DIRECTOR, EDUCATOR & ADVOCATE
April 8, 2020
G = GET CAST
David Connolly (D) in conversation with Stephanie Gorin (S) for Matinee to Z,
a series of Instagram Live Master Classes developed in response to Covid-19.
D: Hi! We did it!
S: I had a practice run with a friend yesterday and it took 40 minutes, so I wanted to make this one better.
D: We did it! How are you doing?
S: Oh, you know, good... as we all are right?
D: Thank you so much for doing this. It’s so good to see you. We're going be joined by a whole bunch of Musical Theatre students, and it will be available to them for 24 hours online.
S: You know how much I hate musicals.
D: If you're just joining us, Stephanie is the country's leading expert on musical theatre auditions. Expert on many things actually. But you have seen more auditions than anybody else in the country right?
S: I would guess, I would guess that's true, yes. I probably saw more than anybody else in their lifetime doing Dear Evan Hansen - that was a big one.
D: Do you have a ball park number of how many people you saw?
S: Close to 2000. Personally, as opposed to having a big team. I saw everybody. Pretty nutty.
D: OK, so as the expert, let us imagine that we're already past the point of “the actor is prepared,” 'cause I think we all agree that that's the biggest problem most of the times, but let's say that they're prepared. What's the biggest mistake people make?
S: Well, you’re right. I think it's important to be prepared. For Dear Evan Hansen, some had to come in with 40 pages. And to know the genre of the show. If you’re doing your own piece, you want to pick something that's really going to show you off and not necessarily something difficult… thinking that a difficult piece will somehow be more appreciated. That's not the case, it's better to do something simple, and make it interesting.
D: I love that. So putting a personal spin on a standard or something simple is more interesting than Sondheim.
S: There’s a musical theatre actor who I’ve known as long as I’ve known you, and he has a party piece, “Blah, blah, blah, blah” and he does it in a very unique way, and it's extremely funny, and I've seen it quite a few times over the years and it's always good. It's good because it's not what you expect, you know what I mean? For me, I always want see that an actor is actually connected to the material and it's not just somebody standing there singing because hopefully everybody can sing who comes in. But you want to know there's a connection to that material - that they’re understanding what they’re saying. I’d rather have somebody do something they've done many times but they allows them to emote. Yeah, for me, that’s more important. A music director may think differently, they may say, “just give me the high C.”
D: In the casting process… in those first glance casting sessions, which are you looking for more? Is it just to see if they can sing? Or do you need to make sure they’re nailing the acting?
S: For me, I’m always looking to see if they can act. Always. Obviously the music is very important, and I have a musical ear, I get all that, but I have seen sometimes people who have great voices not get the part because the acting isn’t good enough so for me that’s always been a very important part - the acting of the song.
And bringing your personality to it. You know, when you’re auditioning for a particular part in a show, and singing a song from that show, you're going to wanna do it with the truth to the piece, or what that story is all about. If you’re coming in for Little Shop Of Horrors... But for some reason, you felt like, I want to do this piece from Carousel, and put a spin on it that makes it work for Little Shop of Horrors… that’s interesting.
D: Does that perk you up? In the course of seeing 100 people in a day. That’s something you look forward to?
S: Sure! It’s entertaining, it's like if you're gonna watch the same series on TV, over and over and over again, they gotta do something to make you laugh or smile or appreciate what it is that you’re seeing... which doesn’t mean it always has to be unique, it's just about being committed to the words and understanding what you're saying as you’re saying it.
D: I love that! You heard it here folks. Now, I know that actors have a tendency, a desire to impress a casting director, especially you, with new work and I find sometimes that will sabotage them. If their intention is to impress you as opposed to just share who they are. Does that make sense?
S: It does. If you’re someone who has an incredibly high belt, you’re going to want to show that off for a contemporary musical. You do wanna show it off, it's gonna be impressive to everybody in the room and that's required for most contemporary musicals nowadays. So there are certain cases where you do wanna impress.
And sometimes you may have been doing a piece for so long that you wanna switch it up and that makes you more inspired as well. I have seen people sabotage themselves by doing a number that they think this really good because they’ve seen a singer who suits that number better do it, even though that's not always the best thing for you.
And remember to look to your strengths. If you are a glorious singer, you want to show off glorious notes, do that. But if you're someone who’s a fabulous actor, don’t do that. Instead, find a piece that you’re really connected to emotionally.
D: Loving all of that. What’s your advice in regards to what should be in that audition binder?
S: It’s good to have pieces from different genres at different tempos. I think it's really good to have some of your pieces shortened as well because sometimes when people bring in pieces that are too long and it seems a little self indulgent. And we know quickly... We really know. So if you can take that piece that goes on for three minutes and shorten it to a minute and half to two minutes, that's even better.
Obviously not if it's a piece from the show and they ask you to do, but if you're doing your own piece, they're gonna wanna get into something else, and if they do want more, they'll either ask for more of that particular piece or they’ll ask for a different piece. So having shorter versions is a great thing to have.
D: Awesome. How long would you say it takes for you to know?
S: I know pretty quickly usually, but it's difficult because with certain shows, say that require a high belt, it might be that that person actually has it but they’re just not singing it quite the right way. Either not flipping it or placing it quite the right way… so with them, you need to spend time.
It’s hard because sometimes you have a great voice but you have to explore the acting or sometimes vice versa. Such a good actor, we need to work with them more musically… So then we work with the music director, usually someone I know very well who I have a good shorthand with and say, “Can you get them to do this…?” so they spend time doing that.
D: That was nice to hear. It’s nice for these young, emerging performers to hear that you do spend the time and then it doesn't have to be at 100% in one minute - that you actually have time and know that it’s in the best interest of the casting director to recognize potential and take time to hone it.
S: Especially if it's a long-running show, you do have to look for people who could get there in the future.
D: And so, you'll spot people in the first round and maybe don't make the first cast, but you file them for the future.
S: Oh yes, happens all the time.
D: Are you working on projects during this time?
S: I’m helping with a couple of things that are applying for funding. So kind of working and not working. We’re going to be doing something for EBoss, where some of the actors were challenging casting directors to do a piece. And so we're gonna be doing that to raise some money for the Actors Fund. But even if people just all gave a toonie or whatever, just to raise some money for the AFC which supports not just performers, but anyone in the artistic community. And I will do another one with Casting Workbook as well. I think it’s a good time to fundraise.
D: We’ll all look for that. I can’t wait for that. So follow Stephanie on Facebook to catch that!
Moving on to self tapes. There’s 100 questions about how to do those well.
S: Well, if you're doing them on your phone, hold it horizontally because we usually end up loading it to the casting workbook and if it’s vertical we get two big black lines down the sides and very little of the person that's... so always hold it horizontally.
Honestly, you don't need to have anything fancy, you can just set it up and put a blue sheet behind you - blue is always a good colour to go with. Not black or white. And enough light so there aren’t a lot of shadows but it doesn’t have to be fancy schmanzy lighting. Then, play music on another device and record.
I prefer slating at the end and I don’t like long slates unless they’ve asked you specific questions to answer - can you dance, can you play the violin, but normally, I just like, name, height and location.
D: OK, more questions. Do you see crashers?
S: Generally, I don't like to see crashers because we almost always have an open call or people write and we’ll get them to tape or give them a time. We try to see as many people as we can. If you do crash, you better have a very short piece. That's the best thing. If you can manage to get in… don’t waste time. Just head to the piano and have your 16 or 32 bars ready to go and be willing to wait for hours and take a book. It’s better if you can organize a time by sending in a tape and getting invited. But I got my first Equity job crashing. I had to wait all day.
D: Come on! For what?
S: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I waited 8 hours.
D: I love that story. Does social media influence casting?
S: It certainly doesn’t influence me in the world of musicals. Definitely not. But if there are specific requirements, like if someone has a super duper high pop belt that we’re having trouble finding, I will search. Or if we need a young kid or when I did Aladdin the musical, I did search online for talent who might not be know. So we have found people that way.
For film and tv, in regards to instagram followers, if you get into the millions, especially films that have a lower budget, like they maybe in the 2.5 million dollar range - they might be looking for people who might help sell the film. So it is useful.
D: Is there any smart censorship we should consider? Are there any kinds of opinions or images that maybe, if you're casting a Disney show you don't want to see on social?
S: I think now we don't want see a person just getting out of jail. That would be bad. I have seen it only a couple of times my whole career, but it can adversely affect, yes.
D: Okay, there's a question about self-taping for a musical, when the medium wants you to play small but you feel like you need to deliver musical-sized energy. Thoughts?
S: I don't think that acting is the same as used to be, when you and I did it, way way back, when the bigger sort of musical theatre style was more common. Which is not to say there weren’t a lot of amazing performers, there were. But musicals have changed and become more naturalistic.
So the naturalistic style is now more acceptable. With a TV acting energy. And same for the singing… You don't have to bounce it off the back wall. Everyone has a mic on these days - although it still has to be well supported and sound great. The great thing about tape is that you can do it over an over again and send in what you think is best.
D: So, in your career, you’ve seen a shift in the trend in musical theatre. What should we be focusing on these days? We have a lot of time in our hands and we're encouraging all of these great students to learn new pieces. Is there a genre we should be looking to?
S: I don’t think there’s a should or shouldn’t. What I do recommend it to watch a lot. Like for film and tv, you want to watch a lot of different programming - both Canada and the US, and different networks to study different styles and how they change. And I think you have to do the same thing with musicals - keep up-to-date with what's out there, the old and the new... And there's always the opportunity to really learn something and say, would I fit in this musical and where I fit?… and be honest with yourself. To maybe say, “I’m not right for the lead, but boy I would love to be in this show.” So educating yourself on different musicals and styles and learning new music whether it suits you or not, so at least you’re familiar with it.
D: Do you ever see monologues when you're auditioning for musicals?
S: I haven't seen that in years. I think that a few people did that way back, maybe for Lord of the Rings, but that was more of a play with music. That is extremely rare. If somebody was really terrible time with the sides and the director was in the room… let’s say they’re not getting the comedy - certain directors might ask for a funny piece. Or can you tell me a joke… I’ve seen that a lot.
D: Do you think people underestimate the value of comedy when choosing material?
S: Yes, often people take things too seriously and they think it all has to be drama, drama, drama. It’s far more interesting to watch someone try not to cry than it is to see them crying.
D: Okay, do you prefer that sides be memorized?
S: Well, if someone has to turn it around quickly and it's just me, I don't expect that to happen. If you're very good at memorizing and you're not walking into the audition just going, “Hey, I’m gonna show that I've learned these lines,” but you haven't actually committed to the reason behind the lines, there’s no point doing it then. It's much better to just come in as a better actor. What's really smart is to learn the beginning of it and the end of it and if you have to glance in between, then do that.
D: Amazing. So for those who don't know, 'cause we have some new people on, can you explain a little about the process of casting and generally speaking, what’s your involvement?
S: Well, it depends if I'm the first person doing it. I was just about to start casting “And Juliet.” We were about to start casting the week after everything shut down. I had 275 actors all ready to go. It's funny because they did it London, but it was such a process over there because it wasn't all completely written, they wrote the comedy for the people in it, so they mostly managed to get sides put together for me. Then I had to do some adapting and a little bit of changing whereas if I have to start from scratch, which I’ve done before, it means I have to create the sides and get them all approved and get the team to create musical tracks so the actors can practice with it, or if the actors are out of town - with the melody and without. A musical like “And Juliet” doesn’t have the same kind of access for actors to become familiar as most, so I want to help in every way I can.
So, I put out the breakdown, and I go through every submission - I look at the resumes more than the photos. We might do some investigating, and might ask the agent, if I don't know the person if there’s a sample of their singing… and then if we're not finding what we need or it's something complicated than I will put it out on a lot of open call kind of forums as an open call and if it's not got a huge budget, I might be watching everybody on tape first. I watch all the tapes, I'll get feedback sometimes or do a Skype call with them to work through the music so they can tape it again. Then either I get to pick who comes back or, if it's a tape situation, I might send tapes to the team. But generally, people come to me and then generally I decide who I feel should come back for the team.
D: When you’re looking at those resumes, what are you looking for?
S: Experience but also training. Training is a big one.
D: For young people?
S: Absolutely, the training is a big deal. I love to see if they've got acting training. And again, it depends on the musical. If we're doing a more contemporary musical and they’ve only been to the Royal Conservatory…
D: There are a few questions about agents. And how does that impact your decision making?
S: There are some agents in the city who represent musical theatre performers and I respect their opinions greatly. So if they've got someone very new and they say, "I know they have done nothing, but you really need to see them” then chances are we'll see them because I know that they’ve been scouting. It’s like having a field agent. I hire people from all sorts of agencies for sure.
D: Is there one story you had sticks that in your mind of someone you discovered?
S: Well, I suppose you could say a lot of these people are found aren’t they? If you look at the search we did for Dorothy, right? That was an open call and we toured the whole country for that. And a lot of them went on to Broadway and are working all over the place and we did the same thing with Sound of Music and many of them went on to greater fame, I suppose, you could say.
Yvan Pednault we found at an open call for We Will Rock You in Montreal. He barely spoke any English, had never acted in English. But he came to this open call and sang “We Are The Champions” and it was just the most unbelievable thing to hear. We would just sit and pray to find someone who could hit those high notes effortlessly. Members of Queen said he was the best they’d heard since Freddy Mercury. And he had to act in English and he could act, he just naturally could act, even though he'd never done it, that was a very exciting moment.
It’s so exciting when someone walks into an open call who just… like Danielle Wade… and now she’s leading a first National Tour.
Yeah, it's pretty great. There’s lot of, there's a lot of young people who've gone on. There were a lot from Lion King. Chantelle Riley for example went onto Lion King in Germany. She came to an open call here, working as a receptionist at an office, she went to Germany and then ended up playing Nala on Broadway for a number of years. Then I auditioned her for a movie called, Race, she got that. Then I brought her up to audition for Frankie Drake, nobody knew her and she got one of the leads. So you never know when you’re going to find somebody.
It’s exciting when anybody gets a job though, you feel good.
D: Such a legacy you have.
S: Well I see so many people, the odds of me discovering someone are greater.
D: You also have an unparalleled radar. Let's give credit where credit is due.
S: Thank you.
D: OK, so I’m walking in the audition room, my nerves are shot. Do you have any advice for those people? I think so often actors put so much at stake in in those very important minutes they have with you?
S: Well, that sounds like you David. When you were first starting.
D: Yup, 100%.
S: Yeah, remember what it was like to when I was performing. I think you have to think of the audition as an invitation to the party or you have to think of it like a chance to perform. Doesn't matter whether you get the job or not. Hopefully you're a performer, not because you have stars in your eyes, not because you think you're gonna make a fortune, 'cause that's a rare for anybody, but because you love it, it makes you feel good. So I say, just go thinking, “Hey, I have an audience." Just be warm and friendly and try to enjoy it. And leave knowing you had a chance to perform, and isn’t that why we’re performers?
D: And we say this all the time but you want them to succeed, right?
S: The last thing you want is 10 people in a row coming in who can’t sing the material. The other thing, speaking of that, that I would suggest is that we do have a limited amount of time. So I really, truly appreciate it when someone cannot sing the material and they say, “I’d love to come in for this but it’s really outside my range.” And sometimes I’ll say, well how close are you? Because certain musicals might take certain songs down a semi tone… but I really appreciate when you know yourself well enough to know whether you can do it or not. There’s no point coming in if you know you’re going to do a bad job.
D: Segue, sickness. If I'm feeling under the weather or my voice isn't up to par, should I still come in, explain that and do my best or should I just re-schedule?
S: I have seen people sing through it but it tends to be people who've been around for a very long time. I think if you are really under the weather… for one thing, you shouldn’t bring it into the room. I've seen that happen before, and I've seen members of the team get sick. I wouldn't audition unless you truly felt you could sing it well. If your acting is brilliant, then go ahead and come in and do it, but if you don't feel like you can sing the top of it, don't come in and make excuses. Just cancel because chances are there’ll be another shot. If you're at a final call back and you’ve been seen a few times, that Casting Director may be able to vouch for you. I say just send a note through your agent of your situation and let us decide whether or not we should see you anyway. And then you can make a tape afterwards, when you’re better.
There's a good one that I see come up with from an actor asking about wanting to become a swing. A lot of people don’t want to be swings because they think, Oh, I’m not on stage all the time but it is the hardest job. If you’re a good swing, oh my gosh, you could work all the time. And it's also an interesting job. I mean, you have to have a good brain for it, you have to be able to remember a lot of different things. You have to be taking copious notes on where you go in each one, you have to be a triple threat, you have to sing and dance and act. But if you’re not just quite right to play a role, maybe you land somewhere in between. But chances are you’ll have to go on for those different roles. I know some people from all kinds of shows that have chosen to stay swings and they make a career of it, and they're great and people love them. And if you've got that kind of mind and attitude... That's amazing. But I have other people, who started as swings and have wanted to do more and they go on to play the role. To be a swing means you need to be friendly and easy going. You need someone very easy going.
D: Advice for an older actor who's just starting out?
S: It’s probably easier for an older actor, just starting out, who isn’t a musical performer, 'cause for musicals, there are a lot of people who have been around a long time and there are very few spots. But for tv and film actors, there are thousands and thousands of jobs. You can get a day role or that sort of thing. If it’s an older actor, starting out, I’d suggest that you take one or two of those courses run by professionals, so that’s on your resume and that you have training because if you do get the job, you want to do well. If it's for a musical, it's the same as everyone else. You just keep training and hope that it happens. But you’ll be up against people who have 20 or 30 years of training ahead of you.
D: So much love for you, so many people thanking you, just so much love, so well deserved.
So any advice for the actor who feels like… "I've tried to get into these big musicals, I want to, it's my dream, it's what I dreamed of. I just feel like I can't bring in.” Do they keep trying, do they move on, how do they know when to do that?
S: How does anybody know really? I think that you have to just keep doing it as long as you’re enjoying it. but you always have to have other things in your life. You have to. I was lucky because, you know, you and I worked quite a bit. I wasn’t playing leads but I loved being in shows, period. So I was very happy to jump from theatre to theatre. But I also loved anything to do with the theatre. I worked in Stage Management, Company Management, I taught theatre all over North America and I loved it all. And then eventually found casting which I loved and still kept me close to the industry. So I think it's important to make sure you have some another healthy hobby. It doesn't have to be in the industry. Maybe you love gardening, maybe you love writing, maybe you do real estate on the side, something to keep you sane because it’s a fantastic industry but it’s difficult.
It's important for music theatre performers to also learn more about tv and film because I think we should all be in all mediums because that gives you the opportunity to do something else.
D: So it’s a myth that a musical theatre performer is too big for film and television?
S: It’s not true and you can be taught. Do everything you’re doing. Just don’t yell. I remember we wanted Colm Wilkonson to play a priest on a tv show. And he had always done very big stuff and I brought him in and spent about an hour with him. We just minimized it all and gradually moved the reader closer and closer, and the chairs were very close together. And it's not that he wasn't a really fantastic, connected actor but he always had to fill space. It’s a great tip to get my reader to go within a foot of a music theatre performer. And then remind the actor to talk to them, don’t talk at them. And that's something to think about.
D: A great thing to think about.
S: There’s a question about do I look at portfolios. What’s a portfolio? No.
D: Advice for a reel for someone just starting out? Should they include class work?
S: Definitely take classes and I will look at a short amount of class footage. It’s better to try to get in a student film. So many colleges do student films, try to get on their radar. Just have something that looks professional and is short. A minute and a half is plenty.
D: Okay, 16 bar cut. What are you looking for?
S: Money notes.
D: Someone’s asking about singing material that's outside your type, which I guess might mean physical, might mean your age…
S: That’s fine. That’s fun. Don’t you think that’s fun?
D: I think that's so fun. I think that as long as someone's bringing their real life experience to the piece. People get so caught up in these labels.
Somebody asked about look and I guess I would extend that to mean when there's a Broadway show that’s coming to Canada that you’re casting, how important is it that people look like the original company?
S: I think shows are being much more open and modernizing a lot more nowadays. So you get all shapes and sizes now. Luckily everybody doesn't have to be skinny, mini, kick your head types. It’s happily the same with film and television, with all the diversity of shapes and sizes. You wanna see yourself up there.
So for an audition, unless you're actually auditioning or a specific show, for a specific part, there's no reason why women can’t look at male songs and males can’t look at female songs. Just make sure it suits your vocal range, but after that, it’s all possible. And it’s fun.
D: And that I heard such a collective sigh from all over the country. That's wonderful advice. We need to let Stephanie go because it's time.
S: It’s tea time!
D: That’s right. Thank you so much Stephanie on behalf of everyone watching and everyone who will be watching, we so appreciate what you've done for this industry in this country, your legacy is incredible.
S: I’m not dead!
D: I just feel like there aren’t enough intersections along the path where we get to just stop like this. And really take stock of how fortunate we are to know the people we know in music theatre, especially .
S: Musical theatre people are amazing. I love the joy that musical theatre brings. Let's face it, especially during this period. That's what's so wonderful to see all people performing on Facebook or doing this sort of thing for each other and it's so enlightening. It just makes you feel great to see how people are banding together. And even without what's going on, that there's a lot of people in the musical theatre world who… just the feeling you get from watching a musical or being in one or helping to create one or whatever… that joy is what's gonna get us through this. And at the end of it, I think we'll have a lot more musical fans hopefully who used to stick at home, and just watch tv, hopefully they’ll all come out to see live.
D: I agree wholeheartedly. So let's keep singing let's keep dancing and let's keep supporting each other in any way that we can. Thanks Stephanie.