The Twin Cities Unified Theater Auditions bring together more than 40 producers representing theaters from Minnesota and beyond. They see auditions from hundreds of local actors, and each actor has just a minute and a half to make his or her best impression.
After three years of steady acting work, Scott Gilbert was laid off recently. He'd injured himself during a dance number last year. He was on worker's compensation, and doing odd jobs off-stage at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater while his leg healed.
"And about a month ago, they called me in. They said, 'You've done all the small little jobs that this theater has. There's nothing else that you can do for us any more. So, we're going to let you go,'" Gilbert said.
Just like other industries, a number of local theaters have been scaling back their budgets and cutting productions thanks to the recession. That means acting work is harder to come by.
Gilbert, 27, figures the unified auditions are his best shot. There are representatives from many of the theaters in the Twin Cities, and companies from other states, too. But that also means the stakes are high.
"If you go arrange theater by theater to go to 40 theaters, if you screw up one, you've got 39 more you can do fine in, here if you screw up, there's everyone you hoped to work for that year," said Mixed Blood Theater artistic director Jack Reuler.
Reuler is a big fan of the Unifieds. He has been participating since they started eight years ago, and he's never been disappointed.
"I would say that each year I probably hire three to five people that I've seen for the first time at the Unifieds," Reuler said.
But is 90 seconds enough time to size up potential talent?
"Sometimes it's a second and a half," Reuler said. "As they introduce themselves, you say, 'There's a person I'd like to spend two months with working on a show.'"
It's Saturday afternoon. Gilbert's audition is 3:18. He'll be done at 3:19:30. During that time he'll sing a song and perform a monologue.
"I've bee preparing all day, tweaking it, trying to say it different ways. Trying to see which way I say it makes more sense to me," Gilbert said when he arrived.
Then, Gilbert gets a briefing on the rules.
"When you have 15 seconds left, the timer will raise their hand. When your time is up, they will stand up. So finish up whatever you have. If you go too much over, they will cut you off and say 'Thank you,' at which point you need to exit stage left," explained volunteer Neil Schneider.
The theater's reception area sounds like a cocktail party. Most of the actors are young in their 20s or early 30s. And they all chatter as they wait to be called, probably to kill the nerves. But as Gilbert's group heads backstage, the noise dies down to silence. The silence, though, doesn't last long.
On by one the actors step to center stage and pour on the drama.
Gilbertsings the last 45 seconds of "Being Alive" from the musical "Company," before launching into a Hap Loman monologue from "Death of a Salesman."
"You know, the 90 seconds, they go by real fast," he said after leaving the stage.
The timekeeper had to cut him off a line or two before he was finished. But he still got a call back, even if it was from only one theater.
"One is better than none," he said.
The theater is in Kentucky, but Gilbert said he'll happily go wherever the work takes him. One day, he's hoping it will take him all the way to Broadway.