BWW JR: ANNIE Casting- Shine Like the Chrysler Building!
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by Erin Leigh Peck
Arielle Tepper Madover isn't just a Tony award winning Broadway producer, she's also a mom. Like all of us, she puts a lot of value on her kids' emotional development, and she recognizes how important self-esteem is, especially for young girls. That's why when Madover (pictured left) decided to bring Annie, the first musical she'd ever seen as a child, back to Broadway, she got to work at reinventing the casting process for child actors, putting the experience of auditioning and a sense of accomplishment ahead of competition and fear of rejection.
"I was so excited to do this," says Madover. "Once we started talking about casting, a self esteem initiative was the next step and it all came together really nicely."
Being a positive force in the casting world goes hand in hand with the world of Little Orphan Annie, a little girl who's compassionate optimism and plucky courage has made her an iconic character in musical theatre.
"I fell in love with Annie when I was eight," Madover told me. "It was my first show. I want all the kids out there who have any attachment to the show to feel welcomed by this production. That's what I love about our self-esteem initiative. It says, 'This is about having fun and being yourself. This is about you and we want to get to know you in the process.'"
What that has amounted to is an innovative casting process that utilizes the most recent online audition practices along with multiple open calls in various cities, making it possible for virtually any kid to take a shot at playing Little Orphan Annie.
"You never feel like you've seen everyone," says Annie's casting director Patrick Goodwin of Telsey + Company. "It's a big event. It's a revival of such a well-known show. We want to see every kid we possibly can, not just the kids we already know from productions we've already cast them in."
Since Annie herself is somewhat of a Cinderella story, it's exciting to think that this extensive search might uncover some brand new talent. When a girl between the ages of six and twelve visits the show's website at www.AnnietheMusical.com, she's given information on auditioning in person at an open call or online. Parents can help their "Stars to Be" record a video audition that includes a song (not from Annie) and a story about who she is or something she likes to do.
Potential orphans can view a video of Arielle Tepper Madover (pictured left) talking about her search for tomorrow's Annie today. Online auditioners are advised to be themselves, relax and have fun! Open call attendees are given a self-esteem audition handout that helps them celebrate the audition itself, not the possibility of booking a job. The handout encourages adults to recognize how much courage and confidence it takes to walk in and audition, and girls are advised not to rehash the audition, but to feel proud of what they put out there and to move forward.
"We went to a well known child therapist and asked for help with this. We didn't want to assume that we knew how to do this on our own," says Madover. "We went to the experts for advice on how to find a way to talk to the kids and the parents....We want the kids to feel special and proud of themselves for auditioning. I feel so strongly about this being a good experience for everyone."
All of this was good news for eleven year old Megan Spector (pictured left) of San Diego who's been performing in youth groups and local theatres since she was five. Megan's unique video audition impressed casting directors enough to win her an invitation to attend a live audition in Los Angeles. Megan would love to be cast in the show, but the experiences of making the video and getting to audition in Los Angeles were a thrill on their own.
"It was all just really exciting to say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm trying out for Annie on Broadway," she says. "Just sending in the video was so much fun. When I got a callback I was like 'Whoah!'"
Megan's mom Sheri was supportive yet realistic. "A friend told us about the online audition and we thought it couldn't hurt to send in the video and see what happens. We thought not only would it be a great experience for Megan to go through the audition, but this is also her goal so if she were to get it we would support her one hundred percent. No matter what happens, it was tons of fun."
Click below to watch Megan's audition video!
Megan and her dad, who often write skits together for their YMCA camping group, had a blast making the video. It was a fun, family activity and everyone got involved, including Megan's little brother Cole and even the family dog.
"Auditioning teaches you a lot about performing. Being on stage is my favorite thing to do in the whole world," says Megan, who also enjoys playing soccer and piano and hanging out with her friends.
To date, there have been 850 video entries. That may seem like a lot, but casting directors are looking at each submission and so far they are happy with what they are seeing.
"We have some really solid options in terms of kids who's tapes we could save or invite to fly in for a callback," says Patrick Goodwin. He's still having agent calls for the professional child actors his office knows and loves, and he is sure that the cast will be made up of a mix between kids "in the business" and those just starting out.
"We like seeing new kids who haven't worked professionally. We don't want these kids to be conscious of the fact that they are pros. We want to see THEM as much as we want to audition. Honesty is appealing. "
That's just what he saw in eleven year old Kristen Dowling's video. Kristen (pictured left), who has done a few shows near her home in New Jersey, isn't your typical "showbiz" kid. She enjoys singing, so for Christmas her parents enrolled her in an Annie workshop at Broadway Artists Alliance, taught by Patrick Goodwin. It was there that her mom Michelle Dowling heard about the online audition opportunity.
"I didn't feel comfortable going into New York for an open call with Kristen, but the online audition looked like fun." Actually doing the show was the farthest thing from Michelle's mind, so she was surprised when Patrick Goodwin called about featuring Kristen in a New York Times article about online casting in the theatre. "It started as something we were doing for fun, and then the casting director called me a few days later and I was kind of stunned."
[CLICK HERE TO SEE KRISTEN'S VIDEO AUDITION]
But is the family prepared to handle the rigors of performing on Broadway?
"What's meant to be will be, and if she's meant to be on Broadway we will work it out. " says Michelle, "But we try not to expect anything. It was fun just auditioning and I'm really proud of Kristen. With this kind of thing, you can never feel bad about yourself because so much goes into the decision."
Indeed, with only nine or ten roles available (Annie, the Orphans and a few understudies), the competition is fierce. Or rather, it could be if not handled correctly. The casting directors and producers are taking big steps to make this a kinder, gentler casting process for kids, but at the end of that process lies the possibility of working in a real, professional situation.
Julie Stevens, who played "Pepper" in the original Broadway production of Annie, is a children's talent manager, former on-set tutor for child actors and director/producer of the award winning documentary, "Life After Tomorrow". She appreciates the new approach and has even sent several of her clients to Annie auditions, but she cautions that doing the job is still something to be taken seriously.
"The reality is, this is a professional production where there's money on the line. Kids have to behave professionally and have to understand a certain discipline about auditioning and what might be expected of them if they get the job."
And that is on Arielle Tepper Madover's mind, too.
"It's a Broadway production, but kids are kids," She says. "A lot of people came to me and wanted to do a reality TV show about finding Annie. I said, 'I can't do it. These are ten year old girls. I don't want anyone to be upset.'"
Madover is focusing on finding positive ways to make an impact. "My whole intention for this production is to make it about community and Broadway helping people."
She is developing outreach programs attached to the production....an education initiative, opportunities for affordable tickets for school groups and partnerships with dog rescue groups (let's not forget about Sandy!).
"Thirty-Three years ago, when Annie was first on Broadway, people didn't talk about adoption or shelter dogs. Now is our chance. Rescue, a nation in economic distress, trying to stay positive during hard times...these are the themes of the show. We want to help make positive changes. That's our intention and that's what we're hoping for."
If you have a little girl that is an aspiring singer, acting or dancer, you have until October 9th to visit the show's website to submit a video or find out about open calls. It's a great opportunity for a first audition.
"This whole show is about first," says Madover. "It will be many kids' first Broadway show. Maybe their first trip to New York, maybe their first audition."
Just auditioning can be a fun activity, even if your child doesn't end up being the next Andrea McArdle. Just ask Kristen Dowling, who despite her open face and beautiful voice, isn't set on being an actress when she grows up.
"I kind of want to be a Broadway star....or maybe also a veterinarian. Either one!"
Get to the Point, Mom!