8/11/08 - casting directors

In today's excerpt - Broadway and television casting directors:

"Most [actors are not stars] and most parts are not star parts, and for a combination of the above reasons, most producers hire casting directors. Casting directors are forced, by the nature of their work, to see everything: on Broadway, off, off-off ... etc. Many of them go to the theater five or six times a week. Often, they won't see all of a show, but they'll stay until they've seen all the actors. One of them told me, 'Sometimes I have to see nine things a week, and after seeing nine of them you'd call them 'things' too.' Basically, the reason for hiring a casting director is kind of strange: most theater people go to theater remarkably little: over the years, the simple act of attending has become to unpleasant for them.

"Alan Shayne is a casting director, at first on Broadway, mostly for television now. ... 'The point about casting directors is that it is possible, if you see everything to know more about actors than the producer or director. And your taste, if you have it, is constantly being refined. You've seen the same actor eight times when he comes in to audition, and if he's been fine six of those eight, you know the director is wrong when he says, 'He's no good.' The actor is good, and sometimes that can be helpful in assisting the final selection of a cast. But most often, directors want it easy. They'll say 'Get me X, I've worked with him, he's nice to be around the set, he remembers his lines, and he won't make waves.'

"Shayne maintains an office in the David Susskind complex ... and the room is stuffed with files and pictures of performers. Like most casting directors, Shayne carefully keeps folders on which actors can play which type of roles. Following is a partial listing of types within just one category, 'Character Actors, Male': Jewish, Hungarian, floorwalker, Spanish, spooks, English, nebbish, tough prisoners, cops, old doctors, accents, David Burns, fifties, forties, schticks, leads, classical, judges, old judges.

"Shayne also keeps an insane file. Performers are always sending pictures to casting directors, and Shayne, having been an actor, is very sympathetic to what an actor goes through. But sometimes photographs come in that are so horrendous that if you thought about it seriously you'd cry. So, to keep his sanity, Shayne maintains his insane file: a female impersonator with one breast slightly bulging; a girl blowing bubblegum with the bubble so big it totally obscures her face; 15 amateur cheesecake shots of a homely peroxide blonde; a topless dancer from Frisco with a note accompanying the picture saying she can 'shoot, shout or shit.' "


William Goldman


The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway


Limelight Editions


Copyright 1969 by William Goldman


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