Op-Ed: Stunt casting, and why it’s ruining the industry.

Stunt casting
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“A Chorus Line” New York Publications.

Stunt casting. You’ve seen it in some variation or another. Big celebrities are either Hollywood, television, commercial, or Broadway. Or even some that the public has never heard of but have big connections, unnecessary huge agents, and gigantic credits.

DO WE NEED BIG NAMES TO PRESENT A PROJECT?

The answer? No.

Regional theaters and television/movies have done nothing but stunt cast lately. And show business has always been a game about numbers and favoritism, that will never change. A producer is not even going to remotely bat an eyelash at casting his wife. Whether they have talent or not, they already have the power to do whatever their heart desires.

Others aren’t so lucky. Broadway has long been plagued by pop artists and turning classical musicals into the radio top forty. It becomes a balancing act of big names VS. talent. This is anywhere from the new Little Shop of Horrors, Sweeney Todd, Funny Girl, recent tours of Hamilton, Cabaret, the Wicked movie, American Idol pop stars leading shows, and even smaller regional theaters that actors have been bending over backward to get into.

Every once in a while you will find an unknown who was lucky enough to get swing, ensemble, or even a co-star and very rarely…a lead on their first try. Or maybe someone who left the spotlight who was called to fill in for a role and then never stops playing that role. An example of this was a non-union actor who made her debut in Wicked the musical as Elphaba. These things do happen, but they rarely do. And it is hurting the industry.

PAYING THE BIG BUCKS TO BE SEEN.

Casting directors have acting classes or workshops and master classes to work with students and actors, whether they remember you is a different story altogether. And sometimes, they charge upwards of three hundred or more. Artists are called starving artists for a reason. Tack onto the price of obscene headshots anywhere from 900 to 1200 and you have a very broke actor.

AND ALL THE VIRAL SOCIAL MEDIA KIDS.

And it’s not even casting celebrities anymore, no they are also turning to social media, reality shows and TikTok to scoop up talent. Numbers, followers, and popularity keep those who have been working hard in or out of a union unemployed or stuck in little indie projects.

We had things like Fear: The Walking Dead using social media stars, American Horror Story using reality stars, and even during Covid, Law and Order turned to some Broadway stars. Big names. Big credits. Once those credits stack up, they keep getting called in again and again to the point where some don’t even have to audition.

EVEN CELEBRITIES AGREE.

I was speaking to an actor the other day during an interview and we touched upon how if you have the money to back or cast yourself in a project, it’s purely a game of luck. We’re looking at you David Hasselhoff of Jekyll & Hyde. Even West End actors seem to be suffering from stunt casting as well.

When is the industry going to learn? Even during bad turnouts, scathing reviews, and unkind social media comments, this process is still repeated over and over. Let’s bring back classical voices. Let’s cast unknowns, and bring back more self-tapes because not everyone can be seen at a live audition. It takes money to get there, and time to spend there.

WATCH SELF-TAPES, CASTING.

Some producers ask for self-tapes and never watch them.

This is a big topic found in the Backstage forums, as well as the union doesn’t have enough projects for AEA or even SAG because most things, like national tours and some regional productions, are going non-union.

We essentially pay our monthly dues to do jack squat.

LOCAL AUDITIONS MEAN NOTHING.

Some excellent talent who live locally near a regional theater and show up at local auditions aren’t even looked at because the producers and casting prefer New York or Los Angeles. In what universe is that fair?

If I live fifteen minutes away from something, why in the hell would I go into the city, and waste money on train tickets and taxis only to get the same experience I would receive from locals?

Why are we casting the same actors again and again?

Listen to the box office, listen to the reviews, and start giving other people chances. This has always been a male-dominated business as well, and there are RARELY parts for women anymore unless it involves stunt casting. Even some of the understudy roles are going to bigger names or those with Broadway and tour credits.

So ask yourself, actors, why do we bust our asses to get rejected for bigger names when the industry is dying from it?

WHO AM I ANYWAY? AM I MY RESUME?

How can we grow to be passionate about our craft if we hit brick walls? With or without representation, the industry needs to make some changes and it ALL starts with casting directors.

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About the author: Katie Harden is a professionally repped New York-based/bi-coastal musical theater, entertainment journalist, and indie film actress. She is proudly part of the Actor’s Equity Association and frequently interviews colleagues, friends, and celebrities, along with reviewing television and movies. Find her at the bottom of a can of Arizona sweet tea or in the ocean!

Work: AMC, Showtime, HBO, The Emmy’s, The Walking Dead magazine, MGM, Universal, Sony Screen Gems, Fansided, Bloody Disgusting, and more.

INSTAGRAM: @KATIEHARDENOFFICIAL

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