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.
“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.”
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.
I 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.