Ah, the drama of casting. There is nothing I hate more than having to read the cast list to a group of students (usually girls) who all desperately want to be the female ingénue in whatever musical it is I’m directing them in. That was my afternoon on Thursday at the Kaufman Center. I strategically decided to annouce the casting decisions at 4:15pm (they get dismissed at 4:25pm), so that if anyone needed to meltdown or lash out, I would only have to deal with it for 10 minutes. Fortunately, there wasn’t too much drama. I saw a few disappointed faces, but mostly, they were really excited about their parts. And, I’ve yet to get any angry emails from parents, so I’ll take that as a good sign.
This whole process can be traumatizing for a sensitive person like me. At North Shore Music Theatre, where I used to spend summers teaching and directing, we had an elaborate scheme for casting day. We would post cast lists in various different spots around the space, tell the kids where they were, allow them to look in private or with friends, and then they would have to silently return to their seats in the theatre and write a note to me expressing how they felt about my decision. (We were all into progressive educational practices that summer.) I’ll never forget one note from a girl who was cast as a “Napkin” in Dear Edwina, which was actually not a literal napkin, but the name of a back up singer in the show's fictional band, "Suzy & the Napkins." Rather than write about her feelings, she chose to draw a picture of a very sad napkin. It still haunts me to this day.
After going through this harrowing experience at least a hundred times in my teaching/directing career, it makes sense that I would be drawn to musically adapt short story material that has, as its central conflict, a girl who desperately wants to play Helen of Troy in the school play (along with every other girl in school). Like kids often do, Vita believes that her Dad (who has left her and her mom) will somehow return to see the production if she gets the part; it's heartbreaking, bittersweet and inherently dramatic, just like my Thursday afternoon at the Kaufman Center.
So, who will get the part of Helen? Will Vita? Does Vita draw a picture of herself as a sad Greek soldier? Does her Dad come back? For the answers to all these questions, and many more, you’ll just have to wait to see the show.
And if you are curious how we got such fantastic Broadway performers for our first reading all on our own, well, you’ll just have to subscribe to my blog to find that out.