Two Bodies and One Soul - Double Casting at the Antaeus


Double casting - or partner casting, as it is called by the Antaeus Theatre Company - has been the norm at Antaeus since its inception in 1991. Antaeus is a multiple award-winning cooperative theater ensemble founded by and for actors. An actor-based solution to the practicalities of a performer’s life, sharing roles has brought some surprising benefits for actors and audiences. In order to examine partner casting in more depth, several members of the two current Uncle Vanya casts (Mermaids and Vixens) were interviewed to pin down how actors actually see and experience this phenomenon. Their candid and sometimes amusing analogies display their talent, experience, skills, and – above all – their open minds.



What do you think of double casting? What do you see as the advantages/disadvantages for you as an actor? What are your personal feelings about partner casting?




Uncle Vanya (Arye Gross, Vixen Cast): Partner casting allows working actors the ability to volunteer their services to small theaters that do not pay a salary - with the knowledge that they will be free to leave (occasionally on a moment’s notice) to pursue, or in many cases, fulfill prior professional obligations.  And, importantly, knowing one can step away (for a day or a week or entirely, if necessary) without causing harm to a particular production makes it possible to be absent with no guilt.




Uncle Vanya (Don McManus, Mermaid Cast): The downside is just as practical - you get half of the rehearsal time; and the time that you do rehearse is split between two different sets of scene partners. You really kind of have to check your ego at the door in this process. That’s not a bad thing.




Sonya (Rebekah Tripp, Mermaid Cast): Double casting is truly a unique experience. The obvious and top advantage is being able to create a solid character in a truly creative space, for little to no money, while still being able to generate income outside of the production because you share the schedule with another amazing actor. Another advantage is the opportunity to step outside of yourself and your deeply personal tie to the character and experience the bigger picture as a whole. Doubling allows you to see and participate in choices that may not have ordinarily occurred to you as an actor; they come from someone else’s perspective and can be just as enriching to the character/story arc/world as anything you might have tried thus far. I do think there are challenges in this process. It can be difficult to see someone else on stage walking around in the skin of a character of which you have also taken ownership. It’s easy to become a bit covetous of these people, these souls that we bring to life. Ultimately, when you can remove ego from the process, it is the most successful. Your partner’s interpretation of a role does not undermine your interpretation of a role; it lives side by side, just as fully and as beautifully.




Professor Serebryakov (Lawrence Pressman, Mermaid Cast): I love double casting for the challenge of being alive to other actors’ rhythms and approach. Ballet and opera companies have done this for years, of course. And, of course, it is like being in a repertory company instead of a run of performances.




Marina (Dawn Didawick, Vixen Cast): Each actor brings a different viewpoint, approach, and certainly different rhythms and/or business to a scene. But the task of the scene is the same, and the intent of the scene is the same. There are things that a partner might do that you would want to steal outright - and can. But usually they inform your own way of getting the job done. You each glean and hone as you go. It is fun to get to know a character though another’s eyes, but eventually the secrets of your character take over; and you and your co-builder have erected your own structures.




Does seeing another actor playing the same role as you are playing but in a different uniquely personal way have an impact on your thinking/acting? Does it change your interpretation of the role in any way?




Uncle Vanya (Arye Gross, Vixen Cast): I learn a tremendous amount from the actors with whom I share roles, often stealing the best of what they do (if I can pull it off); but I have to take care not to ape moments in another actor’s performance that I love. The other night, I ran my hands through my lengthy tresses (!), as does the wonderful Don McManus, only to run out of hair before completing the action. At a certain point, one must, while remaining open, find a way to respond to one’s impulses directly without hearing external voices that can take one “out of the moment.”




Uncle Vanya (Don McManus, Mermaid Cast): Arye and I are such completely different actors in every way that, even if we are making the same choices, there’s going to be almost no resemblance between our performances. I’m very happy to steal from another actor with whom I’m partnered. Moreover, if Arye had a thought about something that I didn’t, I was glad for the perspective. Sometimes one of us would share a thought about a scene or a trick of language and the other would say, “Yeah, I get that; but I think that’s going to help me right now. I can always change later.” Sometimes, farther down the road, it would change.




Sonya (Shannon Lee Clair, Vixen Cast): I like to take it in and think about it, but I can’t think of any particular circumstances in which it has changed my interpretation. Usually, my double and I will consult over certain parts of the play, sometimes with the director. But we’re usually interested in creating a staging in which each of our choices has room to fly. You take it in, think about it for a bit, and then let it go.




Sonya (Rebekah Tripp, Mermaid Cast): I definitely think that, when I see my double making choices that haven’t previously occurred to me or that are starkly different from the choices I had made, it does have an impact on my thought on said choices and character - which I think is a wonderful thing. This situation allows either a further commitment to the choices I have made, or it allows for an opening up of a perhaps previously narrowed perspective on a scene or relationship. I will never be able to play the role as my double plays the role, and vice versa. We each weave parts of ourselves into the character. That said, certain choices or thoughts on relationships within the world of the play or moments that occur in the play are fluid. Throughout the rehearsal process, they are growing and evolving. To watch those moments while someone else plays and experiences them is absolutely integral to one’s own development in that world. If I come upon a dark corner, and I can’t see what’s in front of me - and someone comes up with a flashlight and helps to illuminate the way - I have still made a discovery…I think that can be the beauty of this process.




Professor Serebryakov (Harry Groener, Vixen Cast): Being able to watch my double play the role allows me to step outside the play in a way that you can’t do if it’s a single-cast play. I learn from watching the other actor. We can also help each other and protect each other. It does not change my initial interpretation of the role; although, if I see a choice that is made by my double that is better for the scene of the play, I will use it.




Professor Serebryakov (Lawrence Pressman. Mermaid Cast): If anything, seeing someone else’s interpretation of the same text opens one’s own ideas and feelings to the same text. I knew an actor who hated it because he felt it kept him from “owning” the role, something a run of performances allows one to feel. But, except for the lack of rehearsal time, one has to face that there is no such thing as a definitive Hamlet or Lear - or even the professor in Uncle Vanya.

Marina (Dawn Didawick, Vixen Cast): I really enjoy double casting in the building stage. However, near the end, because actors can open personal empathy portals by what the character reveals to them, I have to back off for a while so that I can hear my own voice and dance my own dance. We don’t want to mimic; we want to absorb. The impact of the initial work remains throughout the run. Like religion, you choose and discard what does and does not work for you - but the overall message remains.

Antaeus never uses understudies, but instead partners actors for different performances, keeping the role fresh and the actor sharp. Happily, members of both Uncle Vanya casts were open to new ideas and ready to incorporate them into their roles if it meant that their characters became more rounded and true to the play.




UNCLE VANYA runs Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The Antaeus Theatre is located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd., NorthHollywood, CA91601. Tickets cost $30-$34. For reservations, call 818-506-1983 or go online at





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