FINDING YOUR ACTORS
When you’re preparing the perfect meal, you need quality ingredients to make it turn out the way you want, right? Same thing with a play. Without actors who can bring your words to life, you’re going to get a soufflé that won’t rise or gnocchi that won’t gnock anyone’s socks off. But where do you find these people? If you’re producing your one-woman show for your best friend to star in, you’re set. If you’re using the member actors of the theatre company you’ve partnered with, ditto. If you’re intimately familiar with the theatre scene where you live and know all the actors personally, you may be able to cast your show just by calling them.
But if you don’t have access to your needed actors, then hiring a casting director is the way to go. A casting director can legitimize your production, not only with actors but with agents who will then be more likely to encourage their actors to audition. A casting director will also provide a range of choices you might never have considered and provide access to actors with specific skills (e.g., French speakers who can juggle fire), whom you might have limited knowledge of. A good casting director will also organize your open call (should you have one), post a breakdown, as well as run the auditions, call-backs and deal with agents—should there be any. A casting director will determine an actor’s availability and will often know whether a given actor is a team player or a diva who might make getting your play up and running—a process that should be fun—an ordeal.
Initially, I hoped to partner with a theatre company and our deal was that five of the ten actors needed for Villa Thrilla would be members. It seemed a fair trade-off for what the company would be bringing to the production—reputation and cash. We agreed we’d network among our contacts to find the other five actors. But as mentioned in an earlier post, “artistic differences” put a kibosh on the co-production and so when we parted, I was in a time crunch and needed help.
Even though I knew a lot of actors and considered myself knowledgeable about the casting process—I’d auditioned and been hired (as well as not hired) enough times to pick up a few things. I figured I’d just call my friends, my Facebook friends and acquaintances and ask them if they wanted to be in the show. But three things soon became apparent: (1) I knew far fewer people who were right for the roles than I thought, (2) most of the people I thought could do it were unavailable and (3) casting the play was a big job that I was ill-equipped to do. So I looked at several playbills for local shows and there were a few casting directors whose names appeared over and over. One of them was Raul Staggs. Raul had cast me in a new play a couple of years before and he was very good. He was personable, professional and I knew he knew the Equity Waiver scene in Los Angeles as well as anyone. So I called him up, we talked, settled on a fee (CDs can charge anywhere from a few hundred to $3000 for an Equity Waiver show, depending…) and that was that.
Raul was wonderful to work with. He was very well organized and did all the heavy lifting. All the director and I had to do was show up to the auditions and make choices, which was hard enough. Raul was the necessary buffer between us, and the many actors we saw, keeping things moving and on schedule. And, as hoped, having Raul on board increased our credibility factor. Actors and agents know him and his reputation so having his name on the project made actors and agents more open to submitting. This was vital-- especially with respect to those actors who were hard-to-find. We needed to cast a wide net beyond our circles, to find them.
One pretty cool thing happened during casting, which requires a little backstory: Early in my TV career (or late, given what didn’t occur after), I worked with Doris Roberts in the waning days of Remington Steele. On that show, we had a fight over an urn. “Back off Blondie,” she told me. “That’s MY urn!” Doris got her urn and I went to jail. But when I first began writing Villa Thrilla and created the role of Camilla, the toilet bowl heiress, whose voice is heard in the play, it was Doris’ voice I heard in my head. Other actresses had read the role as the play was being written, but I couldn’t move forward with casting anyone else until Doris had said “No.” Through our publicist, Lucy Pollak, I contacted Doris’ managers. Then I wrote Doris a letter and was floored when she said she would be the voice of Camilla. She’d always been a fan of small theatre and wanted to help. Raul was the one who encouraged me to ask her, proving you never know until you ask.
This has some bearing on celebrities generally. We’ve all heard about how TV networks, web series, video game producers are all vying for “eyeballs.” Theatre in LA is no different, though we use “butts in seats” as our goal. On Villa Thrilla’s opening weekend, as many as twelve other shows opened in L.A., and we did not get one of the more influential critics to the show. Of course we were hoping for a good review from a good outlet so we could promote the show using stellar quotes. We got a few stellar quotes, but not from the main news source that mattered—the LA Times.
Having a known entity—read celebrity—in your show elevates the chances of getting not only critics to see your show, but paying audience members’ butts in those seats. So note to self: Next time, hire someone in the cast who people will come out for. As Tim Wright, Artistic Director of Circle X Theatre and Producer of the hit, Trevor, told me, “Get Laurie Metcalf in your show and everything else pretty much falls into place.”
Next Post: Choosing Your Design Team