Okay, so I’m going to be changing things up a bit this time with this post! Usually, I talk about books and book reviews. Well, not this time! Today I’m going to tell you a little about something that happened in my town that happened in the summer of June – July 2015. I live in a town in Northern New York, a small town you’ve probably never heard of. No, I’m not in NYC (I’m about 5 or 6 hours North of NYC. Let’s put it this way, I’m closer to Montreal, QC Canada than I am NYC!). You probably haven’t heard of Plattsburgh, NY or Dannemora, NY before … that is unless you were paying attention to the news two years ago when there were two prisoners, David Seat and Richard Matt, that escaped our local maximum security prison with the help from one of the female prison employees Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell. Matt and Sweat were on the run for a month before being caught (Richard Matt was actually shot dead). Meanwhile, Joyce became a suspect/suspected accomplice fairly early on in the investigation and was eventually arrested. It’s kind of unfortunate that a lot more people now of Plattsburgh, NY because of an embarrassing and negative thing happened here that we got national and some international news coverage about it when it was still happening. Locals lived in fear until the criminals back in prison.
Recently made this into a made for TV movie for Lifetime, buuuut…I’m not here to talk about that, plus that one wasn’t that great. Way too over dramatic (as is Lifetime’s way, right?)! So, apparently, this caught the attention of the actor and comedian Ben Stiller and that he wanted to adapt our story into a movie. At least that’s what we heard in the beginning. Everyone here got excited and couldn’t wait to see what Ben would come up with, thinking that he’d make it into a comedy movie, but instead, he teamed up with Showtime and they’ve decided to make this event into an 8 episode mini-series entitled: Escape at Dannemora. starring some big named celebrities to star in it. Patricia Arquette as “Tilly” Mitchell, Paul Dano as David Sweat, and Benicio Del Toro as Richard Matt.
Ben and Showtime really wanted to do this story justice, so Ben’s been seen and living in our area getting as much info as he and figuring out great places throughout our town to film at. They also wanted to open up to some of us locals the chance to be extras or small roles that they hadn’t casted yet to be in their production. So they held an Open Casting Call in Plattsburgh last month and encouraged any of us locals that wanted to give it a shot.
The open-call auditions were being held at one of our local theatres, The Strand Center for the Arts, from 10am-5:30pm and people started getting there and waiting in line well before 9am. In the morning there was a line waiting outside the building. I wasn’t able to get my butt into gear in the morning to get in line and get my audition sheet to fill out before my prior commitment that I had in the early afternoon, so by the time I got there after 3pm I had an audition number that was so high (#968) that I had to wait forever (about 8 hours!! When I first got there they were calling numbers in the 600’s and below to move to the theatre’s lower level, so I had a long wait ahead of me, but it was totally worth it!). My mom and I were a bit early for our prior event so we decided to drive by The Strand just to see what was happening and what the line looked like, which by that time they no longer had a line wrapped alongside the building like they had in the morning, so my mom suggested that I hop out of the car and at least get my audition form to fill out before hand before going to the audition, but I didn’t know how they were doing it, like I had it in my head they were going to be calling people’s individual numbers or maybe call numbers in small groups and if you weren’t there when they called your number then you’d miss your chance, but it turned out that, that wasn’t the case (which in hindsight, I regret now because it would’ve meant I would’ve been seen earlier. Ah well.).
Anyways, we didn’t get back to The Strand until a little after 3:30pm and when I walked into the building right to the immediate left there was a long table set up with all the paperwork that volunteer workers were handing out to people to fill out and they told us we could go fill it out upstairs in the balcony while we waited for my audition number to be called. It didn’t take long to fill out the audition form and my mom and I sat in the upper part of the theatre taking everything in. There were a lot of people on both levels of the building and a lot of activity and the atmosphere was actually relaxed. Everyone that was helping and working with this whole event and process was actually very nice and patient, which was refreshing and put everyone else at ease. Usually, when you think of a casting call you visualize the casting directors being rude or being in a rush and fellow actors sabotaging each other, or at least I did based off all the movies I’ve seen where they have situations like this. After a little while though it started getting hot in the theatre so my mom and I decided to take a little walk outside to take a break and cool down. We ended up walking to one of our local coffee shops that was nearby to get a coffee and stayed there for a bit before heading back to the auditions.
We got back just in time because about 30 minutes after we got back to The Strand they announced that they were going to lock the doors at 5:30pm and if you got locked out they weren’t going to let you back in to audition. I was a little nervous that they were going to turn everyone away after a certain point/time (especially when it started to get late), but they made it a point to tell us that they were going to see everyone that ended up staying. They weren’t going to leave until the last person auditioned! I thought that was really cool of them. They kept thanking us for being patient, but we were really appreciative that they were being patient with us too! The head casting director for Escape at Dannemora, Rachel Tenner (IMDb), kept coming out from behind the curtain on the stage every now and then to talk to us and just to thank us for coming out and showing support and interest for this project, basically just a pep talk every now and then. At one point towards the end of the night, she came out to share with us that over thousand people auditioned and that this was the biggest turn out she’s seen in an open casting call and she’s been in the business for almost 20 years!! There were some people that are professional actors that traveled to this open casting call, but the majority of the people that were there were local people auditioning. She then went on to thank us again and that they were going to start changing the way the auditions were going to go. Apparently, through most of the day, they were bringing people in groups of about 10-20 people at a time behind the curtain on stage and talking to them and getting to know them a little bit before bringing them down backstage to actually read some “sides” (lines) for their actual audition. So to speed things along a little bit they decided to take us in even smaller groups to just audition instead of chatting with us.
So, anyway, once they called your number (example, “If you’re number 670 or below please come down here and sign in with these lovely ladies here at this table!”) we would move down from the balcony upper level down to the lower section where the stage was and form a line and wait our turn to have one of the two ladies working the table to quickly go over our audition sheets. They then asked if we had a car and if so if we’d be willing to use car in some scenes if we were picked as an extra. If we agreed, then they then asked what the make and model was and what color of it was. Then we moved over to the left and formed a line to have our picture taken, “selfie headshot.” After that they would put us in a certain seating arrangement where we waited to be told when we could go backstage. When I was finally called to go backstage I was with a group of five other people and we were brought to wear all the dressing rooms are backstage where there were some folding chairs set along the wall for us to sit in while we yet again waited to be called this time individually until the next available casting director was free to take us into one of the rooms to audition. Every time someone got called into a room we’d move down a seat and while we waited that’s when we were handed our sides to look over and memorize. When it was FINALLY my turn it was a little after 11pm and I went into a storage broom closet with a nice blonde lady casting director lol. She didn’t have a nice camera set up like I saw that one of the other casting director’s was using in the dressing room they gave him to use, she was using her iPhone to record me. First, she told me how I should be holding my audition form, right below my face like it was my mug shot with the sides on the back of that facing me so I could look at them if I needed to, and then to say the lines like I normally would the first time. Then we went through it again a second time, but this time she asked me to say the lines as If I were annoyed. Then it was over. As she was opening the door for both of us to leave she asked if I had any previous acting experience before and I told her “No, I don’t have any professional acting experience, just community theatre.” And she replied, “Well, it shows!” I took that as a compliment and then I thanked her for everything they had done.
For the most part out of this whole experience I wasn’t really nervous because I ran into a lot of friends and people that I knew while we all waited which seemed to keep my nerves in check. It was a lot of fun catching up with some people that I hadn’t seen in a while and we were all excited about the auditions. Also, I went into this just to have fun, I wasn’t expecting to get a small role or to be an extra, I didn’t get my hopes up. Would it have been awesome to be called for a call back? Yes, it would! Would it have been crazy if I had gotten a small role?! Omg yes it would have and I would’ve died with excitement haha. But I’m not disappointed that those things didn’t happen to me. I still had a lot of fun and I would definitely do it again. Although, speaking of callbacks … three of my friends got call backs for the next morning!!! I don’t know how two of them went and I haven’t asked them, but I do know how one of them went for one of my former college professors. Not only did she get one callback she got TWO callbacks! Annnnnnd….guess what?! On that second callback she not only got to meet Ben Stiller himself, but she got to act with him and he also directed her too!!! WHAAAT?!?!!!! She’s been keeping us updated as to what’s going on, on her end via Facebook. When her second call back had concluded she did Facebook Live of her immediate reaction about meeting and working with Ben Stiller and what went on during her audition! Anyways, a few days ago she shared on Facebook that she got an e-mail from the casting director and they wanted to book her for the project! So she’s going to be in it and she’s going to have a small acting role in it apparently! Not just someone in the background as an extra! I’m so happy and excited for her and can’t wait to hear more about her experiences … and I might be slightly envious of her, as well haha! But I’m way more thrilled for her and that I actually (personally) KNOW someone that’s going to be in this project!
Like I said earlier it’s too bad that a not so great thing happened in my town and kind of made us look bad in the public eye, but I see this being turned into a mini-series as a good thing, hopefully. Just the experience of the auditions were great and a fun time. I’m really interested in where they’re going to take this story and it should be cool. I’m so happy for my friends that got call backs and I’m look forward to hearing and seeing about their experiences playing out on social media.
Let me know what you think or if you have any questions! Leave them in the comments! XD