We see it all the time in the movies and on Broadway. Producers know that by casting a world-renowned actor or a popular celebrity, there is a greater chance of people buying tickets to the show. Pop singer Carly Rae Jepson of “Call Me Maybe” fame is about to step into the role of Cinderella, Michelle Williams is playing Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Neil Patrick Harris is starring in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are wowing audiences as they perform Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land in repertory. This sort of casting is no mistake.
But I’m not just talking about celebrity casting for the sake of bringing in audiences and making money. I’m looking at casting as the main ingredient to the show’s on-stage success. Think of it like baking. The script is your recipe – hopefully it’s a good one. The oven is your stage – these come in all sizes and varieties. Old, new, convection, gas, electric. Designers have worked to create the perfect space in which to create your masterpiece. The director is the chef – mixing ingredients together, following the recipe, but occasionally also throwing in a dash of something special. You might even have line cooks or sous chefs in the form of your Assistant Director, Choreographer, or Music Director – the other people in the kitchen making the dish come together. The actors are the ingredients, and, as in cooking, you want to make sure you are using the best possible product.
In some cases, you are fortunate enough to be working at a company with a large budget and Equity contracts. You get to choose from a pool of well-trained, experienced, professional actors. This is the Whole Foods of casting. Everyone is polished, and will hopefully bring a level of excellence and pedigree to your production. Like shopping at Whole Foods, though, these actors can be expensive. Most of my casting experiences have been more of a Trader Joe’s sort of experience. You’re not getting all organic, gluten-free products, but everything is tasty, affordable, and fun.
In my work with young actors, I look at the casting process as a farm-to-table sort of experience. We’re picking the fruit right off of the tree, and working with actors who are fresh and eager to learn. There’s not a lot of fancy packaging. The kids are a bundle of raw material. They mostly haven’t yet learned formal acting techniques. At best, some of them are starting singing lessons or dance lessons, or have done a theatre camp. Others are coming in with no experience whatsoever. But they are young and energetic and ready to learn. Then, like in cooking, it’s about finding the most magical balance of these raw ingredients. You need a few stalwart, hard-working pros to provide that good flour base. You need the sweet young sixth graders who just want to play and learn. You throw in a few good eggs – the goofballs who know all about comedy and aren’t afraid to make a big splatter. And, of course, you need a good dash of spice. Too much or too little of one ingredient can throw off the whole dish. There may be a couple of test batches – arranging and rearranging combinations of headshots in order to get the best balance of these flavors. In the end, though, if you take your time, pick the best products, mix them together bit by bit, then really all you have to do is put it in the oven and let it bake.
I just don’t recommend poking your actors with a toothpick to see if they’re ready to perform.