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Actor Info About the Basic Trial Skills Program

The program takes place Saturday, June 16 through Friday, June 22. More specific time information is located below. The Basic Trial Skills Program is a week-long seminar for practicing public defenders. It is a bit of a boot camp to prepare defenders for the combat of trial practice.

The program is an educational project of the New York State Defenders Association [NYSDA], which runs the Public Defense Backup Center, a resource center for the New York State’s public defense bar. NYSDA has many projects but one mission: to advance criminal defense for poor clients. Advocating for poor clients is not simply a win-lose legal proposition. NYSDA believes in Client Centered Representation as part of its dedication to social justice.

The Basic Trial Skills Program (BTSP) is designed to help attorneys with little or no trial experience become skilled in the techniques of jury persuasion and confident in their abilities to conduct jury trials. A second goal of the program is to increase the sensitivity of public defenders to their clients’ lives and to promote caring, humane and effective representation. The program seeks to promote a long-term commitment to the representation of poor people. 

The BTSP Actors

Actors are an integral part of the program. The trial skills exercises are role-play sessions in which actors play the client and several other witnesses. During the exercises, the attorneys in training will use the actors to practice communication skills. The actors will improvise based on the facts of the case, a character profile and the teaching goals of the exercise. While the actors will be improvising within specified givens, the attorneys will practice as they have been instructed in the program. This set up creates an interesting dynamic in which the actor is playing a role while the attorneys are functioning as themselves. Since its inception in 1989, one of the hallmarks of the BTSP that has earned it national recognition is the realism its actors bring to the exercises. This realism allows the lawyers to practice their skills very intensely, but without fear of their client going to jail.

Actors in the BTSP are paid a modest stipend for training and performance. They work as non-union independent contractors. Numerous Equity, SAG and AFTRA members have acted in the BTSP across the years.

The part available is for the defendant in an attempted murder trial. We will be casting multiple actors to play this role, because the mock trial exercises occur in seven small groups. We will also be hiring two understudies, one of whom will have two to three performance opportunities working with coaches in demonstrations.

The Audition Process

Auditions will be scheduled at a time that works for both the actor and the casting director. The auditions are individual and usually take a half hour to forty-five minutes. They are held at 194 Washington Avenue, Albany, which is at the corner of Washington and Lark Street.

In order to prepare for the audition, the actor is given a set of facts from the case, which the actor can consider as given circumstances. The actor will then improvise with the casting director. Along with believable acting and the ability to improvise, knowing the facts of the case is essential for success. Also vital is the actor’s ability to understand exercise goals and fulfill them while improvising.

Acting in the BTSP is challenging but exciting work. Performers from a variety of backgrounds have succeeded: stage actors, camera actors, poets and performance artist and even musicians and people with no performance background.

During your audition, you will be asked to engage in several improvisatory role-playing scenarios during which you speak with either a prosecutor or defense attorney. I expect that you will be given some adjustments along the way.

Character: Bobby Jones

Your character, Bobby Jones, is the defendant in the case. He is 26 years old and we seek to cast actors who are either African-American, Latino, or white. Bobby’s childhood was impoverished both materially and emotionally. He has difficulty managing his anger and his temper has caused him trouble with the law. Bobby has a history of domestic violence and served time in the county jail for violating an order of protection. He is accused of attempting to murder his live-in girlfriend, Misty Wellington. Actors playing Bobby must be able to understand and portray a damaged man desperately clinging to his dignity.

Being a Teacher

As great as a gig as this is for a young actor, the actor’s ultimate purpose as a role-player is to teach. We are seeking people who want to create vivid experiences for our learners. NYSDA is teaching public defenders in order to further social justice. We seek actors who have a bit of the Defender in them.

Time and Place info:

The BTSP will be held at Skidmore College in Saratoga. Please come to audition even if you don’t have ready transport to Skidmore. The program will work to solve that problem for actors in need. 

The dates/days of work at Skidmore are: 

Saturday, June 16, 9 a.m.-Noon: Training 
Sunday, June 17, 8 a.m.—11:00 a.m. Perform 
Monday, June 18, 8 a.m.---1:00 p.m. Perform 
Tuesday, June 19, Noon-4:00 p.m. Perform 
Friday, June 22, 8 a.m. 1:30 Perform 
In addition to the above, the two actors cast as understudies will also work: 
Sunday, June 17, afternoon, time TBA. 
Thursday, June 21, afternoon, time TBA 

There will also be two training sessions held in Albany. These will be scheduled in late May-early June at times that work for the actors and trainer. 

If you are interested in auditioning, please send your resume and headshot via email. Please know that a professionally done head shot is not necessary; a current photo that looks like you will do. 

Email your materials to:

Thank you for your interest! 

Mark Dalton, 
Casting Director

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