Tag Archives: casting director

Casting Director Alison Franck

The National Tour: More Conversations on Casting

Last time around we had an opportunity to hear from Casting Director Bob Kale on the specific challenges of casting a National Tour.  That conversation bled into the much broader topic of auditioning for just about anything, with many more stones to be turned. I reached out to Alison Franck CSA, head of her own casting office (Franck Casting), for another perspective and further conversation on the casting process.

Alison has been casting everything from Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theatre, National Tours, Television, and Film for more than 20 years. She began as an assistant for the legendary casting office Johnson & Liff, where she worked on such modest successes as The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Cats, and Miss Saigon (insert wry emoticon here). She took her formidable skills to the prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse, where over a span of a decade she cast more than 50 shows, including the Broadway transfer of I’m Not Rappaport starring Judd Hirsch, Anything Goes with Chita Rivera, The Full Monty with Elaine Stritch, and The Importance of Being Earnest with Lynn Redgrave. Her work has been seen on TV in the critical hit Freaks and Geeks, in commercials (as a partner at Liz Lewis Casting), and the children’s TV series Peter Rabbit.

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This series is focused on the National Tour, so we start there. I ask, “What should an actor consider before even auditioning for a tour?”

The main thing is, are they ready to live out of a box, a suitcase. And in my honest opinion, I think women have it tougher than men in this aspect.”

“Do you think it’s harder for women in general to be on a tour?”

It seems to me that guys adapt to tour life easier than girls do, but that’s certainly dependent on the individual. And it’s just my opinion, though I did tour for 2 years when I was still acting.”

“Any advice for people on tour for the first time?”

Go out and explore the area. When I would first get to a town, I would go walking by myself, see what was there, how safe I felt. I would see the country. Then I’d come back and work out, and prepare for the show. I was better about this process on my second tour than I was on my first. I just felt that I should use the tour as a real opportunity to see places I’d never been.”

“Some actors go out on tour, make potentially a substantial amount of money, but come home broke. Were you able to come back from your tours with some savings?”

“I was. I wouldn’t say that I was great with money back then, but I learned quickly. And sometimes you have to be willing to pay for your comfort. Do I need a single room this week? Yes. Yes I do. Sometimes you spend more money than you should, but you need that comfort. I would also say that you need to be aware of what is coming, like an unpaid layoff, which can happen frequently. Don’t let those things catch you by surprise.”

“How often does someone turn down a tour offer?”

“We do a lot of casting in advance, and by nature that results in losing people to other work. So we have to go to our backup files 2, 3, 4 times. Sometimes we need to have more auditions, and occasionally that’s the best thing we can do, get some fresh blood in the room.”

“How do you feel about the current practice of self-taped auditions?”

This is my soapbox moment. You need to know what to do and how to do it. Yes, you can use your iPhone. You shouldn’t do it yourself, however, get a friend to help. Don’t procrastinate, do it when you don’t have a job so you can learn. Take a lot of selfies. Take a class if you need to learn the technology. Find a big, blank space to shoot, don’t do it in front of your messy kitchen. Practice by taking selfies, then videotaping yourself with your phone, to know your best angles and where the best lighting is, then start working with friends, having them shoot you, etc. Our smartphones really are a tool to improve how well we do on tape.”

“For theatre, we want to see a full body shot. For TV and Film, a ¾ shot is normal. And make sure that even your self-taped audition is authentic, that it’s not the fifteenth take and you’re a little too polished.”

“How often do you actually look at websites or reels?”

“A lot. I look at it if I’m not sure who a person is, or what they can do. If you are a singer, have a website with some song clips. If you’re a gymnast, a dancer, same thing. Have a reel with shows you’ve been in, so you can show your work. Reels are important for TV and Film, but I will say you can’t throw commercials on a reel (for rights-related issues). Maybe if it’s a non-union commercial, but you have to be very careful about using them.”

“If you are a writer, and you are interested in creating and producing your own work, then I say go for it. It may not go anywhere, but at least you’ll have some material to show people.”

Casting Director Alison Franck
Casting Director Alison Franck

“What kinds of auditions do you remember most?”

“Auditions that make me laugh or excite me. Also, when people truly make me cry I remember them But I don’t think people should use sad material for everything and it shouldn’t be the starting point, but as a contrast to something that shows humor or joy. Someone just made me cry last week and I was blown away. But she had already wowed me with something legit and fun.”

For more information about Alison, please visit www.franckcasting.com.

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Casting Director Bob Kale

THE NATIONAL TOUR: CASTING

Welcome back to our ongoing series on that exotic bird known as the National Tour. Today we jump to the other side of the table and get our info straight from an expert’s perspective.

“What brought me here is that I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Bob Kale has been casting theatre, television and film for more than 20 years. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, he came to New York City to attend Julliard at the age of eighteen, with the intention of becoming an actor. Julliard brought an education that many could only dream of, and from there he went on to study with Sanford Meisner (wow), and eventually became Sandy’s assistant. Mr. Kale went on to do musical scene study with Lehman Engel of the world-renowned BMI Workshop. He trained in voice with Felix Knight, a well-known Metropolitan Opera tenor, and he became an actor for the next 19 years. A happenstance meeting with Barry Moss (who was already casting at the time) at the local dog run led Bob to a partnership of two decades and a career on the other side of the table, where he could use all of his considerable education to help aspiring actors and directors forge relationships. Hughes/Moss, later Moss/Kale and Moss/Kale/Anastasi, would cast big Broadway musicals such as Titanic, The Who’s Tommy, and Jekyll & Hyde, plus the films Jack and Jill, I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry, and television including Cosby Mysteries, FX, Ed, Elmo’s World, and As the World Turns.

Casting Director Bob Kale
Casting Director Bob Kale

I always saw myself as inferior.” He wasn’t, of course, he was a very well-trained actor. But it’s a sentiment most actors can relate to quite easily. How strange it was to hear those words from a man so accomplished. It’s a reminder I guess, that no matter where we are on this path, just starting out or with many miles already logged, we all feel the same things. “I still feel in awe when someone like Maury Yeston or the late August Wilson walk into the room—I think to myself ‘what on Earth am I doing here?’”

In the interest of full disclosure, Bob was my first teacher in New York City. I enrolled in his musical theatre audition class right after I earned my Equity card, and have known, admired, and trusted him ever since. We had a chance to sit down over coffee and he shared his thoughts about the differences and difficulties of casting a National Tour, and the current state of casting in general.

My first question is the most obvious one: “What, if anything, is different about casting a National Tour versus casting a regional production of the same show?”

The numbers. A Broadway show may have a cast of 28, but a tour, where you have to house and transport not just the actors but the crew, the musicians, and so on, may only be able to accommodate a cast of 22. So you have to consolidate. This is where you can have the occasional actor that also covers three roles, but he isn’t genuinely right for one or possibly two of them and wouldn’t have been used in an Original Broadway production. It just has to be that way. And on a first National Tour, these decisions are made by the entire team, the Director, the Choreographer, Composer, Lyricist, everyone. That’s also why ‘tracks’ are created and usually adhered to. Once an actor has learned all of these parts, and costumes exist for each role, a replacement actor will often be very similar to the original both in physicality and interpretation. A hem can be raised, but not always lowered. It sounds inconceivable, but it’s true. And an actor that interprets the tracks in a completely different way throws off the actors who’ve already played 100 or 200 performances and are adjusted to the consistency of the show’s flow. In repertory, it’s essentially a new production and the theatre has purchased the rights to the show or play. It’s theirs to interpret.”

A sampling of Bob's work.
A sampling of Bob’s work.

I went on. “Does it ever come up, that one actor seems to be able to handle the life on the road, whereas another actor may not? Assuming the talent level is the same?”

“It’s like, say you have a final callback. And there are five actors, and they’re all wonderful, and they all bring something different to it. Frankly, they all could be cast. The team narrows it down to three. Who’s going to get the job? The one who seems more pleasant to work with. Can they handle this life on the road? If they are sitting in the waiting area crying because they think they’ve messed up their audition, then they probably can’t. Or if they slam the door on the way out, for any number of reasons, they’re probably not going to be pleasant to work with. There’s a lot of talk in the studio. ‘Do you know so-and-so? Can you call someone and find out what they’re like to work with?’ Happens all the time.”

Me again. “What’s the biggest challenge in casting a Tour, or really, casting anything?”

“The biggest challenge honestly is the audition schedule.”

I look at Bob like I want something more gut-wrenching, more personal, but this is the honest truth.

“When you are down to the final rounds, everybody has to be there: Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, sometimes Stage Management, Producers, Assistants…the list goes on and on. Everyone is signing off on every cast member. So when you’re an actor down to the wire for a show, clear your schedule as best you can according to the CD’s requests. Most of the people in the room are working on three, maybe four projects at once. So if I can get them all in the same room at the same time, I thank my lucky stars.”

“What do you wish actors, especially younger ones, could know to help demystify the casting process?”

“I say to everybody, when I’m doing a seminar or something like that, the only thing you can control is your audition. Everything else is out of your hands. The only thing you can do is be the artist. The business will take care of itself, you show up and do the best work you can do. One audition is probably not the beginning or the end of anything. And if it is, you’re probably not going to know that for a while so why worry? Actors make such a fuss and it’s usually things they are creating in their own mind that get in the way of giving a great audition.”

I have to admit, that part sounds a little too familiar.

Bob then shared this story, from Tony- and Emmy-winner Tyne Daly.
Tyne Daly was dying to be in this production of The Three Sisters, and there was a production being done at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, which was run by Gordon Davidson. She got an audition and she was drilling Mr. Davidson for any information. ‘Gordon, what can I do? I’ve wanted to do this play my whole life, please tell me what can I do?’ Gordon finally looked at her and said, ‘Tyne, it’s a chance to act Friday at two o’clock.’”

“Actors need a perspective, a point of view,” Bob continued, “that each audition is part of a never-ending learning process. You go to an acting class and do a great exercise and that’s wonderful, but the next one won’t be. Or the next one will be average, then another good one, they’re all connected. Do you know the acronym for FEAR? False Evidence Appearing Real. That’s what I would give an actor if I could. That they could let go of the fear and really perceive it as an ongoing education because that’s what it is. Regardless of the impression you get of how the people watching you seem to be responding, you don’t genuinely know, and you mustn’t judge yourself—it’s artistic suicide. Do the best work you can, leave the audition at the studio, and get on with your life! Don’t ruminate on how evil the director is or, even worse, how terrible you are. These things are cerebral BS that just gets in the way of talent and craft. Of course, it’s easier said than done.

BReakFreeI thanked Bob, like I was his student again. Of course that’s exactly what I was in that moment. More than a dozen years ago, when I was actually in his class, most of this information would have travelled right through me with little impact—my mistake, not his. Now I get it. And I’m sure I’ll struggle to remember this solid advice when the chips are down, but if I just take a moment to breathe, the next audition will be exactly what it should be: a chance to act Friday at two o’clock.

Bob Kale is an “Advanced Musical Theater Audition Technique” teacher at the Musical Theatre Conservatory at New York Film Academy, https://www.nyfa.edu/musical-theatre. You can also find Bob’s classes at www.wbworkshops.net, or at his own website, www.bobkaleonline.com.

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The Art and Importance of Asking for Feedback

As I was watching college football the other night, it really hit me. The art of professional acting MUST be a team sport. Artists who do not acknowledge this ultimately do not succeed. It is important to remember that in drama, on stage or screen, every action is a TRANSACTION — which is one of the reasons why people want to hire and work with responsive actors who listen. The artists who think that they themselves have all the answers and are already at their peek are the ones who struggle to get the jobs. Confidence is key, but I believe that at all stages in your career you need an amazing defense, a strong long-term strategy, and most importantly a coach who isn’t afraid to whip you into shape. Like the strongest athletes, every great actor should be listening to a great coach.

Theatre, like football, is a team sport.
Theatre, like football, is a team sport.

In my book, the number one thing that separates good actors from great actors is their ability to hear and respond to feedback. But who is telling artists what they need to hear? There is something amazing that happens when you get cast in a show: you inherit a director.

Suddenly, you have someone to shape your work, and help you see beyond your own limitations. You have a person who is on your side, but is being paid to push you. That person is allowed to question your choices, encourage you to do more and be more, and ask you to reach further inside to make the piece stronger, as a whole. Like a football coach, your director helps you find the plays and puts you in the best position for overall success.

But what about the other ninety percent of your career? All that time when you are trying to get the gig. Ladies and gentlemen —-THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TIME TO ASK FOR FEEDBACK. I cannot stress this enough. I have seen so many actors repetitively complain (mostly on social media!) about how they don’t understand why they aren’t booking work. Rather than becoming introspective, frequently the statements accuse the current casting system of being flawed and not actually serving actors.

Every time I see this kind of statement, I want to reach through the computer and shake the person who wrote it and ask them, “When was the last time you asked for feedback from your audition?” I want to ask them, “When was the last time you hired a coach to go over material with you?” And, “When was the last time you asked a trusted industry friend what they think you could be doing to be more hirable?”

Often times the things that stop you from getting a job are small — so small that you might not even notice you are doing them. If you do not take the time to ask, you will continue to do them. And suddenly, what was once perceived as a small thing might become a large part of your reputation in the industry.

I recently worked with a casting director whom I very much admire. She gives a lot of honest, thoughtful, and unsolicited feedback in the audition room. This is a rare gift!

As I sat through these auditions with her, I always looked to the auditioner to see each individual’s reaction to the feedback — as that said much more to me than their actual audition. Reaction is crucial. The only reason anyone in this industry will take the time to give you feedback is if they actually think you have talent; otherwise they usually won’t waste their time. So when someone takes the time in the audition room to make a suggestion, it is not because they want to hurt you, it is because they are on your team and want you to get the job next time. Listen, take it in, say thank you, acknowledge that the feedback might serve you, write it down — and then implement it.

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However, it would be remiss of me not to remind you that sometimes casting directors, coaches, agents, and friends are just plain wrong. Listening is important.  Trying what they suggest is important.  But being true to yourself is also highly important.  Sometimes you simply have to wait to find the most trusted members of your team — changing completely at the whim of every casting director who saw you for three minutes in not necessarily helpful. It CAN be. But it isn’t always.

Also, sometimes a director or casting director simply can’t give you helpful feedback. They might be extremely busy. They might honestly not remember your audition. Sometimes you didn’t get cast because you were eliminated the second you walked in the room due to something having NOTHING to do with you. So, definitely ask for feedback, but if you are lucky enough to get it, take it with a grain of salt and appreciate that not every casting decision is about you.

Good actors know when to listen to a director, when to hire a coach, and when to seek critique. The BEST actors know how to listen to the feedback they are given and then ACT on it. Actions speak louder than words. THAT SAYING IS TRUE. If you want to be a better auditioner — do it. If you want to have a stronger personal brand — build it. If you want to cultivate a change in your career — make it. Stop talking, and mulling, and conversing. Ask for feedback then get out of your head and walk into the fire.  The text is not enough — and it never has been. Didn’t we all learn that in drama school?

 

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Beyond Performance: How else to make an Artist’s Life

“There is no shame in not having the right personality type to truly thrive in NYC. I am not a failure because I haven’t stayed in NYC. I am a success because I keep adapting to life. Personal and professional growth and transformations are such a huge part of growing up and working towards finding your wisdom, and I am so delighted with my own.” – Corrie Beula Kovacs, owner of Show How, LLC, a Wisconsin based private voice, dance and acting studio

Some of you reading this might be in the professional theatre world, some of you might be starring in your high school musical, and some of you might be packing up your life and getting ready to head off to college to study theatre. I would be willing to bet that all of you at some point as a child thought that you were going to be an actor. I certainly did. I was speaking with a colleague the other day who suggested that when we are children the only representation of the entertainment industry that we see frequently enough to understand is the professional actor. We don’t watch the credits. We aren’t raised on movie sets. Most people don’t fantasize about working as a casting director or as a costume or lighting designer because they don’t really understand that those roles exist. Continue reading

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