As the controversy over a reality show hitting Vineyard shores swirled around the Island last week, potential cast members defended their decision to audition for the docu-soap in order to depict “the real Vineyard.”
News of the slated reality show, which goes by the working title The Vineyard, spurred pointed criticism on social media and the Gazette website, with hundreds of Islanders and visitors alike saying they feared the show would portray a false, glossy representation of Island life. But many who attended said that was precisely what drew them to an invite-only casting call held at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven on Friday.
“It’s what we make of it,” said a small business owner in her late twenties who hoped to be cast on the show and bring attention to her enterprise and other Vineyard businesses. Producers asked the Gazette not to use the names of those who attended the casting call in order to protect their privacy.
“It can’t be too scandalous; look at the audience we’re catering to,” the young woman said. “This isn’t the Jersey Shore; it’s a different vibe, a different everything.” The Island is a place where landscapers and stone masons are the celebrities, she noted.
Even so, she said she wasn’t “jumping into anything without asking questions.”
“We’re responsible for portraying the Vineyard in a positive way,” she said. “Hopefully they won’t reveal any of our secret beaches.”
Nearly 40 students, landscapers, yoga teachers, musicians, farmers and odd-job handymen attended the casting call. A similar audition followed in Boston over the weekend.
The Vineyard, produced by 25/7 Productions for the ABC Family network, is billed as a “coming of age” show, following the lives of a small group of 18 to 24 year olds, many of whom will work at an Island restaurant and live together in a house. The show will begin filming in May with eight one-hour episodes slotted to air in July. Final casting decisions will be made by mid-March with shooting to begin in mid-May.
“From what we saw this weekend, we’re definitely able to pick enough of the characters that we want and enough of the characters we need in order to make the series compelling,” casting director Yong Yam said this week.
Auditioners who gathered in the library of the hotel Friday posed for swimsuit pictures and headshots, then conducted a 15 minute interview with creator and executive producer David Broome and Ms. Yam, who also serves as vice president of 25/7 Productions. Some candidates were interviewed individually; others brought friends and family along.
The series will follow a “handful” of main characters, said Ms. Yam. No more than six or eight people, she said, “because the audience can’t follow too many story lines.”
In addition to the main characters, Ms. Yam said the show will also include ancillary characters, such as family or friends. If a character is falling in love and went on a date, for instance, the character could be confiding in their best friend or their mom to dish all the details of the date, she explained.
“It’s a reality show at the end of the day,” Ms. Yam said.
Though the “reality” designation has ruffled feathers on the Island, at least one person in attendance on Friday said he saw great potential in the genre.
“I want to bring an enlightening perspective. I want to show the good side of the Vineyard,” said a longtime visitor in his mid-thirties who moved to the Island full-time several years ago.
“There’s a notion of what a reality show is and I think we should give it a chance,” he said. “It could even help strengthen the community.
A yoga teacher, farmer and fourth generation Islander in her twenties had a similar opinion. Though she understood why people reacted negatively to the show, she said, she was confident the show would have “people of substance.”
“There isn’t wild partying going on until July. We want the show to show what the Vineyard is really like,” she said. “I’m easing into it, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel comfortable.”
She said she learned about the show from a friend, called the producers for an interview and was eager to learn more about the show.
“It felt like I was talking to my best friend,” she said. “It’s cool to put the Vineyard on TV and show people what it’s really like here. People always say, Wow, you’re from the Vineyard. But I work with my fingers in the dirt six months of the year.”
“ABC is going to be disappointed when we’re just harvesting carrots,” she laughed.
Ms. Yam said many of the auditioners addressed the ongoing controversy during their interviews.
“They wanted to help sort things out and even made comments themselves,” she said. “I’m cool with it because I know what we set out to do. The people who came out to audition wouldn’t have if they knew this was going to be like the Jersey Shore.”
“With a show like that you want good looking people with big personalities,” she said. “But we’re looking for diamonds in the rough. We need people with real stories. If they’re good looking and beautiful and look great in a bikini, great. But if there’s no story then there’s nothing going on.”