A long time ago, a good friend told me I was attracted to talent. The women I dated tended to be musical theatre performers with mad skills. But I’ve often wondered if there was some hidden message behind the comment. Is it good to be attracted to talent? Is it better to be attracted to the industrious, or those with a social conscience?
The first week of June, 1997, I met Joy Dewing. I was wowed. There were so many things I found exciting about her, but among them was her way with a song. Her voice, captivating, powerful, rich and very versatile – something I (and many many others) admired about her. But my friend’s long ago comment about my tendency to be attracted to talent persistently kept its place in the back of my mind. What if that’s a surface distraction, blinding one from understanding a person on a deeper level? What if she gives up singing?
When I started work at a theatre conservatory, also in the late nineties, it meant I’d often encounter fabulously talented actors. I felt the familiar attraction to talent fairly often. One could call me a junkie of it. I began to wonder if I’d outgrown my old attraction to talent because I was seeing so much of it. Eventually, I recognized that there was a different quality getting my heart to flutter: industriousness. You work hard, and I catch myself staring at you like a love-struck youth. (And here it seems appropriate to mention winsome Clara Regula – I’m playing a show she’s doing with three others back at The Duplex June 7 – and her industriousness and talent have me smitten.)
The hardest-working person I’ve ever known is the one I married, Joy Dewing. Four years ago she started a company, Joy Dewing Casting, that has quickly become the most respected boutique shop in the theatre industry. This is due to Joy upholding impressively high standards, exerting more effort than anyone else to ensure her clients find performers they’re happy with. She’s done this on Broadway; she’s done this for plays; mostly, though, her shows are national tours of big musicals.
That means they’re rarely near New York, but I got to catch the massive 42nd Street in New Brunswick. Well over thirty players danced over that stage in perfect tap precision. And anyone would wonder: Where’d they find these multitudes of talented people?
The process began with hiring Joy Dewing Casting. JDC has the experience and expertise to know how many auditions would be needed, where they should be held, and what rigors aspirants would need to be put through to prove they could maintain this high level of precision six days a week, in dozens of cities, over many, many months. Getting truly talented people into the room isn’t easy. An open call merely gets a bunch of people into the room who think they can do it, the self-selected phenoms. Joy oversees a winnowing down of the field in which each auditioner is treated with respect and fairness. She’s the performers’ favorite casting director, as a result of her attention to creating an environment that ensures everybody involved has a reasonably good time.
There are way too many casting situations in which too little attention is paid to all of this, leading to unhappy auditioners and far less than wonderful casts. One of the most foolish things you’ll hear in a pre-production meeting is “We don’t need a casting director. I can cast this myself.” The hubris there is that the fool making the statement knows the talent pool well enough to fill every role with the best person who’s ready, willing, and able. Cutting this corner almost inevitably leads to a bad production. Writing this blog, I always assume I’ve musical theatre writers reading. So, here’s the advice of the week: When you hear that Icarus-worthy sentiment, speak up and answer “I trust that you can do a great job at everything you’re here to do, but casting requires a specialist and we need to hire someone specifically to handle auditions.”
When it’s Joy, the thinking will go beyond the box. She’s been at the forefront of a movement towards diversity. Through the Casting Society of America, she’s innovated pathways towards inclusion. Someone outside the theatre biz asked me if there are any African-Americans among those dancing feet. But, of course. But something you’d never be able to tell from seeing the show is that one of the leads is legally blind. Much was made, last fall, of a performer in a wheelchair in the Broadway revival of Spring Awakening. It was falsely trumpeted as the first time a wheelchair-using singer/actor had appeared on Broadway (which can be refuted At the Drop of Another Hat). But of course Joy had discovered the fabulous Ali Stroker years before.
OK, I know this is out of left field – or, perhaps, more precisely, la rive gauche – but did you see how France banned after-hours work e-mails? Joy chuckled at that one. A huge percentage of her work is done via e-mail and text well after “normal” working hours. Suppose it’s an open call day. That can mean eight or nine hours of watching auditions. So, when is there going to be any discussion of the people various members of the creative team liked? After hours. Or late at night: Part of the plot of 42nd Street involves the star of a show (Kaitlin Lawrence) breaking her ankle. This tour is going to Asia, and if anyone breaks an ankle over there, Joy is going to get a call in the middle of the night. Much as I’d like it to, the business can’t relocate to France.
No, Joy’s business continues to thrive in that nest of vipers known as Little Old New York. Sure, you can call me biased, but, based on seeing a lot of Joy Dewing cast shows with brilliant assemblages of talent, I have to say its continuing success is a testament to how well Joy Dewing Casting does what it does. Joy may not sing any more, but each day I revel in her incredible industriousness, her forward-thinking social conscience and a different sort of talent: casting.
Six members of the cast of 42nd Street will perform 18 of my songs June 13 at 7 & 9 at the Gardenia, 7066 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. Reserve now for The Things We Do For Love: (323) 467-7444