[Originally published in the Star & Wave newspaper on April 10, 2024.]

By Roy Steinberg, Producing Artistic Director 


“April is the cruelest month,” wrote poet and playwright T.S. Eliot.  It is also the month when Cape May Stage completes its casting for the new season. To those not cast, however, it may feel like a cruel month.


Casting has changed a lot over my career in theater and television.  In my youth, agents sent their clients to a casting or play director who either booked them for a job or didn’t.  After that, actors submitted VHS tapes to producers or directors to audition, sometimes sending them their only copy of their work. 


Today, actors submit samples of their work online. Many actors have small studios in their homes equipped with lights, blue or green screens and state-of-the-art audio equipment.  Online submissions can come in from around the world.


An old theater adage, “Casting is 90 percent of directing,” is partly true.  My most important decision when casting a play is who is going to tell the story best.  I may be old-school but I still prefer in-person auditions because I get to feel the energy of the artist in a room. 


Sometimes, even a casual chat with an artist can change a director’s preconceived notions about a character. A simple question can reveal a lot about an actor.


“Where are you from,” I might ask an actor.  “The armpit of the earth, Pittsburgh,” one might say.  “Pittsburgh, and I love it,” another may offer.


The cynical, depressed response from the first person may be a window into their psychology.  The happy view from the second might be a better fit for the role.


When I worked in television, I was the director who shot the screen tests.  I learned that you could have the identical shots, lighting and directions for six different actors and one would make the scene funny, another would make it scary, and a third would make it sexy. Network executives, writers and producers choose the actors for the story based on how they tell it.


Once, when we were casting a new role on “Guiding Light” on CBS, I told each actress that her character was sneaking onto a houseboat where she opens a drawer and discovers something that upsets her. One actress, before she even entered, peeked through the window in the door with that guilty look of “sneaking.” It looked like she was looking into the medicine cabinet of her host at a party. We all laughed, and the vice president of CBS said, “That’s her.”  She hadn’t yet said a single line but she got the role.


At Cape May Stage, Actors Equity, a union for professional actors, requires that I hold two days of open casting calls in New York City and one day in Cape May.  How an actor enters the audition room tells me a lot about them. Do they own the space?  Do they change the energy in the room? 


A favorite book of mine is “The Empty Space” by Peter Brook, the great British director and theorist.  In it, he writes about a neutral space that is changed by the work we do.


As Cape May Stage kicks off our 35th anniversary season this spring, we look forward to sharing the work we do with you.  Come join us and see how our work changes the space, and perhaps, changes you.


For more information about our upcoming season, please visit www.capemaystage.org.

Cape May Stage © 2024. All rights reserved.

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