Two years after a prison break riveted the region, more than 1,000 people flocked to the Strand Theatre in Plattsburgh recently to audition for parts in a Showtime miniseries that will be filmed in the North Country.
On a Saturday in late July people from across New York and Vermont traveled to Plattsburgh for open auditions for “Escape at Dannemora.” The eight-part mini-series being produced and directed by Ben Stiller centers on the escape from Clinton Correctional Facility by Richard Matt and David Sweat. It will be filmed in the locations where events occurred in 2015.
The casting call sought men and women and those with law enforcement, correctional and reporting experience. Many came to advance their careers while others were curious.
Craig Lockwood from Little Falls was waiting outside the Strand. He has been cast as an extra in the past. “A couple of the shows down in the city that I do. So just furthering my acting career by auditioning here.”
Vermonter Shana Carlson came because she was curious. “I thought it’d be an interesting thing to see what goes on. You know how many times can you do this in your lifetime? I was like a coffee runner for A League of Our Own. I was going to college and I was sort of involved in that movie but I’ve never really done anything else besides that.”
As people entered the Strand Theatre they were handed a numbered casting info sheet. “Go ahead into theatre. Fill out your paperwork and then take a seat and they’ll call your number when they’re ready.”
Glenville, NY resident Al Huzar is a veteran auditioner, having been an extra in Taking Woodstock and other films. “So far this is pretty organized. Other ones I’ve been to its like nobody knew what and where to go and it was just chaotic. This seems pretty organized.”
Bronx actor Travis Conover hopes to get a principal role. “Extra work for me is probably not something that I’m interested in. I did it in the very beginning of my career but I’m certainly to a point now where I’ve done quite a few principal roles. But working with Ben Stiller would be incredible. Working with him is one of the biggest incentives of me coming up here. And I think it would be really fun too to work in upstate New York where I kind of grew up.”
Casting Director Rachael Tenner would periodically step out from behind the curtain to welcome those in the auditorium. She would then retreat behind the red velvet curtain to interview each person backstage.
Meanwhile in the auditorium, head shots were being taken of each individual.
After a check to assure the casting form was filled out properly, people were then shifted to the “on-deck” section where they waited to be interviewed.
Tenner won an Emmy for her work on Fargo and has worked with director/producer Ben Stiller in the past. She says for this production she is looking for a handful of speaking roles and numerous extras. “We literally talk to everybody and I get a chance to ask them a few questions, get to know them a little bit and then figure out where they’re best slotted and then they go down and they have a chance to audition. You’re just looking for qualities. You’re looking for looks. It’s kind of hard to describe. And when I say looks I don’t mean like good looking like leading men and women kind of thing. You know you’re just looking for somebody interesting to embody the role and really bring it to life.”
Tenner is excited to be working on location to cast locals. “It’s not an opportunity you get all the time so we absolutely take advantage of it because you get to use your community and really, you know I keep saying authentic, but you really want to bring some authenticity to the world.”
Recording during the interviews was not allowed. After several hours of waiting groups of 15 to 20 people would sit in a semi-circle around Tenner for their brief interview. The group then went below the stage to record short lines before leaving the theatre.
The Showtime mini-series Escape at Dannemora is expected to begin filming soon. It stars Benicio Del Toro as Richard Matt, Paul Dano as David Sweat and Patricia Arquette as Joyce Mitchell.