The Broadway director looked around to make sure no one was listening, and then told me “Your wife is amazing. She is the rock that’s holding this whole production together.” High praise for a “mere” casting director; but then, this was an audition day. I’d brought the baby for a quick visit with her long-hour working Mom. The director continued, “We really appreciate everything she does. And everything you do, to allow Joy to do what she does.”
It was sixteen years ago today we first laid eyes on each other (any other body parts shall remain unnamed) and just about eight years ago that she entered the exciting world of casting. Today she’s one of the power players of the musical theatre world (don’t trust me on this; trust Backstage), having cast for Broadway, Off-Broadway, a huge number of national tours, Equity and non-Equity, musicals and plays, seasons and unique theatrical experiences, for avant-garde dance companies and for Julie Andrews.
From my spousal perch, beneath the pedestal, it seems like few people have an informed sense of what casting directors really do. Since most of the people I know are actors, I often hear the performer’s perspective. They tend to see the CD as standing in the way of them getting seen by the directors and choreographers who’ll get them work. But the CD works for the producer of the show. That’s going to mean discussions with the writers, director, musical director, choreographer and producer about a vision for every role. None of these people needs to sit through 10,000 auditions. A good CD can put them in a room with true contenders, each possessed of the skill set that will be required for the part.
Some actors think there’s nothing they can’t do, but let’s get real: beatbox – the verb (look it up). On one show Joy had to get the best beatboxers in the nation to audition. You couldn’t just post a casting notice in the usual places and hope they would show up. How’s your trapeze work? Joy once had to find amazingly athletic dancers who could fly through the air with the greatest of ease. If you’re familiar with In the Heights, you know the show contains a wide array of styles of music. Joy had to find people who could rap and salsa (again, the verb) and the usual pasty white people who audition for everything wouldn’t compete. Is trampoline a verb, too?
Joy’s had her own casting company, Joy Dewing Casting, for over a year now. She’s had some wonderful clients, like the long-running off-Broadway musical, Forever Dusty, and the new Broadway musical, Soul Doctor. They pay her. But there’s also a huge amount of unpaid work, as Joy attends a huge number of shows and student showcases, familiarizing herself with the talent pool. It’s a fairly common occurrence that she gets to call a young aspirant with the good news that they’ve gotten their first job. Much of the time, it’s someone Joy’s seen performing, right alongside other graduating students who are never going to make it. She invests the time to get to know the talent before the rest of the world knows the talent.
Some reading this are now humming “I should have gone to an acting school; that seems clear.” But there’s another misconception abounding about how casting directors get to know talented thespians. (I said “thespians.” How you get to know talented lesbians in a completely different subject.) Show up at her open calls and audition well. Jaded old salts are cynical about open calls, but, when you pass in front of Joy’s eyes, even if you’re completely wrong for the role, your good performance leaves a positive impression. So, sometime later, she’ll be casting something else, remember you from the various times you’ve auditioned for her, and call you in. That’s a boost, to have the CD saying to the team behind the table, “Here’s someone I think you should have a look at.”
Some reading this write musicals, and are now wondering about the value of reading a blogger boasting about his wife. So, let’s see if I can relate this to our usual subject… I envy actors. There, I said it. Actors get to display their abilities, on a regular basis, in front of people in the position to give them jobs. As a writer, I very rarely get to show what I can do to anyone in any position to help my career in any way. This has something to do with the nature of being a writer, and also has to do with the fact that there are very few gigs for musical makers. I’ve been very lucky to have been hired by businesses (the nation’s largest labor law firm, a well-known discount brokerage house, a motorcycle dealership) to create musical comedy material. Getting hired involved word-of-mouth: I knew two – count ‘em: two – people familiar enough with my work to recommend me. Writers, generally, don’t have anything equivalent to the casting calls that exist, every day, for actors.
That’s why we dutifully submit our shows to places with panels of readers. Some give prizes. Some let you do a workshop. Festivals give you slots in theatres, but you have to fund the production. When I got accepted into The New York Musical Theatre Festival (through their “Next Link,” which only looks at blind submissions), it was a tiny statement to the world that somebody, a set of professionals who didn’t know my name, thought my work worthy of production. In a way, it was like getting cast in a play – a boon an actor can enjoy any day of the week.
So I envy actors. They regularly get a chance to impress a CD, who will then think of them for both present and future jobs. I guess what I’m saying is that I wish I had Joy Dewing in my life.
But wait a minute: I do! For sixteen glorious years… But you know what I mean.