Meetiversary is a neologism I only recently became aware of. For Joy and me, this is the day. Seventeen years ago-and looking back it seems ridiculous I waited so long to propose, and then essay parenthood. The length of our engagement, though – 21 months – was dictated, a little, by the time it was going to take to write an original musical for our wedding ceremony. That imponderable – how long does it take to write a musical – is much on my mind these days. I’m hell-bent on completing one by the end of the summer, but now that I commute from a suburb, and spend most of my time learning about life from our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, progress is slow.
Lunch today was a picnic in Central Park with two young performers who’ll begin pounding the pavement next week. And I was reminded of Joy when I met her, a Washingtonian (DC) working towards the day – eight months later – when she’d move to New York and join their ranks. Today Joy’s a Broadway casting director; her company just celebrated its second anniversary. And, far more than any casting director I know or have heard of, she cares about the auditioners, sees to it they’re treated well, have the best try-out experience possible. One might surmise this is due to her remembering what it was like to be in the aspirants’ shoes.
But there’s a more general principle involved: the idea that we should all be kind to each other. Putting on a new musical is a high-pressure cesspool for everyone involved. Your artistic aspirations for your piece, when up against reality and forces beyond your control, are bound to be compromised. The overwhelming majority of auditioners won’t be hired. Joy, too, experiences rejection when she isn’t hired or when actors she wants for roles turn her down. So, she exhibits an experiential sensitivity to this riddled-with rejection realm. On the flip side, she has the pleasure of informing the chosen ones they’ve gotten the job. Tomorrow, she’s flying off to Los Angeles just to see the performers she cast in the national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
I shouldn’t make it sound like all of Joy’s work is on shows that play outside of New York; it’s just that I miss her so much when she’s off to see them. (They’re cast here, though.) In town, right now, are two long-running off-Broadway musicals her company cast: Fifty Shades and the Drama Desk-nominated Til Divorce Do Us Part. I hasten to point out that the subjects of her shows have nothing to do with our lives. It’s merely coincidence that I go around interpreting dreams wearing a coat of many colors.
And, as so many of us are thinking about the end of a Broadway season jam-packed with an unusual quantity of new musicals, I want to say something about the one Joy cast, Soul Doctor. It had a lot of previews, opened, and ran two months. It sold very few tickets, and a pitifully small percentage at full price. The surprising thing is that it stayed open that long, losing money every week. Now, this season, another new musical opened, and ran just three months. It also sold very few tickets, and a pitifully small percentage at full price. When it finally shuttered, a few weeks ago, all sorts of people I know went “I can’t believe it closed! It barely got a chance! What a tragedy!” But let’s step back for a second. If a show’s a proven money-loser, selling, on average, only a third of its seats, how is it unbelievable that producers put it out of its misery? If “in-the-know” show-folk were puzzled that Soul Doctor endured so long, how come there’s any puzzlement as to why The Bridges of Madison County didn’t endure longer than it did? Argue about artistic quality if you wish, but examining the business side of Show Business, Bridges and Soul Doctor look surprisingly similar.
Two years ago, Soul Doctor, in its off-Broadway incarnation, was Joy Dewing Casting’s first client. As recently as the summer of 2012, it seemed impossible for a new musical to make a profit off-Broadway. Now, here lies Here Lies Love. Also, Murder For Two, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 and Heathers, to name a few. A surprisingly vibrant scene and I find it admirable when shows resist the push to move to a bigger house on Broadway. Some shows simply belong in a smaller house.
Just like some people. Joy and I moved to a little house in the suburbs last November, and our little family is very happy here. I have a tiny office all to myself, windows on all sides. Joy has a garden. And it’s hard to ignore the inherent metaphor. If the first Joy Dewing Casting client made it to Broadway in a year and a quarter, God knows what the seeds she’s planting now may soon grow to be.
We’re neither pure nor wise nor good;
We’ll do the best we know;
We’ll build our house, and chop our wood,
And make our garden grow.
And make our garden grow.