Friday, February 20, 2009

Director Jack Cummings III on casting BEING AUDREY

Casting any show is always exhilarating and nerve-wracking at the same time. What’s exciting is getting a chance to see the depth of talent in New York City—it’s amazing to see these people come in and hear great song after great song. It’s this reason that I prefer musical auditions over play auditions—what would you rather do for 8 straight hours in a small midtown rehearsal studio—sit through dry monologue after dry monologue or hear the great American songbook!? The nerve-wracking part comes with the knowledge that any mistake in casting, slight or large, can come back to haunt you later in the process when you don’t have time to fix it. But as my friend Mary Testa once said to me, “You always wind up with the cast you’re supposed to have.” I have always believed this and once an actor is cast I stand behind them 100%—I have only had to let go of an actor once in my career and it was because this person just couldn’t learn her lines—the “learning your lines” factor is a tough one to audition—you kind of have to hope they will just learn them since its one of the most basic requirements of an actor’s job—still, you’d be surprised! Then, once you finally have your choice, you have to pray the person is not only available but that they actually want do your show—just because they come in for you doesn’t guarantee you of anything!

I’ve always believed that the actor isn’t just auditioning for us but rather it’s a 2-way street: we, the creative team, are auditioning for the actor as well. My wife, Barbara Walsh, has taught me everything I know about how to treat actors. She’s done this by letting me know how it is from their perspective and this knowledge has made me very actor-friendly. Every time an actor comes in for me, I tell myself that this could be my wife and how would I want her to be treated at an audition. So early on, I set a few rules for myself that also apply to anyone from the team in the room with me: be very friendly, always say nice things no matter what (this actually isn’t hard at all because for me the act of auditioning is brave in and of itself), no writing, eating, or drinking while the person is actually performing, and be sure to thank them for coming in. I want people to do their best work and so it’s important that they feel safe and supported. I think this is all common sense yet I am continually shocked when all too often my actor friends tell me horrific story after horrific story of bad audition rooms.

For the Being Audrey auditions, we were looking for two women and one man. The other 5 roles were cast with straight offers. I prefer to just offer roles rather than audition (saves lots of time and money!) but then once I meet a fantastic actor through an audition, I realize the value of them. We were looking for people who were great singers, actors with depth, and also hilarious comedic actors—oh, and if they can move well, that was a real plus too. So basically we were looking for a bit of the impossible. Most people could sing well but then weren’t naturally funny or vice versa—it was maddening after a while—we would think that we had it figured out and then we’d forget that this person in this track would also have to do such and such which then turned out not to be their strong suit and then we’d have to start all over! In the position of director, I not only have to please myself (after all, I’m the one who actually has to work with them) with my decision but I have to please my collaborators as well—this gets difficult as we all have slightly different tastes to a degree and different priorities. I had to make sure that Ellen Weiss, our composer/lyricist was pleased with their singing and then I had to make sure that Jim Hindman, our librettist was pleased with their comedic timing—not always so easy to please this many people but that’s the art of collaboration as they say.

One thing I became concerned about with the younger actors that came in to read for us was their lack of knowledge and feel for old movies. Being Audrey references Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon, Funny Face, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In order to pull our script off, the actors have to know the stock characters from these types of movies. I became alarmed as the auditions went on how the younger actors simply had no reference for these types at all. I said on a break to Cheryl Stern and Scott Rink (our wonderful choreographer) that theatre students should be required to study and watch every old movie from 1930 – 1960. For my generation (I’m 41), these films were key to our sensibility, to put it mildly. When I first met my wife, she told me, “I learned 100% of my comic timing from watching I Love Lucy.” I get worried that young actors today have never even seen I Love Lucy! As a result, one role from the auditions was cast a bit older than originally planned.

The other quality I have to somehow feel out during an audition is whether or not this person is up for a new musical. New musicals are a peculiar beast—they can be treacherous in that songs come and go, and scenes come and go at will. The emotional toll this takes on an artist can be quite significant. Not everyone has the stomach for it and I have to truly trust that the person I’m casting will be a team player and up for anything, which includes cuts of material that they might have grown attached to. I made a mistake a few years ago by not thinking thoroughly about this part and I really paid a big price for it.

I am thrilled with our cast –they are all fantastic, funny people that are real pros when it comes to putting together new material. We start on Tuesday and I am so excited to finally get in a room with actors and other artists—my favorite kind of room!

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more! The movies are as much a part of our cultural heritage as any other of the Arts, and all actors should make it their business to know their classic movies, the same way that they should know their characters from Shakespeare. There was life before "Americal Idol"! :-)

    Break a leg! It sounds wonderful...

    Take care,
    Melly G.