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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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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

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