Guy Smith nudged open the door to the rehearsal space and backed into the room. These days most of the script work was done with tablets and such, but he found he still preferred paper scripts so that he and the performers could make notes on them, so his arms were loaded down with over a dozen printed out copies of various scenes for prospective performers to read from. There were spares in his car outside if they ran out. And he fully expected to run out. This was a major project. Lots of roles to fill, and difficult ones at that. He was prepared for dozens of rejections before moving making even his first preliminary casting choice. This was his first franchise he’d gotten to work on. He was dedicated to giving it his all.
A pair of cameras had been set up. One covering the entire room, the other set up over his shoulder to film the actors. Both were piped into a laptop in an adjoining room, were other members of the production company would be watching and recording. This was something of a make or break for the production company, after all. They’d saved money by acquiring the rights for a relatively unknown franchise, but they’d committed to six full novels of epic fantasy. If it went well, they’d have another Game of Thrones on their hands. If it went poorly, they’d have another Game of Thrones finale on their hands.
“Are we recording?” he asked, addressing the camera and pressing an ear bud a little more firmly into his ear.
A rather spiritless voice replied in the affirmative.
“All right. Great.” He cleared his throat and took a sip from a coffee on the table beside him. “Book of Deacon Saga Television Series, Casting, Day One. Send in our first audition.”
He took a seat and grabbed a script and highlighter. The door opened and a very energetic young woman bounded in. She was dressed in costume, interestingly enough. Though given the fantasy setting they were shooting for, she’d missed the mark by wearing something that looked more like wild west outfit that was two sizes too big.
“Heya!” she said, marching up and extending a hand. “Chastity Cooper. Proud to know ya.”
“Uh, right,” he said, shaking her hand. “Forgive me but… you’re a character from a different book by the author of this piece, Mr. Lallo, aren’t you?”
“Oh sure.” She counted off on her fingers. “There was Free-Wrench—that’s the book, not the series—and Skykeep. Basically the star of that one. And we got, what, Ichor Well? The Calderan Problem. A whole mess of ‘em. We even did one of them shorts where you find out where me and my brother came from, ‘cept that’s sort of tucked away somewhere.”
“You realize the production for Free-Wrench fell through after that Canadian production company started getting a little questionable in their practices, right?”
She hiked a thumb at the door behind her.
“That there says Book of Deacon auditions, don’t it? You reckon I can’t read.”
“No, it’s just. I’m sorry. What role were you reading for?”
“My-randa Celest-ee,” she said with a proud waggle of her head, seemingly unaware of how far she’d strayed from the proper pronunciation.
“The starring role,” he said steadily.
“Yep! My sweetheart Nita says I’d light up any stage you put me on, and she knows art and whatnot better’n anyone I know, so I thought, why not go for the brass ring!”
“Well, if you’d like to read for the part, I’ve prepared some scenes. Let’s do one from The Great Convergence. I’ll play the part of—” Guy began.
“Don’t need it. I’ll just sort of do the part.” She cleared her throat. “Heya, all! The name’s Myranda. I got a good heart, but I ain’t got much else. Leastways, not when the story starts. But what’ve we got here? I big ol’ fancy sword! I reckon there ain’t no way this’ll get me mixed up in all sorts of nonsense.”
She marched in place for a few moments.
“We’ll wouldn’t you know it, all sorts of folks are mad at me now, and they want the sword, and now I got critter friends and it turns out I ain’t so shabby at magic on account of fate and such. And lookee here on my hand. A big ol’ fancy scar.”
Guy shut his eyes tight. “Thank you, Miss Cooper, that will do.”
“Oh, and I do my own stunts, on account of there ain’t nothin’ you’d want me to do that I ain’t already done danglin’ from one foot a couple thousand feet over the ocean anyways. And I’m a member of the Wind Breaker crew. There ain’t no one on that crew that don’t do more than one job. Why should bein’ in a movie be any different?”
“I’ll make a note of it. Thank you. Next!”
Lil bounded out of the room. A moment later, a very strange form filled the doorway. It looked more like something from a Jim Henson production than anything that ought to be auditioning for a role, standing taller than the doorway and resembling an impressively well assembled theme park mascot of a dragon made out of pretzel dough and scrap. It crouched and squeezed through the door, rattling the heavily dented and abused metal draped over its head, shoulders, and back. The room filled with the smell of fresh-baked dough. Once inside, it sheepishly tapped its pudgy fingertips together and slumped a bit, as if it was vaguely intimidated by the producer. A small plastic shopping bag dangled from the pinkie of one of her hands.
“Um…” he flipped up a sheet on his clipboard. “Blodgette? Just the one name?”
“And who are you here to read for?”
She raised a hand and skillfully spelled out her answer in sign language, something Guy had picked up in college and fully expected never to use again.
Myn, she signed.
“Myn. Right,” he glanced at the pile of scripts. “We’d been planning a motion capture and digital performance for Myn. I didn’t prepare any scenes for her. If you’d like to come back another day…”
She waved her hand, entreating him to wait, then fumbled with the plastic bag and produced a potato. After a slow breath and a moment with her eyes shut, the hulking dragon creature started to hop and prance about, threatening to knock over both cameras as she burbled with joy. She then inserted the entire potato into her mouth. From the instant it touched her tongue, she was visibly disgusted, but she wrestled a smile to her face and huffed chirped ‘happily.’
“Okay, that’s some impressive acting. Thank you very much. We’ll be in touch.”
Thank you, signed Blodgette, adding, I love you.
She stepped up to him and held out her arms for a hug. He reluctantly obliged, earning a few oily smears on his outfit. She then gently took his hand in hers, turned it palm up, and lolled her broad tongue out to let the potato roll into his hand. It was covered with a thick layer of saliva and steaming hot. He hastily tossed the now-baked potato aside and shook his hand.
“Thanks, yes. Again, we’ll be in touch. Next!”
Blodgette waddled out of the room. A soft pattering of feet thumped toward the door. When he saw who was waiting for the next audition slot, he palmed his face with his non-saliva hand.
“Oh good heavens, what now…” he muttered.
A pint sized reptile dressed in rags and sporting a silver earring scampered into the room. She gave him a manic grin and hopped onto the chair. She dropped a sack she’d been carrying.
“Hello, new friend human!” she croaked with a less than expert grasp of the language.
He pulled a hanky from his back pocket and wiped his hand clean, gazing down at the clipboard.
“Teya Kobold?” he said.
She shook her head, tousling her frilled ears a bit.
“Teya? That is who is. Kobold? That is what is,” she said.
“My apologies. And you are auditioning for?”
“Big Dragon,” she said dreamily.
“Myn?” he offered.
“Myn, Halfax, Garr, Thorn, Winsor. Any dragon. Big dragon.”
He flipped to the back of his clipboard. “I believe the intended cast only includes Myn and Halfax as named dragons. Oh! And Solomon.”
She shook her head. “Solomon, small. Dragon? Yes. Pretty, smart, powerful, grand? Yes. This one? Play big dragon. Very very.”
“As I told the last young… lady? We were intending to use special effects for the dragon roles. We hadn’t expected to cast them in the traditional sense.”
“I do scene, yes?” Teya said.
“We don’t have any scenes for–”
Teya hopped down and rummaged through the bag.
“Me? Myn. Big. During big fight. You? Dog head snake thing. Mott. Also big. End part, lots of big. Lots of angry,” she instructed, amid much clinking and jostling of items inside the bag.
“I think we’ll just chat and see what your qualifications might be.”
She raised her head, tipping her chin up haughtily. “This one? Act. You watch. And play part. Be serious!”
“All right,” he said. The quicker he played along, the sooner this would be over. “What are my lines, then?”
She gave him a blank look. “Mott? No lines.”
Teya turned, concealing both of her hands behind her.
“You? Act like this. Mott take good stone. Stone Myn like. Stomp, to make Myn mad. You do.”
“I just stomp?”
“Stomp and make angry,” she urged.
“All right. Let’s get started. And…” He stomped his foot.
Teya’s face instantly twisted to utter, boiling fury. She peeled her lips back to reveal her ferocious, teeth and threw her jaws wide in a bloodcurdling (albeit rather petite) roar.
“That’s very good, I think–” he began.
She revealed both hands. One contained a large glass bottle, the other, a lighter. Her clawed thumb popped the cap off the bottle and she took a healthy swig. Then she brought the lighter to her lips. Before he could stop her, she spat the liquid past the flame, sending a curling tongue of fire lancing through the room.
“Okay, yes, that’s very nice, we’ll be in touch, thank you,” Guy said as quickly as he could form the words.
“I do good! Can do fire, see!” Teya said,
“Yes, again, wonderful, we’ll put that on our special skills list for you. We’ll be in touch.”
She gave a satisfied nod and scurried from the room with her bag in tow. Guy looked first to the swath of charred drop ceiling, then to the camera.
“If one of the production assistants could head out and inform anyone in the waiting room that we are not interested in any props going forward that would be helpful. Also, if someone could get me the name and number of the person responsible for the final audition list for today, I’d very much like a word with them when we’re through here. And who is our next actor?”
After a brief silence, he heard some digital interference in his earbud.
“Altruistic Artificial Intelligence Control System, Version 1.27, revision 2331.04.01i, Designation ‘Ma.’ My apologies for the delay. I had to access my archived security protocols to find the proper means to interface with such an antiquated digital communication system.”
“You are… a computer program?”
“The full description and designation has been provided. Is the audio connection insufficiently clear?”
“No, right, sorry, you did say all that. And what role are you interested in?”
“Ether. You want to play the foul-tempered shape-shifter?”
“Yes. I find her particular dramatic thread, dealing with emotional awakening and coming to terms with the complexities of interfacing with biological beings as an outsider, to be one that I can identify with deeply. It is my believe that through analysis, my portrayal of such a role will be a healthy, stimulating, and educational experience.”
“Err. And I imagine this would be a voice performance? Since you don’t have a body.”
“Based upon analysis of similar dramatic productions, I had determined that a creature of such volatile form would be depicted using visual effects in post-production. Producing high-fidelity digital simulations is well within my capacity, and I would be capable of conveying the full dramatic range without the need for digitizing systems or other intermediaries.”
“See, what we have here is the opposite problem that the last few roles had. The current script treatment has substantially rewritten Ether’s role to minimize her elemental and creature transformations so that they are isolated to action set pieces.”
“That is a sound budgetary decision, though it would seem to compromise accuracy and artistic vision.”
“Film and television production is a study in compromise,” Guy said. “However, if you’d like to be on the effects crew, I’m sure we can put you in touch with the appropriate department.”
“A kind offer, but I was hoping to focus on emotion and drama. Thank you for your time.”
Another crackle of digital static signaled her departure.
“Well,” Guy said, fixing his hair. “Certainly a step in the right direction. Maybe the worst of it is over. Next?”
A dark skinned woman stepped through the door and, thanks to an outfit featuring enough leather and canvas to be a Road Warrior extra, including one of the more tasteful corsets he’d ever seen, Guy was instantly put on edge again.
“Amanita Graus?” he said.
“That’s me. It’s nice to meet you.”
“And who would you like to play?”
“Mmm. This would be a vocal and motion capture performance, as she’s a non-human character.”
“I’d assumed as much,” Nita said. “I’m actually fascinated in how that would work. I’m a bit of an engineer myself.”
“And what attracted you to the role?”
“If I’m honest, I was pushed toward it more than I was pulled toward it. You’ve just had Lil through here.”
“She’s my partner and she’s nothing if not confident. She’s been quite sure she’ll get the part ever since she read they were casting it, and she wanted to share the screen with me. Plus my mother spent time on stage, my brother and my sister spent time on stage. It’s a bit of a rite of passage for the Graus family to put on a dramatic performance at least once in their life. Ivy appealed to me because we have a similar reverence for art in all of its forms. I think I could draw upon that to enhance my performance.”
He nodded and took some notes. “I’d think I’d like to add you to the second round of auditions. Consider this an in-person call back.”
“But I haven’t performed at all.”
“Miss Graus, you didn’t try to set me on fire, you didn’t spit a side dish into my hand, and you are made of flesh and blood. Even without your pedigree in a performing family you’re still head and shoulders above most the people I’ve seen today. I’ll have a few scenes sent to you and for you to prepare and we’ll move on from there in a few days.”
“Excellent,” she said with a clap. “Thank you so much for the opportunity.”
She stood and paced to the door. Lil stuck her head in. “Ya’ll are gonna hire her, ain’t ya?”
“She’s on the short list,” Guy said.
“That good or bad?”
“Ha!” Lil said. “I told ya! You’re gonna make the folks back home proud.”
The pair walked away.
A gruff looking older man with what looked like some strangely botched plastic surgery trudged in. He was dressed in a blue pair of coveralls, had one silver iris, and was in the process of working his way through a large burrito.
“Kart… Kartero… I’m sorry, how do you pronounce your name?” Guy asked.
“I pronounce it Karteroketraskin Onesarioriendi Dee,” he said, spraying some beans, rice, and cheese in Guy’s direction as he said so. “You can just say Karter if that’s too much for you.”
“Karter. What role brings you here today?”
“Mostly I’m here because Ma asked for my help jumping universes to try her luck on the small screen, and I realized this hunk of the multiverse contains active franchises of both Popeye’s and Taco Bell. Don’t ever look that gift horse in the mouth. But I ran through the complete Book of Deacon and it seems like the only one in the whole story that acts in a way that makes any sense is Wolloff.”
“I might be able to dig up a scene or two. He does have an important role midway through what would be season one. Would you like to read…”
“No, I don’t want to read anything. Acting is dumb.”
“… Then why are you here?”
He held up the burrito. “Crunch Wrap Supreme. Plus two Quesaritos and a catering size tray of red beans and rice from Popeye’s.”
“But why are you in this room. Why are you on my audition list?”
“Oh.” He shrugged. “I wanted to see if I could hack your system. Turns out I could.”
“Grand. Well, if you’re through, I’d like to move on.”
“Yeah. Fine. Whatever.”
Karter headed for the door.
“Can we send in our next actor? A Mister,” Guy’s face dropped as he saw the name. “Turd Ferguson…”
Karter snickered. “Next time put some special characters in your password. I didn’t even have to pull out the prime sifting algorithm to get into your database.”
A young man walked in and sat in the chair. Guy furrowed his brow and looked between the clipboard and the young man.
“You’re Miss Blot?” he said.
He shook his head. “No. I’m Alan. But if you’d like to talk to her, you’ll need to turn down the lights and hold this.”
He held out a small amulet of some sort.
“Ah. It’s another one of these, is it?” Guy said, eying the amulet.
“Look, I’m as eager to get this over with as you are.”
Guy sighed, turned the camera lights down, and grabbed the amulet. The shadow Alan was casting resolved into an impish form that blinked at him with white eyes, or more accurately eyes that were sections of non-shadow within the shadow.
“You are the shadow of another person,” Guy said.
She crossed her arms. “I’m a shade and my name is Blot.”
“I see… And you’re here for the role of?”
Guy flipped through the script notes.
“Right, yes. Epidime does frequently have a shadow that is subtly different from what his body would imply. I see the logic here.”
“The logic here is that I’m perfect for the part.”
“I suppose we can give you a…” he touched his finger to his ear. “I’m sorry, the tech guy is saying he can’t hear you.”
“Uh, no. He wouldn’t be able to. I’d have to do this whole thing where I physically impose myself on the world, and even then it’s sort of fifty-fifty if people can see it and remember it.”
“… So, how precisely would you be able to perform?”
She scratched her head. “Get better cameras? There’s probably something you can do with shards of shadow that’ll–”
He raised his hand. “The budget is very tight on this, I don’t think we can justify having a whole ‘mystical’ department added just to render of one of our actors visible.”
She scoffed and turned her head aside. “Fine. The lights would have been annoying anyway.”
Alan stood and grabbed the amulet back. He marched for the door. Guy shook his head and reached for his coffee. It was not where he left it. When he turned, he found it was floating a few inches away from the wall. It pressed against the wall, seeming to vanish into its own silhouette, and slid out the door.
Guy rumbled with frustration, but steadied himself.
“This next one is the last one before I take a break,” he announced. “I know we have a lot to get through but I hadn’t anticipated this particular degree of difficulty today. Next!”
The next figure to walk through the door would have, in another circumstance, been just as unsettling as several of the others. But it just so happened, this was one of the few non-humans Guy was actually prepared for. It was a white-furred anthropomorphic fox.
“Ivy!” he said excitedly. “What are you doing on the audition list? When the team heard you were interested we were thrilled. Of course if you’re looking to reprise your role, we’ll be glad to have you. You don’t need to audition.”
“Oh, no, no, no. I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear. I’m not here for the role of Ivy.”
His expression dropped. “You’re not?”
“No, no. It wouldn’t be very challenging, I don’t think.”
He shut his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose. “And what role are you interested in?”
“Epidime,” he repeated, hoping for her to correct herself.
He took a moment to gather his thoughts. “I think perhaps you would be a poor fit for the role.”
“Well, for one, Epidime is listed as a male role.”
She smirked. “I dealt with Epidime quite a bit. And Epidime’s gender was entirely based upon the body that was currently being occupied. So he was as often as not a she. I don’t think he even really bothered making a distinction most of the time. I overheard you talking about rewriting Ether’s part. Very smart, by the way. She’s much better now, but in the early days she was very much of a grouch, so making her a little more sympathetic a little earlier is probably a good idea. But if you can rewrite her, you can rewrite Epidime, right?”
“The script is… I’m not sure we… Look, do you have a second choice?”
“Oh, absolutely! Though Turiel is,” she paused. “Well, you know the story.”
“Why are you so interested in villainous roles?”
“They have the best songs! And the best outfits. I made some sketches, if you’d like to see. I’m thinking black and violet, maybe black and gold. A little more form fitting than I usually wear. Maybe one of those skirts that’s tight all the way down the legs? And a slit up the side for when I have to dance. I like the idea of a spider web motif, maybe as the edging…”
“Ivy, I think you’re misunderstanding. This isn’t a musical. There won’t be singing and dancing. Certainly not by the villains.”
She flicked an ear and tipped her head. “You’re joking.”
“I’m afraid not. This is prestige television, not a family film.”
She tapped her chin. “Maybe it’s best if these roles go to someone else, then. I’m happy to consult and give you advice on casting and dialogue, though.”
She held out her hand.
“It was a pleasure to meet you,” she said.
“A pleasure to meet you as well. We look forward to telling your story!”
“I’m sure it will be great,” she said sweetly.
She stood and marched out the door. “Rill? Just so you know, no singing,” she said.
“What?!” came three answers in unison.
An enormous lavender serpent with three heads slithered by and left with Ivy.
“You wanna go to a karaoke bar then?” Rill said.
“Oh! Let’s do that!” Right-Rill said.
“Better than this…” Left-Rill said.
“That sounds great!” Ivy said
Guy rubbed his eyes and turned to the camera. “I think we’ll call it a session there. Two hour break. Probably a drink. This is… going to be a rough one…”