It’s my wife’s birthday, and you know I try to write these things a few days in advance. Which means, this time, I’m writing from her hospital room. Now, she’s on the road to a full recovery from a scary illness that laid her low six days ago; we’ve been told she’ll be out of here by the time this posts. Worry, and, for her, pain, is all behind us.
It’s been my custom to write about how wonderful she is on her birthday. And that’s not unrelated to our topic, as she’s a casting director, running her own company, and they do mostly musicals. So, writers, picture the process you go through when you create a character. I’m reminded of the time I wrote a play, before I had a computer, and I picked all these short names: Amy, Meg, Flo, Ned and somebody read it and said “What’s with the names from Little Women?” Now, I’d merely wanted to save time, writing their names so many times; I smiled at the realization that Alcott may have had the same idea.
But then you’re fleshing out your characters, giving them specific traits, quirks, tics and, most essentially, diction – the vocabulary they choose to use. In a musical, you might think about voice range or type; it would be possible to associate them with leitmotifs or accompaniment figures. And, at some point, you’ll reach “The End” and breathe a sigh of relief, thinking you’re done with the character-creation process.
99 times out of 100, your musical will continue to evolve up to a little before opening night, when the director decides it’s necessary to freeze the script and blocking. To me, this no-more-changes order is inevitably devastating. But then I thrive on fixing things and don’t like to be told my work is done.
But let’s step back to the earlier moment when plans were put into effect that reveal your creation to the public. If you’re wise, you’ll hire a casting director. And if you want the best, you’ll get Joy Dewing.
Now begins a new chapter in the evolution of your characters. First, you’ll attempt to be articulate about who these creations of yours are. How are they different from each other? What makes them tick? What information about their attitudes and background is not explicitly laid out in the script? Joy will quickly come up with names that could easily bring that role to life. But then there may be some more creative suggestions, actors who’d bring something different to the part.
Can we talk about race for a minute? If you’re a white person, chances are you were picturing white people when you wrote. But a reader with an open mind might imagine painting with all the colors of the rainbow, and if there’s no particular need for a character to be white, the potential talent pool can be expanded.
At auditions, a wide array of talent will parade before you. You’re the kid in the candy store, since every one is likely to seem scrumptious. But the thing you’ll observe is that every actor does it slightly differently. And this expands everyone’s take on who this personage in your play is. So, now, you’re considering a creative “what if” that would never have been there if Joy hadn’t put particular performers in the room.
And it’s not her job to choose the best approach; that’s the director’s job, with your approval. It’s Joy’s job to get an array of interesting talent in front of you, people you’ll be glad you saw audition.
Once your chosen cast starts rehearsals, your characters get refined, utilizing the idiosyncratic spins each actor puts on your words and music. For me, this is my favorite part: the work of bringing my script to life. Those times I’ve had to miss rehearsals of my shows, well, were like biting into a cherry cordial only to find it missing the cherry.
Now, I don’t mean to imply Joy is the only casting director who will carry you through those wonderful character evolutions. Actually, I do mean to imply just that – I don’t have a lot of experience with mere mortal casting people. But I’ll tell you this: a mere mortal would be dead by now, as Joy contracted an often-deadly disease last week and is currently fit as a fiddle. The overcoming of adversity is something of a running theme in Joy’s life. There was that time she lived in a trailer park and the trailer burned down. Or the fire that engulfed the hotel the cast was staying in when she was on tour. Or the time her boss suddenly had to go into rehab and, with no business experience, she had to run the company, keeping it afloat and, in fact, making it a whole lot better. I also think of her previous hospital stay – giving birth to our daughter – another near-death experience.
I’m her husband, so, of course I value her. I get to witness daily what nobody else sees: how she’s a brilliant, caring and insouciant mother to our little genius (and I’m not using any of these words lightly). But, with the “get wells” and “happy birthdays” pouring in, one can’t help but get the idea that she is widely loved, widely appreciated for everything she does. If you haven’t worked with her yet, give Joy Dewing Casting a call and discover all this wondrousness. If you have worked with her, you already know.