Closer to CLOSER: “What’s In a Name?” – Casting Pt. 2


Guest Blogger: Andrew Gerle is the author of The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition.

Casting calls can be very rewarding, and with sufficient preparation (see Casting Pt. 1) can yield excellent results. For many productions, this is the only way to find your cast: send out the breakdown, then either see who shows up, or see who gets submitted and have your casting agent (or artistic director, or director) sift through the resumes and schedule appointments.

However, with productions of a slightly (or much) greater profile, there starts to be the possibility of getting a star, or semi-star, or what people who spend their time looking at things like Gross Weekly Box Office Receipts like to call a Name.

What is a Name? Theoretically, it is an actor who, simply by having their name on the poster or flier or Playbill ad, will make someone want to buy a ticket and see the show, hopefully people who wouldn’t otherwise do so. If it’s a new show or a very large production, a name can also help a producer raise money. There are a lot of variables and questions built into this strategy. For example, who exactly will the Name get to buy a ticket? Answer this question and you will determine the size of Name you need to get the result you want. If you’re aiming for a general tourist audience, people who only see theater on their once-a-year trip to the Apple and who otherwise watch movies and TV, nothing less than a bona fide star is going to make them choose your show over another, or a movie, or a museum, or shopping.

But these days, who is really a star of that magnitude? Meryl Streep? Yes. Hugh Jackman? Yes. The latest boy band sensation? Probably (for better and for worse). Start going too much further down the entertainment food chain, however, and you’ll quickly get diminishing returns for this casual, occasional theater audience.

Why am I dwelling on this? Because casting a Name often necessitates a trade-off, especially in the music department. The names I listed above are the rare kind who are huge stars with real singing chops and who can truly carry a show. Most Names, however, that are strewn about a casting brainstorming session are not primarily singers. They may work very hard and make the most of the instrument and technique they have, but based solely on the voice and the musician, would not be an MD’s first choice. They are movie stars, or personalities, and if you can get one to be in your show, of course you do everything you can to make that happen, accepting the tradeoff of a non-stellar voice for a huge advance and a guaranteed run.

But when you go further down the list, an MD has to start to protect the show from Name-grabbing. Will the B-list ’80s TV star really pull in enough extra ticket sales to make up for the fact that he can’t sing, can’t deliver a Broadway-sized performance and will get shredded in the papers? Might it be better to cast a first-rate Broadway veteran who will bring the roof down and get rave reviews? Producers are wary (and rightfully so) of counting on the critics to sell their show for them, and obviously reviews can’t sell advance tickets before they come out. But it is my opinion that a fantastic, lesser-known actor is better than a mediocre one with a Name that generates merely a shrug and a “He’s still around?” There are few things more heartbreaking than a production that could have been great saddled with an actor who is neither wonderful in the role nor selling tickets.

But let’s move to another kind of potential target audience member, the one who is at least somewhat theater-savvy, who goes to shows fairly regularly, who might even consider themselves a “fan”. These theater-goers are familiar with probably a couple dozen first-rate theater actors and would be excited to see any one of them in a new role. I cannot imagine a production that wouldn’t want to attract this kind of audience member.

For more please visit Theatre Music Directors.

The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition

Award-winning New York theatre composer and pianist Andrew Gerle pulls no punches in this irreverent, fly-on-the-wall guide to everything you’ve never been taught about auditioning for musical theatre. From the unique perspective of the pianist’s bench, he demystifies the audition process, from how to put together your book and speak to an accompanist to the healthiest and savviest ways to approach the audition marketplace and your career. By better understanding the dynamics of professional auditions, you will learn to present yourself in the strongest, most castable way while remaining true to your own special voice – the one that, in the end, will get you the job.


Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on May 14, 2012, in Theatre and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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