Thank You, 10 is an interview series brought to you by Audition Cat, an upcoming app with career management tools for the professional auditioning performer. Each article interviews an industry professional with a different experience and opinion about what the future of auditioning looks like. Through these conversations, we hope an image will appear about what’s next for the industry, and what it aspires to be. Have someone you’d like to be considered for an interview? Reach out to us Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Judy Bowman, CSA
Occupation: Casting Director, et al. (teacher, creative team member)
Links to Judy’s work:
“Big Dogs” season 1(Amazon)
“I’ll Be True”(upcoming feature film)
“A Matter of Choice” Off-Broadway, because it was a small production that launched a couple of great careers.
China Dreams: workshop with Stefani Kuo
Jess McLeod for the Kitchen Theatre Co/Ma-Yi Theater.
Hurricane Bianca (feature film)
Getting to Know You
Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?
Judy Bowman, Casting Director. I Love new plays, old plays, indie films, great writing, all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. I was an actor as a young person and through college: very passionate about it. Eventually, I realized that I was equally excited by very talented people, and I was just as fulfilled by working with actors, directors and writers, as I was being on stage. I am glad I studied, though, and had those performance experiences. It helps me tremendously with my work in casting. I am also a proud Queer Woman, with North African and Lithuanian/Polish/Ukrainian Jewish Heritage. I identify as an American from the East Coast. I am a dog lover, and a whiskey drinker. I come from a family of immigrants who fled violence in their homelands to find freedom in Whales, South Africa and The U.S in the early 20th century. I support the Black Lives Matter movement and stopaapihate.org politically, emotionally, and financially, and will stand in front of and next to any human being who is threatened by injustice. My answers below, reflect my personal point of view and experiences, and no one else’s.
When did you set out on your current career path?
Upon graduating from Tufts University with a double major in Drama and Spanish, I began looking for work in the industry in New York. A friend of a friend notified me of an assistant job in a talent agency. My work there exposed me to Casting Directors and producers. I left the agency job and began freelancing with a few different casting offices. So, graduation 1992, Agency 1992, and Casting 1993 until now.
What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?
My mission statement is, and has always been, to work on interesting and unique projects with a talented diverse team, and to bring actors of all backgrounds & qualities, with good skills, intelligence, and creativity to collaborate. I have been lucky enough to work in a way that I choose with all kinds of teams on all different projects. Most of my projects fit this criteria, and I understand exactly why they’ve approached me. I work extremely hard, and I am able to introduce directors and writers to artists who can realize their vision, challenge their preconceived notions, and elevate and/or complement the material. I love bringing people together. Often, the relationships that I have introduced lead to lifelong collaborations. Actors find artistic homes. Writers find theaters who want to continue to produce their work. It’s very satisfying and fun. I want my creative team to be excited and inspired, rather than anxious and frustrated, and looking at casting sessions with dread, lol. My early influences were working with Jose Rivera on his early plays, the Humana Festival, A.R.T, and I was able to explore those at INTAR & LAByrinth; the work I saw at Ma-Yi inspired me as well. These experiences fulfilled and reinforced my mission statement. I have always gravitated towards books and plays that are about a specific place in the world, or a piece that had all kinds of people in it. Playwrights like Naomi Iizuka, Mona Mansour, Rajiv Joseph, Dominique Morisseau, Stephen Adly Giurgis, Ayad Akhtar, Carlos Murillo: they knew that people from different communities or specific communities would understand their work and stories. At that time, this was spearheaded by the writers: the material had to be there, to dictate what the cast might look and feel like. INTAR and Ma-Yi had writers’ workshops that developed stories that were meaningful to them personally. This work that was written for, by, and about people from a part of world or a part of the country; this work and these writers were specifically supported and encouraged to develop the stories they wanted to tell. I wanted to connect performers with those writers, and provide a talent pool that could connect with them on a much deeper level.
Working with Cleveland Play House on “The Invisible Hand” with Pirronne Yousefzadeh; “The Convert”, “Familiar”, and “An Octoroon” at Woolly Mammoth; working with Michael John Garcés (from INTAR, to Humana Festival, to Woolly Mammoth, Arizona–we’ve had a long collaboration!) , Chay Yew, Nataki Garrett–these are very meaningful experiences for me. Recently, working on “Molly Sweeney” with Keen Company, casting a blind/low-vision actress in the lead role; this was very meaningful to me, to work on it, and see the production this way. It’s been great to work with all communities and continue to get to know their members and cross-pollinate. Getting to know more low-vision/blind performers allowed me to introduce them to other projects that were not specifically written for someone like them. If someone comes to me, they tend to know what my mission is, and that they are going to get a casting session full of all kinds of actors, some of which they may not have had access to in the past.
Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?
Producers, writers, directors, Artistic Directors. Agents, and actors.
What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?
Casting Directors are hired because a creative team does not know–or cannot access–talent on their own. We should be thought of like a set or costume designer. We are skilled, creative, and should be included and utilized to the fullest. There are times we are looked at as an Admin, just here to set up appointments from a list that magically appears, and that is obviously not what we are trained to do, nor is it satisfying or the best use of our skills. One of our inside jokes: We are the first person to be thought of, and the first person they forget. From invitations to the first rehearsal, to being left out of the program, there are times that we feel like once the actors are hired, we cease to exist. I have had many good experiences, but the timing of our work in pre-production creates a feeling that no one remembers how the actors got into the project. As for actors, I think performers do understand our profession. But because we intersect with so many different aspects of the industry, they sometimes forget that we are part of the design team, hired to do a job. I take a lot of chances in casting, but sometimes we cannot. We might have 1 casting day to set multiple roles, and have to whittle down our choices. These limits are dictated by the budget of the production, or the time the director has to see people. While we often create a huge opportunity for actors, we must also provide a selection of talent that is in line with what has been discussed in our creative conversations. The limits of age ranges and skill requirements; these must be taken into consideration. While we have some creative leeway, we are indeed being hired to provide what has been discussed. We do not make the final decision about who is cast. Sometimes we have a lot of influence, and other times, no. Perhaps a more compassionate understanding of each others’ hardships, goals, and obstacles would be something to strive for? I read some Facebook posts from actors who’ve had bad experiences in their day-to-day auditioning. I always give those a hard “think” about how that could have been avoided, if that has ever happened in my sessions: always to take into consideration what it’s like in someone else’s shoes. Casting Directors also have challenges to navigate: a very shy director who doesn’t give adjustments, a difficult creative team, an anxious or inexperienced writer, or relationships between the team that are tense. If we are able to understand each other’s jobs, that might lead to empathy on both sides. There are times I’ve felt that actors are mostly concerned with me helping them to get an agent, rather than what I might offer them in advice or conversation. There are times I feel like my side job is to help actors get an agent. I understand why they ask me, but it’s not always possible and I’d rather give advice about Casting. As for laypeople understanding us, I often have to explain the difference between a Talent Agent and a Casting Director. We do different jobs, though we work together very closely.
Auditions and You
In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?
Don’t give a “general”, “middle-of-the-road” read. Make choices that show your intelligence, creativity, personality and soul. The level of competition is high; treat it like a callback. Know that you need to do more than just walk through it. Actors who consistently do well are those that come in with a Point of View. Their preparation includes thought: not just memorization or making it all seem logical. They add to it. Musicians don’t just play a piece perfectly: they use artistic interpretation and add character to the piece. That is artistry and showing that you are a creative, thinking individual. If directors don’t like that, then maybe you don’t want to work with those directors. I sure don’t. We want each actor to interpret and digest and show us something unique. 2. Don’t apologize for your choices before you make them, or ask too much permission. You have agency and dignity to show us your best with confidence. If you have a question, ask the Casting Director outside the room: very often we have a good answer for you, or will say, “Ask the writer or director in the room”: your question might be the same question every actor has asked, indicating some confusion in the material. Let us help you. 3. If you are having problems, tell us what those are before you come in the room. If you haven’t been able to prepare or you are running late to see us, or you weren’t able to read the script due to extenuating circumstances, it’s always better to tell us outside the audition room so we can help you. Sometimes we can bring you in on a different day or give you some guidance. 3. When you finish your audition, try to project the fact that you will be a good person to work with. Say goodbye in a professional way, the way you would leave a job interview.
Let’s talk about self-tapes! Self-tapes have become more and more common for auditioning actors, even more so during the pandemic. What do you like about self-tapes? What do you dislike about them?
It’s most important that we see you and hear you. Your reader should be helpful: not louder than you, or distracting. Most actors should be comfortable with tapes by now–we were using them before the pandemic. If you’d be happy sending your tape to HBO or Lincoln Center or Broadway, then your tape is probably pretty good. Feel free to send 2 takes of 1 side, if you want to offer a wider shot, or another choice, especially if it’s a theater audition. The Team might not need to watch both takes, but at least they have the option. If you self-adjust, they might not need to do so much work in the callback, and it puts you ahead of those actors who only did 1 take.
As self-tapes become more and more prevalent in the industry, for your profession, what are the main differences between in-person and virtual auditions? What advice do you have for actors who have less experience with virtual auditions?
There is no substitute for in-person auditions. I have worked on projects that have used self-tapes auditions and callbacks on Zoom, but there is still nothing like being in the room together, where you can look each other in the eye. Or shake hands, and have a real-time interaction. It becomes very clear when an actor is uncomfortable in a Zoom audition. Practice makes perfect, and you will learn how to appear at ease, know where to ‘look’, and how to navigate those conversations, even on Zoom. Practice with your friends, record the Zoom, and watch it back. It should be very obvious where there is room for improvement. Once you figure out the tricks of it, and establish a routine, it will seem as comfortable as an audition in the room–IF those are comfortable at all! Lol.
If there was one piece of advice you’d give to any actor right before an audition or recording a self-tape, what would it be?
Make a plan. Have a road map. Think about how you might train for playing an instrument, or a softball game. You practice, and then in the game, you try to relax and focus and do what you did in practice. If you’re taping, do all your preparation, rehearse it, and record. WATCH IT AFTERWARDS. Think, “would I hire this person? Is the performance level strong enough? Would I definitely need a callback after seeing this person? What questions does my performance provoke? About the work, and about me?” So, prepare, and evaluate yourself. After every audition, think–while the experience is fresh–what would I do in the callback, if I get one? Make a few notes about the experience, what the director said in the room, and if the CD gave you any notes for your callback. If there are no notes from the CD, then you have your remembrance from the audition written down, and your goals to expand on that and evolve what you already did.
How do you expand your “network”? When you interact with a performer for the first time, what inspires you, and what are you looking for in this initial interaction/audition to convince you to bring them back?
I love seeing work in different spaces with different companies. I watch a ton of tv and film, and work with a lot of emerging writers and directors. I meet some actors in a teaching exchange or in a showcase. I am also open to recommendations. Some of my creative team have introduced me to actors I didn’t know before, by requesting that they are added to the session. Certainly the conservatory showcases are helpful to meet who’s coming out of those programs. The most fun for me, though, is to meet new actors in auditions. I don’t bring in the same group of actors for everything, so I meet new people all the time. When I was coming up, there was a Casting professional who said he was only interested in actors who’d been on Broadway. I responded in the opposite way: I like to meet actors BEFORE everyone knows who they are. It’s very fun to introduce an actor to an experienced director, and hear them say, “wow, where did you find this person?” Many of these actors, or even the audition reader, make connections with the creative team as we’re working, and go on to work with that writer or director on future projects. It’s a high form of flattery when an actor who came in for my auditions, whether or not they got the job, met someone on the creative team during that process, and ends up working with that team member in future readings, auditions, or is hired by them for other projects. Those are the best seeds to plant.
Looking to the Future
What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular? What are your concerns?
I am glad that inclusivity is being demanded and expected, instead of some of us ‘specializing in diversity’. I have always liked that technology is allowing for a greater amount of actors to participate in the casting process. Because we aren’t able to be in the same room together, we are interacting with actors all over the country. Some of the projects I’ve cast during the pandemic were audio only, or workshopped, and we could easily work with actors from all over. Doing projects that are working on Zoom or being shot instead of with a live audience presents a different way of working: It can be less rewarding, but there is an ability to explore and develop work, if that’s what you want to do. Now more than ever, I think the Unions should be completely overhauled and brought up to the modern era: not just because there’s a pandemic. Actors’ health insurance is one aspect that should undergo serious reform. This year has exposed so much about our process that should be brought up to date and reconsidered. I am certainly concerned for the future of the arts, theaters, security for actors. During this time, one can’t help but to re-evaluate everything we do and how we do it. Not just in our industry: we are all struggling. Restaurants, hospitality, anyone who has to work for a living or wants to interact socially. There was a time where if you were in the arts, you were ‘always struggling’. Now, everyone is and it’s times like these where maybe some financial sectors can relate better to one another. We can see how our success and failure is so connected and relies on one another.
Post-Pandemic, how prevalent do you think virtual auditions will be / what role will they play in the day-to-day casting process? Are there aspects of virtual auditions you’ve found that you prefer
There are directors who are comfortable casting off of a tape, and some who don’t like it at all. It’s going to be dependent on who we’re working with, but it’s also our duty to shed light on the process. We can explain what is possible, and what the limitations are. I don’t want live auditions to turn into an excuse for not getting in the room with actors, or doing it virtually to save money on a plane ticket. It’s important that these things continue to happen in person. But if it’s the difference between not doing it and doing it, we can be a good intermediary so that everyone is comfortable. I’ve had to explain how we do it on tape so many times this year: once they understand how it’s done, they really enjoy being able to see and hear actors, even in a pandemic. We all feel grateful that we CAN make work if we want. Casting Directors may have to do more hand-holding, but it does bring us together even more: we are able to see and watch actors, and re-watch their work. We won’t forget the audition at the end of the day, because it’s recorded! Ha. But the pandemic should not be an excuse to not cast authentically. Many theaters are using audio productions of their plays. Just because we can’t see the actor, does not mean we won’t be casting representatively. Just recently, I cast the role of Nabo in Lynn Nottage’s LAS MENINAS. He is written as a man from Africa who has dwarfism. I cast an African-American man who is a Little Person. However, a lot of submissions were of average height. Some had notes saying that they do a lot of voiceover or IF I didn’t find a LIttle Person or short-statured actor, to consider these actors. The aspect of the voiceover was clearly misleading about what we were seeking, but I was as clear in the breakdown about what and who we were seeking. Luckily, there are organizations for Diversity and Inclusion, and specific agents that specialize in representing talent with unique qualities, getting those actors seen for projects that are specifically seeking them, as well as any other project that doesn’t specify a particular physicality.
Self Tape setups are a financial and technical obstacle for many in our industry. For those who either can’t afford or don’t feel confident in the technical knowledge to use self-tape equipment, what advice can you offer to give them the best audition?
I just heard a very accomplished Casting Director say that it doesn’t matter that the tape looks high-tech, and that she tells her clients the hard truth that it’s more important that we see an actors’ work initially, than expecting them spending tons of money and time to make their tape look like it was shot on a film set. Casting Directors are also complaining that they spend hours editing tapes so they look high-end. I’ve also heard some CDs say they feel compelled to call actors who send in beautiful-looking tapes to say that it doesn’t have to be so high-end! This confirmed what we already knew: we need those tapes to come in, sometimes quickly. It’s more important that we receive a tape with good choices on it—as long as we can see you well and hear you well. If it looks beautiful but the acting choices aren’t exciting, what’s the point? It’s an audition: Not a film shoot. It’s not the actors’ job to spend a lot of money on a crazy edit. Basic decent lighting, and not showing every personal item in your house in the background. We can lead the charge with our clients and make sure they come to it from a place of gratitude, rather than “why doesn’t this look amazing?” The answer is, “it’s a pandemic. You’re lucky these actors are able to tape for you at all.” If you are tech-savvy, you are certainly ahead of the game and it may be very easy to re-do your reel, or work on your website, or make a self-tape that looks very professional. Self-tapes are not a big deal if you know what’s important. For some, it’s daunting. Better to learn now, while things are slower. There surely are resources with SAG-AFTRA and AEA. I’ve heard that SAG-AFTRA has given free studio time to self-tape, and have other resources to help its members. Actors have networks with each other to be readers for each other when they need them. Some CDs have put out a document that lists the best points of self-taping, shared on the CSA website. These tools are out there, waiting for anyone who needs them.
Here are some resources we found:
– Casting Society of America – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s5UJ_l0Dyw
– SAG-AFTRA – https://www.sagaftra.org/casting-directors-dish-self-tape-tips
– ActorAesthetic.com – https://www.actoraesthetic.com/blog/makeshift-selftape
The arts industry has inherent barriers to entry including but not exclusively race, socioeconomic status/background, gender, disability, and more. How do you think the industry should evolve to make it a more accessible, equitable, and intersectional space for all? Especially how can we apply this to the audition process?
Personally, I work on a lot of projects that are seeking to cast actors of a specific identity. Legally, we are not allowed to ask actors how they identify. It is both to protect the actor, and also to make the process fair. For example, we tell directors that they are not allowed to ask an actor their age. We have to talk in terms of how the actor presents. Some actors read older or younger than they actually are. So, we cast actors fairly, based on how they present. We explain that the audience won’t be looking them up on the internet to check their ages. However, if we are casting a role that is written for an actor to play a person who is non-binary, we are not allowed to ask someone how they identify. If we have a relationship of trust and respect, most performers will tell us or will proudly identify. I’m sure there may be moments where that actor doesn’t want that identity to be used to exclude them from playing characters that are not non-binary. We live in a discriminatory, unfair, and litigious world. So, when we are seeking to cast actors authentically, it would be nice to easily connect with those actors who are comfortable enough to say, “here I am. This is me. I am right for this role.” And know that it will not eliminate them from future roles that they could play if the other qualities fit. But employers are afraid to be sued for descrimination, and actors don’t want to be biased against. I do think that dialogue should be opened, but it is up to the actor and their comfort level. CDs can research organizations, Facebook groups, and get recommendations from our colleagues. I have not discussed this with Breakdown Services, but there are limitations on what we can say in a breakdown and how we say it, from a legal standpoint. Often enough, our breakdown might not reflect exactly what we are seeking. Or we are afraid to say it. If we are seeking ONLY actors of color, we are counselled to say “any ethnicity”, which might not really be what the team wants. Because of our inability to legally express what we are seeking, without excluding others, we should consult with descrimination attorneys to get closer to authenticity in representation. We are able to say in a description, “Actors who self-identify as…” When casting a role written for a Little Person or short-statured actor, I often have to have second and third conversations with agents and actors about what we really want and why that’s important. They want to contribute to this process fairly and no one wants to waste anyone’s time. But often, what we are able to say in a breakdown is limited by the legality of language used. We must take responsibility for doing this better, and collaborating better and finding ways around it, rather than accepting what the limits are. Things that are or were once there for protection are now a potential barrier for the right people getting into the right rooms. The casting community is having a lot of discussions about this BY, WITH, and FOR the BIPOC community so we can all work together to find work-arounds and create more comfort and authenticity. If there are limits in our process, we try to find ways to get around them, or include a legal perspective so we can all get what we so desperately want and need from the casting process. Instead of saying, “the director makes the final decision” and that we are not responsible, I am optimistic that we are standing up and calling things out when they are wrong, racist, inauthentic–discovering that we have more power than we thought. If we all do this, then things can change for the better. Members of the creative team who are narrow-minded and racist will no longer be able to enforce their stupidity if all Casting Directors prioritize justice and fairness in the process. Sign-in sheets alone have graduated from listing your social security number and agent phone to your preferred pronouns. We are moving that forward even more, trying to welcome information that will only help the process. Granted, my interactions are not on the highest Hollywood level: but hearing from THOSE CDs, and what they have to say? It’s invaluable to all of us. There are some amazing discussions with and by my colleagues in CSA. Very proud to be among them.
It is also why I added how I identify in the first paragraph, so my point of view is also understood. I should not be thinking that someone might not hire me because I am gay, Jewish, or have any of the above identities. It should be seen as an asset, and something I would, in today’s climate, be proud to say.