August 31, 2013

A Labor Day Salute to the Talent-Spotters

Labor Day has snuck up on me this year because it’s been a busier summer than usual. Some publications have asked me to write about theater-related subjects and instead of kicking back on the terrace as I usually do, I’ve been pecking away like mad on the computer. I’ll let you know when those stories are out. 

In the meantime, it’s become a tradition for B&Me to use the post closest to Labor Day to celebrate some of the folks who work hard to make the theater we all love. And this year I’m singling out casting directors, the people who search out fresh acting talent for movies, TV and, of course, the stage.   

Casting agents have been largely unsung—although that’s been slowly changing. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently extended membership to the people who find actors for movies (I'm happy to say that the Tonys enfranchised stage casting directors 20 years ago). 

And earlier this month, HBO aired the documentary, “Casting By” which focused on the legendary casting director Marion Dougherty, who over the course of her 50-year career gave their first big break to Warren Beatty, Glenn Close, James Dean, Danny Glover, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken (click here to see a trailer). 

Dougherty's modern-day descendants like Tara Rubin and Bernie Telsey who run their own agencies, and Daniel Swee, who does casting for the Lincoln Center Theater productions, are now doing the same good work of scouting talent in off-off Broadway productions, theater workshops, festival performances and conservatory shows (click here to read a group interview with them and some of their peers). 
For the past 30 years, the Casting Society of America (you sometimes see its acronym behind the names of casting directors in your Playbill) has been celebrating the best casting efforts with its Artios Awards.  The awards will be given out In November and there are 10 categories for theater (click here to see the nominees).  

But I’m wondering if that’s enough. Directors, whether for stage or screen, often say that casting is more than half the job of getting a show right.  So it would seem that the people who find the actors should get at least some of the credit when we’re handing out the main awards.  
There’s often been talk that the Tonys should establish a category for the Best Ensemble the way the Obies have done but that would just create one more award for actors. I’m thinking that it might be more fitting to recognize the people who find those actors, lobby showmakers to see them, buck them up when they don’t make it to callbacks and keep them in mind for future jobs. 
But until casting directors get that kind of moment in the spotlight, I hope you’ll join me in this Labor Day salute to them.  And, of course, Happy Labor Day to you too.

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