"One idea that's been tossed around is a casting app," he said.
A few months later, that tossed idea has been caught, but by a different Jeff. In February, Jeffry Denman launched CastPRO, a new app that aims to streamline the age-old process of casting a show.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," explained Denman, who has worked as a director and choreographer on both regional and Off-Broadway productions, when asked how he came to create the app. "It became clear the amount of wasted paper there was in auditions — it was astounding to me." At an average audition, the director, choreographer and producers survey and pass along the resumes and photos of dozens, if not hundreds, of actors, dancers and singers. It’s a process familiar to anyone who has ever seen a film set in the stage world, and, as Denman pointed out, if has essentially remained unchanged since "forever."
Such a paper-bound state of affairs seemed at best inefficient, and at worst ludicrous, in a digital age.
"It seemed wasteful in the very least," told Denman. "In addition, much of the information in those auditions was being written on those very resumes and headshots, everyone putting their notes on them. Then someone at the theatre takes those head shots and resumes off with them, with not everyone in the audition having access to them."
"I had notebooks and index cards and reams of paper at home," he continued. "It seems really unorganized and wasteful."
He decided to put an end to the whole thing while working on a production of West Side Story at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Using his iPod, he began to approximate all the aspects he hoped the resultant app — eventually called CastPRO — would encompass. (Denman credited Whiting’s work with Stage Write as a clear influence, saying, "I'd be lying if I said Jeff wasn’t inspiring to me.") In March of 2013, he sat down with a graphic designer and sketched out a more detailed blueprint. He then located an app developer who showed an interest in the project.
"He was really jazzed by the idea," said Denman. "It was unlike anything he had ever done."
The two worked on the project over the summer. By December, they had a form of it on the iPad. Denman took the prototype to auditions to work out the kinks, and by February, it was ready to release.
Among the advantages Denman sees in the app is the ability to store all resumes and head shots in one technical apparatus and the time-saving use of a clickable shorthand to make notes on every performer. This, he hopes, will keep a show's creative teams’ eyes on the performer rather than his/her resume.
"What happens in an audition process, the headshot and resume is passed down the line, and everyone looks at the headshot and resume while this person is singing," explained Denman. "People are writing notes on the headshot and resume. You suddenly have to look down. The set up of CastPro is that you will already have the headshot and resume before the audition begins. You will already have looked at it. So you're not distracted. Then, when you’re making your notes, there’s a shorthand critique box you can bring up. You can put in your own shorthand. For instance, some people would put 'CB' for ‘callback.’ You can also rate the actor, 1 through 10. You can just hit the number. You are certainly looking at your computer or iPad, but it’s a much quicker process."
The app, which went on sale Feb. 12, is priced at $59.99. Soon after its release, a comical commercial — featuring actors such as Brian D’Arcy James and Marc Kudisch — was posted on YouTube. (Denman himself plays the haughty director in the clip; his wife is the digital-savvy casting director.) Reaction has been positive so far. "It seems like something people have wanted for a long time. Other people have talked about it and now we have it."
Denman says that casting directors should not fear that CastPRO will put them out of business.
"The thing about CastPro," he said, "it doesn't do the casting for you. It doesn't make decisions. It doesn't do what a good casting director does. Good casting directors have this gene that helps them recall the people they know into the roles they're right for. I don't have that gene. CastPro doesn’t do the thinking for you. It just holds onto your good ideas."
Watch the commercial below.