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Meanwhile #10 is all about “casting.”
No, it isn’t about making casts, which are often used to create sculptures, manufacture machinery, and mend broken bones. In the theatre world, casting is the process of finding actors to perform particular roles in plays.
Casting is a long, complicated and laborious process. It is also an important, essential and delicate one.
Plays are not products. They are artistic creations that are collaborations with (sometimes hundred of) artists. The performance is also a collaboration — between the artists on stage and the spectators in the auditorium.
Part of the casting process includes discovering new talent, which is something that SnL explore in this week’s Check In From Away. SnL speak with past participants and winners of Canadian Idol who went on to theatrical careers.
We also profile Stephanie Gorin, one the top casting directors in Canada and the person who has cast many of the biggest shows produced by Mirvish.
Finally, we give you the opportunity to be part of the casting process. In Isolation Idol you can create your own audition video and send it in for your chance to win.
CHECK IN FROM AWAY - EPISODE #6
Between 2003 and 2006 viewers across the country were glued to their TVs watching Canadian Idol, a competition show that gave young singers the opportunity to be discovered. The show was good, clean fun and showcased some superbly talented performers, many of whom launched their careers through the show. Four of those Idols are the guests of SnL — well, actually, three Idols are guests; the fourth is co-host Steffi D, who was a finalist in Canadian Idol Series 4. All four have gone on to stellar careers in musical theatre. The fifth guest is Idol judge Jake Gold, a legendary figure in the music business. Warning: Fasten your seat belt, because this episode features lots and lots of pop-song singing, with lots of spectacular belting.
By Antonio Tan
TRIPLE THREATS WE'VE DISCOVERED
In the musical The Producers by Mel Brooks (a show that’s often quoted in our office), a pair of Broadway producers figure out it’s much easier to make more money with a flop than with a hit. Besides being a brilliant satire of show business, The Producers is almost by default a step-by-step guide to theatre producing: finding the script, getting the rights, assembling the creative team, raising the money, and finally, casting the show.
The bumbling producer/con artists believed that by casting the worst actors in what they thought was the worst show they would be guaranteed a flop and they could take the money and fly off to Rio. However, the actors, and the show itself, were so bad that they were good: the show became a hilarious hit and the producers ended up in jail.
To be clear, no theatrical producer of sane mind would intentionally want to produce a turkey. (At least that we know of.) In real life, all producers want to bring together all the best elements to create the best production. Which is why casting can either make or break a show.
In theatre, we look for talent in various ways.
The tried-and-true method is to look to actors who are already established and well-respected and invite them to closed auditions.
Another proven way is to cast a “star” whose high profile and reputation will help sell tickets.
Or, if the show needs young performers, we may look to the general public through open call auditions to find exciting new talent.
A good example is the title role in Billy Elliot, a part that requires a boy around 10-years-old who is a “triple threat” – someone who can sing, dance and act at very high levels. That’s something you can’t find through the traditional methods. You need to look far and wide – at dance studios, at schools, at community theatre groups, at church choirs. In the end, for Toronto four boys were found who rotated in the part (because expecting a 10-year-old to perform eight times a week is a stress no child should need to endure).
Another high-profile show that used open call auditions was The Who’s Tommy in 1995. On Broadway the show launched the career of Tony-winner Michael Cerveris. For Toronto, The Who’s guitarist and composer Pete Townshend and director Des McAnuff were adamant on finding a raw, undiscovered talent in Canada. Through nationwide auditions, they found Tyley Ross, who would go on to have star turns at Stratford, Shaw and on Broadway.
Winnipeg teenager Jeremy Kushnier was also found at a Tommy open call in that city. Tommy launched his career. He would go on to be in the ensemble of our production of Rent, before hopping on a bus to New York to attend another open call. At that audition he landed the lead role of Ren (the Kevin Bacon part) in Footloose on Broadway. Since then he’s established a career on Broadway, with his newest project being the new James Lapine/Tom Kitt/Michael Korie musical Flying Over Sunset at the Lincoln Center Theater. In Toronto he’s starred as Radames in Aida at the Ed Mirvish Theatre and also as Tommy De Vito in Jersey Boys (opposite a then-unknown Andrew Rannels).
When we produced the original Canadian production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rent in 1997, we needed a diverse cast of raw talent who could convincingly portray Bohemian twenty-somethings in New York’s East Village. We found that in spades with open call auditions across Canada, finding a young American named Jai Rodriguez making his professional debut here before becoming one of the original Fab Five in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He played Angel in our production.
In 2007, we presented the Canadian premiere of We Will Rock You, the smash hit West End musical featuring the songs of Queen. Again that show required extraordinary singers who could belt out rock songs, but also needed a lead who could channel Freddie Mercury. At a Montreal open call, we discovered Yvan Pedneault who could do just that. He would later star in our production of Rock of Ages in 2010 and be a runner-up on the Quebec television version of The Voice.
Later on, reality TV competitions like American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent became au courant. Unlikely stars like Susan Boyle were instantaneously anointed by the public and made into celebrities overnight.
Seeing the popularity of the genre, composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber entered the fray. Partnering with the BBC he developed and judged a reality television competition specifically for his London production of The Sound of Music called How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? in which he let the public choose the star. This was successful on a few fronts: it promoted the production but also allowed viewers to become emotionally entangled with the journeys of the contestants, helping to make the winner a household name and hopefully translating into ticket sales for the stage production.
Banking on the success of that initial experiment, Lloyd Webber went on to produce another reality TV open call casting competition looking for a Dorothy for his new production of The Wizard of Oz (for which he also wrote new songs with Tim Rice) in London. Like his Maria show, he wanted to cast an actress more age-appropriate for the role, for gone were the days when middle-aged actresses could play convincing young novitiates or teenagers from Kansas.
When David Mirvish set out to produce Toronto productions of The Sound of Music in 2008 and The Wizard of Oz in 2011, it was decided to replicate the television casting shows in Canada. And so, our own Canuck versions of How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Over the Rainbow were created, produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Elicia Mackenzie was voted our Maria in The Sound of Music; she would go on to star in our production of Rock of Ages in 2010 opposite Yvan Pedneault. The pair would then do an international tour of Notre-Dame de Paris playing romantically off each other in the roles of Esmeralda and Phoebus.
Janna Polzin, the runner-up in the Maria show, became the alternate Maria in The Sound of Music, performing two matinees a week. A.J. Bridel and Stephanie La Rochelle who were the runners up in the Dorothy show eventually made it to the Mirvish stages a few years later. A.J. played Lauren in our production of Kinky Boots, belting out “The History of Wrong Guys”, and Stephanie played the heartbreaking Zoe Murphy in our production of Dear Evan Hansen, a role she’s currently reprising in the North American touring production of the show.
Danielle Wade was voted our Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. After the Toronto run, she and the Mirvish cast of The Wizard of Oz embarked on a year-long national tour across North America.
Sadly, the reality TV open call competition hasn’t been done again since our last foray in 2011. Since then, there hasn’t been another show with a role that’s iconic enough to capture the public’s imagination and desire for a competition.
And what about open casting calls in general? Why don’t we do them more often?
“We always look first to the extraordinary talent pool that already exists in Canadian theatre,” says David Mirvish. “But sometimes we need to look for new talent. We’ve always had great success finding it here and across our country.”
So if you’re a member of the general public and want a chance to make it big on one of our stages, keep your eyes open for that casting notice.
You could be the next star in one of our shows.
Check future Meanwhile issues for more theatre and showbiz DID YOU KNOW? trivia by Antonio Tan.
In this week’s episode of Check In From Away, SnL take a look at some Canadian Idol competitors who have performed on our stages. They aren’t the only idols that we have welcomed to our theatres. From Hugh Jackman to Tallulah Bankhead to Kathleen Turner we have seen our fair share of superstars. Whether you realize it or not our stages have also been the launching pad for many noteworthy talents. I thought it might be fun to take a look at five Canadian Idols who got their starts on our stages.
To start let’s reach way back, to America’s first Sweetheart who was actually Canadian. Gladys Louise Smith was a struggling actress who toured with her mother and siblings. In January 1909 Smith appeared on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in The Warrens of Virginia under her newly minted stage name: Mary Pickford. From our stage Pickford went on to an unfathomably successful fifty-year-long career on the silver screen as an actor, producer and co-founder of United Artists.
Fast-forward to 1943, the curtain is about to rise on Arsenic And Old Lace with a young Barbara Hamilton in the company. After this production, Hamilton would tour with The Canadian Players and eventually go on to join the cast of the Revue, Spring Thaw (produced by another Canadian idol, Dora Mavor Moore). Her seven-year stint with the revue earned her the title, “The Funniest Woman in Canada.” She would go on to debut the role of Marilla in Anne of Green Gables in Charlottetown and in London. Over her illustrious career she set a record by performing on the Royal Alexandra stage in 14 different productions. Her career came full circle as her final professional performance took place in Crazy For You at the Royal Alex which ran from 1993-1995.
Next is a twofer! One production that launched the careers of two iconic Canadians. In 1972 the Royal Alexandra Theatre was the home of Godspell. The cast was stacked full of incredibly talented performers but I’d like to focus on two of the Canadians: Martin Short, and Eugene Levy. Before SCTV, before Jiminy Glick, before Schitt’s Creek, Short and Levy joined other new actors like Andrea Martin and Gilda Radner. The show was a huge success and held a record for the longest-running production until the mega-musical Cats came to Toronto in 1986.
Finally let’s look at a young Canuck whose career started off with a bang. Pre-Covid, Danielle Wade was touring as Cady in the Broadway smash-hit musical Mean Girls, but you might remember her as the guardian of the ruby slippers. In 2012 after winning the CBC’s Over The Rainbow Danielle charmed her way into the hearts of Canadians as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.
These five actors are only the tip of the talent iceberg. When we finally get back into the theatres I can’t wait to see who will be our next young actor to rise to superstardom!
So you think you have what it takes to sing a great musical theatre song? Here’s your chance to prove it.
Send us a link to your YouTube video of you singing any song from a musical. We will share the best ones next week, in Meanwhile #11.
Our readers will vote and the winner will receive a $100 Mirvish Gift Card. We will also send your video to uber casting director Stephanie Gorin, who is always looking for exciting new talent.
Contest closes Friday, June 19 at 11:59PM
CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. THANK YOU FOR PARTICIPATING! GOOD LUCK
Want to know how the actors you see on stage landed their roles (“booked” is the term used in the business, as if getting a role is as simple as making a restaurant reservation )? Does it ever actually happen as it has been depicted in Hollywood lore? You know, Lana Turner being "discovered" at the soda counter at Schwab's. Maybe it’s like the “cattle call” opening scene in Bob Fosse’s autobiographical film, All That Jazz.
For the answer we turn to Stephanie Gorin, a top casting director for theatre, film and TV in Canada. She’s the one who has cast many of the big musicals, from Miss Saigon to The Lion King to Dear Evan Hansen.
What is a casting director? When producers and directors want to find actors for their projects they turn to a casting director to do all the heavy lifting of sourcing as many actors as possible to audition for each role. Part detective, part community outreach officer and part talent scout, the casting director knows exactly where to look for the best people. It takes very skilled eyes and ears, a good gut instinct, a tenacious nature and a special talent, like that of a writer, director and actor, to get the job done successfully.
Frankly, the work of a casting director is as important to the success of a play (a TV show, a film and even a TV commercial) as the work of all the other artists who collaborate on creating the final product. That’s why in recent years awards such as the Emmys have added categories to recognize casting directors. By the way, Stephanie is an Emmy winner (for the TV show Fargo).
Resourceful, creative, versatile and always cheerful, Stephanie is a master of squeezing lemonade out of, well, rocks (sorry to mix metaphors, but it’s necessary to convey Stephanie’s unique characteristics) – that’s how brilliant she is at making the best of any situation.
Born in Toronto and raised in Georgetown by British parents who were avid members of community theatre, Stephanie wanted to work in theatre ever since she was very young. She studied at Ryerson and then at Sheridan College, in the second year of their now-famous musical theatre programme.
Because she had family in England she would often travel there. One summer, while visiting her grandmother, she saw an ad in The Stage, the British industry publication, for auditions for a touring company. On a lark, she went and booked the gig. She acted in shows that toured high schools throughout England and Northern Ireland (this was during the Troubles and she received an additional £5 per week “danger pay” for working in Northern Ireland). She also held an assistant stage management job with the company. So she could add stage management to her skills, which came in handy when she returned to Canada because she got a number of gigs doing that.
It was her stage management experience that led her to a job at the new production company that David Mirvish had just launched in 1987. The staff was very small at that time and Stephanie mostly worked at the reception desk.
One Monday in February 1988, she had asked a friend to cover her shift so she could see her fiancé, Joe Bostick, who was visiting from California. At 4 PM she called in to see how her friend was doing and was told to immediately return to the office.
When she got there, she discovered that one of the stars of the new show, that had just arrived from London UK and was having its first performance that very night at the Royal Alex, was not feeling well. The show was One Way Pendulum, an absurdist comedy from the Old Vic, and the young female lead was coming down with flu and tonsillitis. She thought she could perform that night, but the doctor demanded that she take at least the next two days off.
The problem was, while there were understudies for the male role and the older female role, there wasn’t an understudy for the sole young female role. Because of her British background and her many trips to England, Stephanie could speak in a very authentic British accent. Could she learn the part overnight, rehearse the next afternoon and go on stage that same night?
Of course, Stephanie said yes. Joe helped her learn the lines in record time. It wasn’t easy because the character was on stage the entire first act. Luckily in the second act, there were scenes when she was offstage.
She made her Royal Alex debut on Tuesday night and played two more performances, matinee and evening, on Wednesday. The cast gave her an ovation backstage at the end of Tuesday night, as did the legendary director, Sir Jonathan Miller.
One Way Pendulum played for two months, during which Stephanie was hired as an understudy for the show, which meant a full-time salary and a prestigious credit on her resume. (Although she didn’t have to perform again because the ill actress bounced back to health in record time.)
It was also while she was working at Mirvish Productions that she got her first taste of casting. In 1988, casting began for the Canadian premiere of Les Misérables. The casting director, Lisa Pierce, needed an assistant. Of course, Stephanie said yes.
They went across the country auditioning both experienced actors and young actors with very little experience. The veterans were booked into audition times by their agents. The newbies were seen during “open call” auditions.
As the name implies, an open call is open to everyone, professionals and amateurs. You show up with a photo (it could be a snapshot, as amateur photos were called prior to digital photography) and a resume (which could be a handwritten note with any experience you may have had – school choir, community theatre, etc.). Because musicals require triple threat performers, usually there are three rounds to an audition. In the first round, you are asked to sing a few bars of a song. If you pass that test, you then go to the next two rounds, (These first three rounds are all overseen by an assistant). If you pass all three, then you are seen by the casting director, who determines if you are good enough for a callback.
There may be many callbacks until the casting director whittles the list of candidates for each role down to the most likely to get the part. The finalists then proceed to the final callbacks, during which the show’s writer, composer, director, choreographer, musical director and producer participate. Ultimately it is this group of people, called the “creative team,” who determines which actor “books” each role.
It’s important to understand that no actor would have the opportunity to audition for the creative team without the input of the casting director.
For the Les Misérables casting, Stephanie arranged all the travel and audition logistics, which included promoting the open calls in cities across Canada. She had to reach out to drama schools, dance studios, choirs, and singing teachers. She could leave no stone unturned.
It was a great experience and an exciting one. She got to see thousands of auditions and got to know the intricacies of the process. In the end, the cast that was assembled was brilliant – including Michael Burgess, Louise Pitre, Graeme Campbell, Kymberley Huffman – and would go on to become the first stars of the burgeoning Canadian musical theatre movement of that era.
When it came time for Miss Saigon in 1992, Stephanie was no longer the assistant. She was now Canadian Casting Director, working with Vinnie Liff, who cast the Broadway production and was considered one of the best in the business.
“Someone mailed me a VHS copy of a show called Experience Canada, which was a musical review performed by high school students that toured across the country in celebration of the country’s 125th year, ” remembers Stephanie. “I think the person who mailed it was from the Confederation Centre in PEI, where the show had played. On the tape was this amazing young woman. When I watched it I said out loud, ‘Oh my god, I found Kim.’
“I called Vinnie and told him. I could sense that he was rolling his eyes, thinking, ‘Yeah, yeah it’s that simple. You’ve found her.’ He wasn’t being mean. When I stopped to think about it, I could see how naïve I may have sounded. “But when I finally got Vinnie the tape, he was speechless.”
Not everybody was ready for the audition process. But Stephanie could see great potential and would send the performer away with a list of activities they could do to improve their audition. After all, Stephanie could only be successful if the performers she found were great.
“I’m a great believer in constantly honing your skills. The more you train, the more successful you will be. If you have a natural singing voice, you can always learn new ways to use it and also learn how to take care of it. Same goes for dancing and acting.”
Stephanie was able to cast a dozen performers from open call auditions for Miss Saigon. Some of them, while being very talented and having performed throughout their childhood and teenage years in choirs and other community events, had not seriously considered seeking a career in the performing arts. Miss Saigon changed that for some of them, who are now valuable and acclaimed members of the professional performing arts community, making the Canadian talent pool richer and deeper.
Even before Miss Saigon had officially opened, Stephanie was onto her next gig – Crazy For You. Here she needed amazing dancers who were tall and leggy. People who would have been great were already cast in Miss Saigon. Again, she went across the country, and again, she found remarkable new talent.
“I remember the choreographer, Susan Stroman, being wowed by one young woman I found at an open call in Vancouver. But she didn’t cast her in the Toronto Crazy For You. Instead, she hired her for Broadway, right there and then because she needed someone right away. Our loss was Broadway’s gain. That’s happened very often over the years.”
After Crazy For You came Beauty and the Beast. By now Stephanie had discovered an entire stable of performers who were on stages in Toronto, Stratford, Niagara-on-the-Lake, across Canada, on Broadway and beyond.
“For Rent we needed very young people and we found lots at open calls across the country. Among them were Divine Earth Essence, who now goes by Divine Brown and is an award-winning recording artist, and Saskia Garel, who went on to star as Nala in The Lion King.”
Stephanie’s biggest open call was probably for The Lord of The Rings, The Musical, for which 2,000 people showed up.
“That was a long day. But we managed to see every single person,” she says. “If someone works up the courage to come to an audition, the least you can do is see them. Usually you can tell within a minute if someone is right for a role, but you never want to be cruel and cut them off abruptly. I was an actress. I went to many auditions. I know the courage it takes and I know what it’s like to face rejection.
“I also know that if someone isn’t right for one role, that doesn’t mean they won’t be right for another role for another show. I keep in touch with people. I’m constantly looking out for roles for them. I know it’s a tough life. There aren’t any safety nets. We all have to look out for each other.”
Buddy, Dirty Dancing, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, War Horse, The Wizard of Oz, We Will Rock You, Rock Of Ages, Kinky Boots, Come From Away – the list is long. The next one is & Juliet, which is scheduled for the 2021 Mirvish season. For her work in casting, Stephanie is the recipient of the Ontario Premier’s Award in 2017 in Creative Arts and Design. Her alma mater, Sheridan College, submitted her for the award.
But stage work is not Stephanie’s sole focus. She also casts film, TV and commercials.
“Because the stage and film and TV worlds don’t often connect, I really like it if I can book one of the stage actors on a commercial or TV show. It works the other way too.”
Show business is a family business for Stephanie. Her husband Joe Bostick (yes, the fiancé who helped her learn her lines for One Way Pendulum) is an actor and fight director. Their son Devon Bostick started acting when he was five years old and is now a busy Los Angeles-based actor with a string of Hollywood films and TV series. Stephanie has even cast her parents in small roles in the occasional film, TV show or commercial.
Stephanie still makes time for helping actors. She developed, produced and acted in a web series about the casting business. Called The Casting Room, the series takes you behind the scenes of casting sessions. Each short segment is based on a real experience Stephanie has had casting. The series is intended to both entertain and demystify the entire casting process. It’s perfect for young people who want to enter the business but don’t know how to go about it. Many of Stephanie’s friends act in the series — Ron James, George Stroumboulopoulos, Colin Mochrie, Jayne Eastwood and many more.