In what’s always been my favorite musical, a window-washer charms everyone in a big corporation and, with amazing speed, ascends to the top position in the company. Fifteen years ago today, I met a beautiful young woman who, with amazing speed, ascended from unpaid intern to head of a casting company. Knowing a good thing when I see one, I married her. Tomorrow begins the life of her company, Joy Dewing Casting. If I detail a bit of its history and heritage, it’s not uxorious crowing, but, I hope, news you can use. All makers of musicals need an excellent casting director on their team, and if you can get one as good as Joy, you’re truly blessed.
We met because she was looking for advice, on-line, about what credits should and shouldn’t be on her résumé. Of course, now, she’s the expert, having pored over literally thousands of résumés in her casting career. She started off as a performer, and, making the rounds in New York, she encountered the full range of casting business people: the ones who treated you like dirt and the ones who treated you like a human being. Her survival jobs, at the time, were in non-show businesses, and it used to bother her that not everybody else in the world insists on the highest standards of professional conduct, grammar, morals and creative thinking. After too much time on the road, she took an internship with Dave Clemmons Casting, specifically because it was the company that treated actors the best. It was a point of pride with them: performers are the lifeblood of the theatre. They’re putting themselves out there, helping you solve the problem of finding the perfect acting company. Why shouldn’t they be treated well?
In short order, Joy transformed the company, insisting everyone working with her live up to those top-tier standards.
For a substantial period, she ran the company alone. A year and a half ago, Dave Clemmons named her partner. Often, in accounts of business comings and goings, “He’s moving on to pursue an exciting opportunity” is code for “was fired.” But Clemmons, in giving up casting, is truly transmogrifying into the exciting world of producing. He’s among the throng who produced this season’s best-received musical, Once. And so this month begins Joy Dewing Casting, a new small business that will feature Joy’s fastidiousness and unparalleled empathy.
There are a lot of misapprehensions about what casting directors do: the ultimate picks for who will play any role are never theirs. It’s usually the director who has the say; more rarely, producers. But casting directors are responsible for finding talent and presenting a wide array of choices to the creative team. Joy’s brilliant career has involved finding quite a few diamonds-in-the-rough and making that magical phone call that tells some young aspirant they’ve gotten their first paid job in the theatre. Clemmons/Dewing had a reputation for matching the right kinds of voices to the specific types of musical scores. My professional experience with the old company involved just that. I’d written a musical, Such Good Friends, set in 1950, and endeavored to make my score as close as possible to what Jule Styne might have written at the time. So, the casting director Geoff Josselson started compiling lists of extremely talented performers who can, if asked, sing with that mid-century panache. And, as the writer, I learned about the need to refine my characters, both in the text and in the way they’re described – in either the dramatis personae or the breakdowns used in the casting notice. For instance, there was one I’d once described as being like Mary Martin. Yet, at another point, I’d described her as Ethel Merman. Joy gently pointed out this conflict, and, as I was busy reworking my description, Geoff came up with Lynne Wintersteller, who, indeed, is a direct cross between the two.
The ability to come up with the perfect performer for the role is no preternatural knack. Joy and her staff attend an exhausting quantity of showcases, as well as the massive cattle calls such as the Southeastern Theatre Conference. Getting to know what talent’s out there involves seeing a lot of auditions. Actors often think it’s in their best interest to cozy up to casting directors, but the best way to impress one is to audition well, again and again. They’re taking notice; they’re taking notes.
But now I’m getting self-conscious: This wasn’t supposed to be ad copy for Joy Dewing Casting. It’s more cogent to convey that your show is much better off with a casting director than without one. Sometimes a creative team will think they can cast a show on their own. It’s a natural enough assumption. But time and again these are the shows where a player or two just isn’t up to snuff. When a cast is great, well, I’m reminded of the long-running off-Broadway musical Voca People. It’s about visitors from outer space who do fabulous choral renditions of all sorts of earth music, instruments and sounds. Audiences leave the the theatre invigorated and amazed, invariably asking “How in the world did they find people like that?” I cannot lie: The answer is they had Joy Dewing. So, do what Tony-winners like Twyla Tharp, Jerry Zaks, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Julie Andrews do: work with Joy Dewing to cast your shows. (O.K., I lied: Julie Andrews never won a Tony.)