Tag Archives: touring

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.

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.

Photo Credit: NETworks

National Tours: The Major Players

Back for more, eh? We begin our inside look at the National Touring market with a brief review of the major producers and presenters, and a look at some of the major topics surrounding the tour industry.

Before we go too far (or really anywhere), I feel we have to acknowledge the current tour climate. There are Equity (union) tours and Non-Equity (non-union) tours in the market, and there is much debate over the validity, marketing, and financial reality of each. We are not going to pick a side in this argument, nor am I going to spend time on what the separate sides desire. When I was non-equity, I did non-equity tours. And I’ve done Equity tours as well. The differences in many cases are obvious; there’s usually more money in an Equity tour so the production values can be higher, but aren’t necessarily. But I loved all of the shows, most of my co-workers (only human folks), and the experiences.

ThatsAll

Seriously, this topic takes us down a rabbit hole. Suffice it to say I am pro-union, but I believe there is a place for both types of tours, as long as there is transparency from all parties.

I can hear my editors now, “Move on, move on, for the love of all that’s holy, move on!”

Without further ado, here are the major players. This list is neither complete nor comprehensive, nor are they listed in any particular order.

NETWORKS

NETworks has been around for more than 20 years. Their home offices are located in Columbia, Maryland, and they are absolutely one of the leaders in the industry. Currently they are producing the National Tours of Cameron Mackintosh’s The Phantom of the Opera, Dirty Dancing, Elf the Musical, Finding Neverland, Into the Woods, Once the Musical, The Sound of Music, and The King and I. NETworks produces both Equity and Non-Equity tours. Full disclosure: I was on the 2001-2002 NETworks tour of Show Boat. Shown here:

Photo Credit: NETworks
Photo Credit: NETworks

Yeah that’s me. I was young(er) then. Also, “Hi Jodi!” For more information, please visit www.networksontour.com.

 

TROIKA

Any conversation about NETworks has to lead directly into a conversation about Troika, as one is born from the other. Also located in Maryland, Troika produces both Equity and Non-Equity shows, and their upcoming/current season includes Annie, 42nd Street, An American in Paris, Cheers Live on Stage, Love Never Dies, and The Bodyguard. www.troika.com

 

BIG LEAGUE THEATRICALS

Big League (more disclosure) is the producer of the first National Tour I was ever on, 1776. BLT (sorry, couldn’t resist) is actually headquartered in New York City—take that Maryland! Their current season includes A Chorus Line, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story, and The Producers. It appears the current season is all Non-Equity, but past Equity productions have included Guys and Dolls, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Ain’t Misbehavin’.  www.bigleague.org.

 

WORKLIGHT PRODUCTIONS

Worklight is located in Summit, New Jersey (an easy commute into NYC for auditions), and their current season includes the 20th anniversary tour of Rent, Cinderella, Mamma Mia, Crazy for You, and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Worklight also produces both union and non-union tours. www.worklightproductions.com

 

PHOENIX PRODUCTIONS

Another Maryland company (what is in the water down there?), Phoenix has been around for 17 years and is also part of the NETworks-Troika family tree. Phoenix has produced Non-Equity tours, and though a current calendar does not appear available on line, past productions include Ragtime, The Pajama Game, Camelot, and Peter and the Starcatcher. www.phoenix-ent.com.

 

BUT ROB, WHAT ABOUT THE “BIG” TOURS?

Glad you asked.

The “big” tours, and I’m talking about current shows like The Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, Wicked, The Lion King, Hamilton, etc., are a slightly different animal. These shows don’t operate under a separate umbrella company, but rather are produced by the same company that produces them on Broadway (for example, Dodger Theatricals produces Jersey Boys both in New York and on the road). This includes major players like the Jujamcyn Organization, the Nederlanders, Disney Theatricals, the Shubert Organization, and others. Usually this is the case for the major Broadway hits and behemoths that seem like they will never close. My lips to the universe, right?

IS THAT IT?

Hardly. All of these above companies produce primarily big musicals, with the occasional straight play tossed in now and then. But there are several other touring theatre companies out in the world such as:

Theatreworks USA: Perhaps the leading producer of children’s theatre in the country, Theatreworks has been in existence 1961 and has presented theatre to nearly 100 million people across the United States and Canada. Producing both plays and musicals, Theatreworks shows can be lighter fare like Seussical or more serious work like The Diary of Anne Frank. Their alumni include such theatre luminaries as Judy Kuhn, F. Murray Abraham, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Henry Winkler, while directors Jerry Zaks and Gabriel Barre also plied their craft. Theatreworks is an entirely Equity company.

The National Players: Founded in 1949, The National Players are America’s oldest professional touring company. They have primarily performed adaptations of great works of literature (such as Animal Farm and A Tale of Two Cities), and reimagined works of William Shakespeare. The company is an outreach of the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Maryland (seriously, who knew there was all this theatre in Maryland?). From their website: “National Players has performed in 41 states; in the White House; and for American military in Europe, Asia, and the Arctic Circle. Committed to artistic excellence and community engagement, National Players has brought literature to life for nearly three million people.”

Nebraska Theatre Caravan: The Nebraska Theatre Caravan was founded in 1975 as a joint project between the Omaha Playhouse and the Nebraska Arts Council “to bring together a small group of professional performer-teachers for workshops in Omaha and out-state.” Since its inception the Nebraska Theatre Caravan has produced over 100 fully mounted productions, many of which were new works, and has played to 160 Nebraska communities and hundreds of others across the nation. The national tour of A Christmas Carol has performed in over 600 cities in 49 states and 4 Canadian provinces, and has been seen by over 3 million audience members.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Stephen McKay
Photo Credit: © Copyright Stephen McKay

That pretty much concludes the broadest brush I possibly could have used in this article. Obviously there are many, many more companies, but I’ve tried to give you a glance at the ones with the highest visibility. When this series returns we’re going to delve into auditioning, casting processes, and more. If you have updates, corrections, other companies we have overlooked, please feel free to mention them in the comments section, we here at StageAgent can verify and include them. After all, we’re all in this together.

Photo Credit: Kim Fisk

The National Tour: A Beginning Guide

Hello faithful readers! We here at StageAgent are humbly embarking on a multi-part series breaking down that Golden Fleece of an actor’s desire—the National Tour. Over the course of the next several months we will be examining the attraction, benefits, potential downsides, and financial realities of living out of your suitcases for a few months or even a few years. We hope to cover topics that will apply to both Equity and Non-Equity tours, from a 4-person children’s show to a cast of dozens (the Hal Prince Show Boat had a cast somewhere near 70). And as always, if you have specific questions or topics you’d like discussed further, just leave us a comment and we’ll do our very best to address them all.

Photo Credit: Kim Fisk
Photo Credit: Kim Fisk

I feel we must start with some sort of definition as to what qualifies as a National Tour. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) at the hours that are spent trying to decide on a resume what is a tour and what isn’t. At the most basic level, a National Tour is a show that is presented across various locations in multiple states. It can be union or non-union. You can run for a few weeks, perhaps during the holiday season, or nearly 20 years (here’s looking at you, The Lion King). When a show goes directly from Broadway to the road, it can be called the First National Tour, then as casts change you can be the Second, or Third, though at this point I’m not sure there’s really a difference. Actors like to label things, especially if it helps the resume.

The tour can often be that first carrot to a young actor fresh out of college. They are attractive for many reasons: there’s a certain prestige, hopefully a good salary, and the chance to hone your skills and craft over potentially hundreds of performances, just to name a few. Tours can also appeal to seasoned veterans of the theatre, as they offer a chance to “get out of town” and regroup; perhaps they can save some money while subletting an apartment, or play a great role they’ve always wanted to play. So with these notions before you, we ask the question, “Why wouldn’t I want to do a tour?”

There’s a lot to recommend, but the tour is not without complications. First of all, if you are a young actor, your goal is to get established in whatever city you call home base. (Tours cast all over the country by the way, everywhere from New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando; I’ve even seen Salt Lake City.) So the very nature of doing a National Tour is contrary to that goal, as you simply won’t be around for anyone to get to know you. But these cities carry a high cost of living, so getting out of Dodge to save some money might not be the worst idea.

One of the sheer joys I currently have in my life is my ability to go to my show and then…go home. I don’t have to leave my family for months at a time; they are right there where I left them when I got on the train to NYC. But of course on tour, it’s unlikely (not impossible) that you will have your loved ones with you. On top of that, you’re basically committed to spending a huge amount of your time with the people in your show. That can be great, some of my best friends in life came from the tours I was lucky enough to do. But what if you don’t really connect with anyone on the road, or worse, actually dislike being with them? There’s not much escape. In a union tour you have the option of your own room (because you usually pay for it from your per diem—that’s a later post), but on a non-union tour you probably have a roommate, unless you’re a star. Personal example: I played Ravenal (the male lead) in a Non-Equity tour of Show Boat, and I shared a room with not one but two cast mates, both very good friends, to save money. We would get a room with two beds, and every third week, one of us would sleep either on a cot or on the floor. Hi ho, the glamorous life.

 Photo Attribution: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons
It hasn’t gotten this bad…yet…  (Photo Attribution: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons)

And while there is certainly a lot to be said for doing the same show literally hundreds of times, maybe it’s not for you. Maybe you’re the kind of actor who prefers a summer stock or rep company approach, where you do something different every so often (perhaps every night). For clarity’s sake, in the largest tours (and of course on Broadway) if you are lucky enough to be employed for a solid year and never miss a performance, you’ll do 400 performances of the same show (8 performances a week x 50 weeks, assuming you use your vacation weeks). That might not sound appealing to everyone.

Also you have to consider what it is you would be asked to do. We can assume that you auditioned for the job, but maybe you got a role that doesn’t interest you, or a chorus position when you were dying to play the lead. Perhaps you auditioned for a touring children’s theatre company, but upon being hired you realized that not only were you the star of the piece, but also the assistant stage manager and van driver, and that you would be loading and unloading set pieces at the crack of dawn into school “gymnatoriums.” I’ve seen people quit Broadway shows while in rehearsal when they realized they weren’t happy with what they were charged to do. Shocking, but it does happen.

You need to be armed with all the information possible. From my perspective, everyone should tour at least once. You should know the feeling of being a tight-knit community, bound together in strange cities both small and large. You need to know what it takes to perform night after night, sometimes with variations in your environment (less wing space, no crossover, dressing room on the fifth floor). I haven’t seen very much of the world, but I’ve seen 48 of the 50 states (Hawaii and Montana, if you’re wondering), and that’s all because of the handful of tours I’ve been on.

So welcome to the touring series, we’ll be exploring such topics as financial practices, how to pack, how to stay healthy, housing options, when it’s time to go home, the major players in the touring market, and many other topics. Let us know your questions! Till next time…

jefferson

News, thoughts, opinions and advice for the performing arts community.