InterviewThe Origin Story of Evan Hansen’s Iconic (Arm)Cast
January 03, 2018
How and why the team behind Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen put a real medical cast on their title character for every single show.
If someone said I’d be making casts for someone on Broadway, I’d have said, ‘You’re insane,’” says Daniel Scott Mortensen. Yet to date, Mortensen has applied over 400 arm casts on the string of actors playing the title role in Broadway’s Tony Award–winning Best Musical Dear Evan Hansen, about a high school senior with severe social anxiety and the lie that spirals out of control and changes his life forever.
That cast is a crucial piece of the puzzle in creating Evan. “I asked [original star Ben Platt] once, ‘What’s the process like for you? What do you feel changes you?’ and he said his New Balance shoes and the cast,” Mortensen recalls. “He said those two things make him feel like he’s Evan.”
Because the cast is such a pivotal symbol, lead producer Stacey Mindich and the creative team decided Evan would wear a real cast, applied at half hour call each night and sawed off during intermission.
“I learned [the arm cast] from [Samantha Guinan] who did it at Second Stage,” Mortensen explains. “She had seen what they had done out-of-town and they sent her a video of the person in D.C. doing a cast on [Ben]. Then she and I perfected it when we went to Broadway.
“We just improvised where to cut it, how it fit his arm, what’s going to make it easiest for somebody to write ‘CONNOR’ on it every night,” he continues. “It’s one of those things that gets workshopped along with the show.”
Every performance, Mortensen—the production’s wig and hair supervisor—meets his leading actor to apply a fiberglass cast.
First, Mortensen puts a sock on the actor’s arm, applies batting, and then slides on the one-piece cast when it’s wet. A heat-set resin acts as a hardening chemical. “As soon as it hits water, it starts that [hardening] process,” says Mortensen. All in all, it takes five minutes to apply and ten minutes to dry. (Each understudy also has a rehearsal cast custom-fit to their arm to rehearse in and develop their character.)
At intermission, Mortensen returns to saw off the cast. Hospitals and doctor’s offices have a specific machine to cut off casts, but “one of those machines is so expensive and huge that it didn’t make sense for us to invest in that,” says Mortensen. “Instead, we have a Dremel that has a saw piece at the end of it and then I have a metal ruler wrapped in gaff tape—probably 20 layers of gaff tape—and I slide that under the cast. The gaff tape is blue, so I know when I hit that because the batting inside turns blue.”
To the Dear Evan Hansen family, the authenticity is a trademark of the show. But for Mortensen and each Evan, it’s a nightly bonding experience. “I’m able to have these moments with them and say, ‘You ready? Let’s do this,’” Mortensen says. “It’s the perfect way to kick off the show.”