"Casting" … Did it cast the right actors?!!

“Casting sometimes is fate and destiny more than skill and talent, from a director's point of view.” — Steven Spielberg

You can have an award-winning script, high-end camera equipment, and all the resources in the world, but if you lack talented actors, none of it will matter. Casting is an essential component of any film and will take place during the pre-production process. During pre-production, film casting is a crucial process that involves hiring key and background actors suitable for a particular role in a film.

Nevertheless, what if the "casting" process becomes the show itself, involving the casting director and main actor at the same level; Samer Mohamad Ismail in his last play entitled "Casting" explores how the play unsettles distinctions between performance and reality and how it thus exposes the mechanisms of theatre. No real borders in "Casting", between the duo: the actor playing the film director (Amer Ali), and the scriptwriter and real director (Samer Mohamad Ismail).

 "Casting" is a play telling the story of a director undergoing a performance audition (casting) to select the heroine of his film, and during this experience, deep revelations occur between him and the actress, leading to clashes and unexpected surprises, particularly at the end when the stage setting changes from a casting studio to a house with famous films posters; to reveal the disappointment that all the casting process was an imaginary scene only real in the director’s mind.

 "Casting" stars artists: Amer Ali (the film director), Majd Naim (the director's wife), and Dala Nader (the probable cast heroine). The play was staged at Al-Qabbani Theater in Damascus,which was heavily crowed every night of the play show over a period of two weeks, last October.

"Casting" like a "play within a play" in Hamlet, From The Murder of Gonzago to Hamlet's pretenses of madness, Shakespeare's Hamlet is a work obsessed with acting and deception. The play-within-a-play structure keeps us at a frustrating distance from the definite truth of things. It is also of a piece with the mirroring nature of the tragedy, a drama in which experiences are constantly multiplied.

Hamlet as Ismail may have started the play by rejecting ‘seeming’ appearances, but his way of understanding and dealing with his situation is pointedly theatrical. Performance is part of reality. Ismail – both the indirectly director character and the real director of the play which he wrote – is deeply concerned with performance.

The director character's in Casting is a most profoundly individual protagonist entangled in a series of similarities with the real director Samer Mohamed Ismail. Interpreting the play necessarily involves sorting through patterns of likenesses; figuring out the truth of a situation or a person is a comparative, rather than a straightforward, process. Indeed, the inset play is also double in form: beginning with a film director busy casting his heroine for his next film as a difficult process invoking the real dilemma of finding a hero for Samer Ismail.

David Z. Saltz , who is a leading scholar in the fields of performance and philosophy,  begins with a useful distinction between performance art and theatre: Theatre presents illusions of events whereas performance art present actual events as art. Therefore Casting as a script presenting the process of casting through the protagonist (a director here) is totally different from the theatrical performance of the actor (playing the role of the director) on stage, which is a mimicry of Ismail (the real casting director). 

In “Infiction and Outfiction: The Role of Fiction in Theatrical Performance”, David Z. Saltz makes useful connections between the discipline of philosophy and the fields of theater and performance and use these insights to develop new theories about theater. Saltz—breaks new ground, presents new arguments, and offers new theories that will pave the way for future scholars.

Out of this distinction, Saltz observes that the enjoyment of the fictional story is not the whole story for a theatre audience: “An audience comes to the theater to experience a real event, to see real, flesh and blood actors perform real actions” (203). The cognitive template that structures an audience’s perception of what is happening on stage as a real event, Saltz terms “infiction”, seems to involve the rules or conventions whereby audiences interpret what they are seeing on the stage. At times, Saltz also folds the rules of pretending followed by actors in establishing those fictional worlds into this term infiction.

           

The introduction of the term infiction usefully draws attention to the fact that “seeing-as” is an interpretation, it is not semiotically cut-and-dried, this equals that. Audiences do not choose to only see Casting for example and completely ignore Hamlet.

Here I agree with Saltz, the nature of theatrical duality — actor and character, prop chair and throne — is more nuanced. It is not an either-or proposition — Hamlet or Branagh — it can be both or indeed something entirely else. Rather as Saltz suggests there are various aspects of a staged object or event that are open to perception, to different ways of seeing-as. "Casting", our Syrian play could have been a great showcase of “Infiction and Outfiction" as presented by Saltz.

It is noteworthy to say that Samer Mohamad Ismail, is a renowned Syrian journalist, author and scriptwriter. He is a graduate of Faculty of Mass Communication, Damascus University, working as a cultural correspondent for many press websites (Independent Arabia, Al Faisal, Al safir…). Ismail has authored and directed two plays: Int. – Night andColors Correction, for which he won the best script Award at Carthage Theater Festival. He wrote several short, medium and long-feature films: Ladder to Damascus, High- Voltage, Promise of Honor, Rose- Water, fluviomarine, Hamra Tawila (Long Red, Name of Syrian tobacco), Memory Nostalgia.

The American actor Brent Sexton says "Casting directors tend to be the unsung heroes..." Therefore, a sincere salutation to the real hero of “Casting”, who has written the script, made the auditions and the directed the play: the great Syrian writer Samer Mohamad Esmail.

Interview: Lama Alhassanieh

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