by Anna Altheide
With more than 20 years of Broadway casting experience (including Tony-award winning heavyweights such as Wicked, Rent, and Hairspray), casting director Rachel Hoffman (Tesley + Company) knows a thing or two about life behind the table. She recently spoke with the Ensemblist to give her take on what it takes to be a standout in a crowd of thousands.
As it turns out, what you wear (“unless it’s terrible”) and what you sing (“as long as you think you’re singing what puts your best foot forward”) won’t make or break the whole audition. As cliched as it may sound, the be-all, end-all comes down to simply being yourself and doing your best.
Of this common trap that actors often fall into, Hoffman elaborates, “I think actors spend too much time trying to figure out what everybody else wants, and what the people behind the table are thinking, and why. All you have control over is yourself, how prepared you are, and what choices you’ve made with the material. The biggest mistake is trying to be someone that you’re not.”
She also adds, “Come in, do your job, and get out. I know that sounds terrible, but sometimes on those big days, it’s about seeing as many people as possible and getting the information we need to be able to call you back further and explore more. You don’t have to show me everything, I’ll get a sense of it, and I’ll have you come back with material.”
Hoffman describes the whole casting process as putting together a complex puzzle, with unique factors – even down to specific notes to be sung – all coming together to please every department involved. Her role in piecing it together is an around the clock job, and “time management is key, as well as knowing how to juggle multiple things at once and multitask.”
“It’s just become the nature of the best. We are service people in some ways to our directors, our producers, to actors, to everybody.” Despite the momentous responsibility, “It really is one of the reasons I love casting, because It’s like putting a puzzle together where you have to be able to help creative teams shift and see things in different ways to make it all come together, and to make sure everyone is still getting everything they need to create their piece of art.”
Hoffman speaks extra fondly of casting ensembles, adding, “I think I fully realized how special ensembles are when Gregory Haney was cast as La Cienega in Bring It On. […] Watching him come into the room with specific character he created, it’s imprinted in my mind. Andy Blankenbuehler was the one who said, it’s amazing how much talent there is in an ensemble that you might never know exists.”
In reminiscing on past casting experiences, Hoffman harkens back multiple times to the ensemble of Bring It On, not only due of the immense talent she encountered, but “diving into a world I had no idea about, [such as] going to college cheerleading nationals with Andy Blankenbuehler and trying to figure our way into the cheerleading world. Cheerleaders aren’t looking to be in a Broadway musical. We had to go after them.”
Though Hoffman is no stranger to casting well known principle and ensemble actors (“I wish I could have one thousand Leslie Flesners who could sing the high soprano and dance and cover roles and be funny”), she gets the biggest kick out of discovering unknown talent, particularly among productions looking for younger people fresh out of college.
“I love finding the new people. [I think about] ‘who I knew before this’ and ‘who did I meet along the way’ because they walked into an open call, or because they were pushed by an agent, or because somebody else in my office saw them and said, ‘hey, you should try this person.’ That’s my favorite.”
To learn more about Hoffman’s previous experiences and gain more insight on the casting process, listen to our recent podcast #159 Let’s Talk About Auditions (feat. Rachel Hoffman).