is partnering with the Gantt Center to stage the play in an appropriate setting.

“Those of us in the arts community are always talking about cross-marketing,” Scott said. “Our goal is to share audiences.”

Scott liked the idea of partnering with the Gantt team – but the Gantt doesn’t have a theater. What the museum does have is a beautiful fourth-floor space with an expanse of windows along one wall.

Scott said the space and views are stunning, if not entirely ideal for theater. (It will still be light out when the house lights would normally be dimmed.)

The rest of the run will be in the Charlotte Art League building in South End, another nontraditional space, where Scott’s productions have been based the last three years. This will be the last there, though; it’s just been announced the League’s lease will end in January. Scott says the two groups plan to continue their partnership, seeking a new venue that will work for both of them.

‘Eat the Runt’

WHEN: Sept. 7-23.

WHERE: Opening night, Sept. 7, at the Gantt Center (551 S. Tryon St.); all other performances at the Charlotte Art League (1517 Camden Rd.) at 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $25 to $30; donnascottproductions.com.

DETAILS: Directed by Tonya Bludsworth; cast: Kevin Aoussou, Tracie Frank, Jennifer Grabenstetter, Andrea King, Ericka Ross, Stephen Seay, Kevin Shimko and Stephen West-Rogers.

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