When news of the Broadway shutdown broke March 12, Duncan Stewart and Benton Whitley were in the final throes of casting the Hadestown national tour.
"We were poised to pull the trigger on all these offers, and we were caught off guard," Stewart says. "It was really hard to find clarity when everything still seemed so dark and murky. But for us, we were lucky many years ago to establish core values for our company. As we move forward every day it’s our mantra: We try to be respectful of ourselves as human beings and of our team and the community at large. It's been our rock through this."
"In such uncertain times, a lot of people can dole out advice and give blind advice because none of us truly know when it's going to be safe and clear. And it's been more about doling out kindness and doling out support [for us], Whitley adds. "Not just for our immediate team, but for the actors who have reached out to us in the last month."
The team at Stewart/Whitley have been responsible for casting the Pippin revival, the long-running revival of Chicago, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and, most recently, Hadestown (for which they won the Artios Award). They recently started a television and film arm working with studios like Netflix, 20th Century Fox, NBC, Lionsgate, and The Disney Channel, as well as independent producers and directors including Ash Christian, Dan Clifton, and Tyler Rabinowitz.
But with theatre auditions at a standstill, Stewart and Whitley did what their mission statement always said they would: They looked for ways to help.
"What's really beautiful is watching the new forms of art and the new way we as artists have figured out how to connect to one another," Whitley says. "One of those [for us] is Leading With Gratitude. We started shortly after the shutdown, and a couple times a week we’ve been making posts about all the different artists we work with, just putting positive reinforcement out into the world that we're here, and we see people, and we appreciate them."
"When the headlines are so negative and accusatory, we want to be a beacon of light instead of adding to the darkness," Stewart says. That's the thinking behind the company's latest push, Connecting Creativity. A new Zoom project, the whole casting team at Stewart/Whitley will make themselves available for 30 minutes to answer any questions from the film/TV/theatre community at large. That will be followed by a 90-minute session with six actors (who will be selected from online submissions) who will have a chance to work on a song, theatre monologue, or film/TV scene. Donations are requested, and proceeds will go to The Actors Fund.
The Connecting Creativity virtual masterclass goes live April 23 at 1 PM ET. To apply for a spot, send your headshot/résumé and reel to email@example.com.
"It's a chance to let actors from the comfort of their living rooms share material they're working on in a mock audition environment," Whitley says. "And then our office gives immediate virtual feedback."
Stewart points to Kenneth Clark, the director of London's National Gallery during WWII, a time when all of the masterpieces had been removed for safekeeping during the Blitz. Looking at the enormous, empty National Gallery, Clark felt what he later termed "a hunger of the spirit." And so he reinvented it as a cultural hub, displaying a painting a month and watching thousands of people line up to gaze raptly at one painting, instead of walking blindly past the 40,000 usually on display.
In the process, the National Gallery "became a place for artists to paint and give lectures, and concerts were held," Stewart says. "And 'hunger of the spirit' is what we’re trying to address and live by in our office."
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Join the casting office of Stewart/Whitley from quarantine as they take your questions while discussing the entertainment industry at large and how we all as professional artists are working remotely to put the pieces back together during these uncertain times. In addition to this live open forum, 6 actors will have the opportunity to read tv/film sides or monologues, or sing during the live virtual forum for immediate feedback from the casting team. Being able to present strong virtually online has never been more vital. - Space is limited. To apply for a spot in the forum and learn more please send your headshot/resume to connectingcreativitySW@gmail.com . If you would like to apply for one of the six spots to perform please also include your reel and what material you would want to share during the session. This performance opportunity is for educational opportunities only, and is NOT an audition. - We know that finances are tight for many artists during this time, but if able, we are suggesting a minimum of a $5 donation for participation in the forum, and a minimum of a $10 donation if you are selected to perform in the online work session. 100% of your donations will go to The Actors Fund. A vital organization at the heart of our community providing relief for so many artists during this crisis. @theactorsfund - Session 1: Quarantunes ��♀️ Thursday April 23rd: 1pm-3pmEST 1:00-1:30pmEST-Live Q & A with the Stewart/Whitley team 1:30-2:30pmEST-6 live mock auditions with our chosen actors & feedback from the Stewart/Whitley team 2:30-3:00pmEST- Live Q & A wrap up - #connectingcreativitySW #quarantunes #theactorsfund #castingby #stewartwhitley