A Master Class with Casting Director Dave Clemmons
The top five lessons Alexa learned from Casting Director Dave Clemmons.
Last Saturday, the CCU Department of Theatre was visited by Dave Clemmons, casting director extraordinaire. I observed and took notes vigorously as my colleagues performed for and learned from him over the course of the day. After plowing through my scribbled mess of a notebook, I put together the top 5 of the most important things Dave taught us during his visit.
1. Don't limit yourself musically
With the explosion of musicals like American Idiot and Spring Awakening (Dave notes Once as being a current example of what really "burst the door open" musically), it is now more important than ever to familiarize ourselves with popular music. Dave writes for an online music website called "Weeping Elvis," where he posts news, reviews albums, and reviews major music festivals. He informed us that bands like Mumford and Sons and Muse (lead singer Matt Bellamy "WILL write a musical.") put on theatrical performances that rival those we see on Broadway. Dave encouraged us to be well-rounded as artists, and that includes exploring different music genres. Being out of the loop is a detriment to our careers. Plus, we're missing out on some damn good music.
2. Everything affects your reputation
We heard horror stories throughout the day about young artists who gave themselves a bad name in the business early on. Dave warned us that everything and everyone can affect your career! This includes your attitude and ethic during your college education. "Don't think we won't call your faculty and ask what they thought of you!" he cried, and noted situations where people have lost jobs because ex-classmates in the room had poor things to say. It is necessary to be someone that people ALWAYS want to work with--don't give anyone an excuse not to like you. This task is easy, he reminded us,be the nicest and most professional actor in the room: "Do your job, say yes, and shut up!"
3. Type is the most important thing when you first walk in
Although we discussed audition outfits quite a bit, Dave said more important than what you wear for your type is what you choose to perform. "The piece you choose to lead off with says a lot about you." Pick material that not only suits you, but that you love--you will be singing it a lot! He reminded us of a trick we learned in class: If you're struggling to find material, roles, or your direction as an actor, find a person you kind of look/act like and follow their career. We had a few Elphabas in our midst, as Dave noted girls who should follow Stephanie J Block and Eden Espinoza (not bad tracks, I'd say).
4. Sing what's written
This is something I personally tend to forget. There's no real need to add "improvements" to what you're singing. David said 99.9 percent of the time those behind the table want to hear what's on the page. The music is written in specific ways for a reason and is probably better than most changes singers tend to make. Also, those in the room are most likely familiar with the song and will know when you've changed something. We want all of the focus to be on our singing, and we don't want anyone to be pulled out to decide whether they liked our "choices" or not.
5. We are storytellers
Dave stated that he has three things he uses to determine good versus bad in an audition: the voice, the physical body, and emotional connection. Of those three, the last is the most important--how well you sing and how you look and move is icing on the cake. This seemed so different than what I expected a casting director to say. Dave reminded us that audiences go to a show to see a story being told, musicals are a "symbiosis of music, emotion, and storytelling." If we don't do that in an audition, how can we do it every night on stage?
The workshop was an amazing opportunity, and I encourage anyone who gets the chance to take a class with Dave Clemmons to do so.