It's 9:50 on a brisk spring Monday morning. As I make my way through a sea of auditionees down a corridor at Pearl Studios — a midtown Manhattan rehearsal space — I'm easily reminded of that quintessential musical about making the cut: A Chorus Line.
With a hot coffee in my left hand and notebook in my right, I can't turn off the loop of "God, I Hope I Get It" embarrassingly playing in my head as I enter a door marked with a sign reading "Paper Mill Playhouse: Newsies" plastered on the front.
Justin Huff, a casting director for Telsey + Company (one of New York's most prominent casting offices), greets me as I enter the room. I'm here today on special invitation.
I introduce myself to the creative team, including director Jeff Calhoun and choreographer Christopher Gattelli. I then perch myself in a metal chair up against the wall. Under the helm of Telsey + Company owner Bernie Telsey, Huff's current duty is to help round out the cast of Disney Theatrical's fall project — a stage transfer of the 1992 film Newsies. After almost a month of auditions, today marks one of the final casting sessions. All of the young performers trying for an ensemble slot are, according to Huff, "out-of-towners" or working actors who have the day off.
At the stroke of 10, a group of about 20 boys enters the room. Gattelli greets the young men and begins to teach them a short combination from "Seize the Day" — a song that marks the end of Act One.
"Eight and one... hold two and three... jump on the line... and walk on line four," Gattelli says briskly. After teaching the minute-long combination in what seems like a few minutes, he breaks the young men into six groups for display. "Don't let nerves get in the way of your personalities," director Jeff Calhoun reminds the performers.
The rehearsal pianist and drummer begin to play Alan Menken's percussive song, and at the thump of the downbeat, the boys begin to compete. The young performers run through the combination in groups of three twice — and then Calhoun asks if anyone wants to do it again for "safekeeping."
After the audition, similar to A Chorus Line, the young dancers wait anxiously for their names to be called for round two.
I sat in on three sessions on that Monday morning. In a theatrical montage — the headshot, the sterile rehearsal room, even the generic rectangular wooden table where the "judges" sit — I experienced a routine that has been performed for decades.
In an age when the internet is required for almost every line of work, one would assume that the art of casting has also changed. But has it?
"The actual casting process...hasn't changed," Bernie Telsey says, to my surprise. But tools like Youtube.com help. It "gives us more access to people," he explains. "We can reach more artists that way."
Less than a quarter of the young men who showed up for that Newsies call were asked to stay, but it's clear that most of them will be back for more. And whether it's the person making the call, like the folks from Telsey + Co., or the young hopefuls looking to receive the call, one thing has remained true for years: they all did it for the love of their craft.
Frank DiLella is the theatre producer for NY1.