I love casting. I love the thrill of the hunt, and the even better thrill of the find. Whether casting something I’ve written or something I’m directing, I am conscientious about keeping an open mind—the better for thrill-seeking. But in all honesty, being open-minded while casting can be really tedious and time-consuming.
Then someone like Rick Steadman walks into the room and it’s all worth it.
Last year, for a Theatre of NOTE production (where he is a member) I cast Rick to play a 12 year-old boy whose innocence is severely challenged by his parents. Even though Rick was a stranger to me, I was absolutely positive he was far older than 12. I was also pretty confident that he was no innocent. But Rick supported my self-insistence of open-mindedness by blowing his audition out of the water. His reading of the sides was performance-worthy. Thrill fulfilled.
I remain grateful that he was so willing to play along then, as he also is now. . .
Me: First of all, the outside of your vehicle is very, very shiny. Honestly! My brain immediately started singing like the orphans in “Annie” about making things shine like the Chrysler building! So, please rate your “prep” for me on a scale of 1 to 10.
Rick: Well, right now my parking is outdoors. My car had been covered with tree and bird leavings, and I didn’t want to make your readers look at that. It’s just not nice. So I did wash the car before I took photos. Otherwise, I’d say the prep was about a 3. So a 3, and washing the car. Call it a 5 on your scale?
Rick: The long black case is actually an umbrella, with a samurai sword handle. Because I’m a great big nerd. And now I’m embarrassed that it’s in the picture. But hey, it’s representative of who I am.
Me: And also—Crosswords!
Rick: See my previous answer regarding being a nerd.
Me: No! This isn’t supposed to be a “rag on Rick” column, I swear!
Rick: I love crosswords. I do them a lot, most days I do one to three of them.
Me: Holy cow!
Rick: I’ve got a crossword app on my phone that’s constantly culling new puzzles from different providers, but there’s nothing like doing them with paper and pen. So I keep that big book of them in my back seat, and I’ll pull it out if I’m at the Laundromat, or early for an audition or rehearsal. I’ve usually got a normal book or two in my car as well, but I think the book I’m reading was in my apartment when I took that photograph.
Me: Your portfolio file is super fancy.
Rick: Ha! Does it look fancy?
Rick: That’s good, I guess. It’s actually just a $15 clipboard with storage on the inside.
Me: Well played! And is that a calculator on the front? And do you use it?
Rick: Yes, it came with the calculator, and I hadn’t planned on using it, but I actually do sometimes. If I’m waiting to go into an audition, and I’ve already done whatever prep I wanted to do in advance, I sometimes kill time by working through my budget with the calculator, that sort of thing.
Me: I like the image of you playing with your calculator as you wait for an audition. I wonder if that psyches other actors out, like, “What is that guy doing with his calculator? Am I approaching this character incorrectly?” And—thank you for the “inside the portfolio” shot. I know you’re a loyal reader of this post—which I love!—so you’ve prepared for my other standard question for actors: Your headshot/resumes.
Rick: Yeah, I always keep the headshot/resumes in the car. I’d had a clear plastic file folder thing for audition materials, but it wasn’t very durable, and things tend to get thrown around in my car. I figure there are a lot of things in the business you can’t control, but what you’re presenting to casting is one thing you can. So I don’t want to give anyone a dog-eared, weather-beaten headshot.
Me: I’ll tell you what. As a director, I greatly appreciate that. I always get a little bummed when someone hands me a “gamey” headshot. It affects my mood/perception, even if just a little. How often do you use them these days?
Rick: It’s definitely lessened now that more and more casting directors are doing everything electronically, but I still give them out probably 30% of the time at auditions, and once in a while if I meet someone in the industry who asks for one. Commercially, they take headshots less and less, but TV/film/theater casting still seem to take them most of the time.
Me: I see you keep a few other things in that fancy, bargain portfolio. . .
Rick: Yeah, a notebook and pen—
Me: I see a notebook and pen on your front passenger seat.
Rick: I’d had a class the night before and I was taking notes. They tend to move around in my car quite a bit, from front seat to back. I’m big on taking notes. In class, at auditions, wherever. If I’m driving around and have an idea for a project. So there’s usually a notebook and pen in my car, and some note cards and extra pens.
Me: I also see a bar code in the portfolio? And an eyeglass case?
Rick: Casting bar codes, and a pair of non-prescription glasses, in case they want me in glasses for an audition. That only happens periodically, usually for commercials, but it’s always good to be prepared.
Me: It’s like Superman being asked to reverse-transform into Clark Kent! And speaking of costume changes: Two extra pairs of shoes on the floor of the front passenger seat? Really? I say “extra” assuming you were also wearing a pair. . .
Rick: I like the idea of me taking off my shoes and putting them in my car, then taking pictures of my car while barefoot. That’s so weird, I almost regret not having done it! Those two pairs don’t usually live in my car. The dress shoes were for an audition I’d had earlier that day, and the boots were for a show I had later that night. I’ve been performing in “Serial Killers” at Sacred Fools Theatre a lot recently.
Me: I’ve been meaning to check that out. Tell me more.
Rick: It’s an 11PM show with five scripted episodes of separate serial shows, and at the end of the show, the audience votes on which three shows they’d like to see new episodes of the following week.
Me: So, since you’ve been “performing a lot,” does that mean the episodes you’re in keep on getting voted through?
Rick: Well, as I’ve gotten to know more of the folks over there, they’ve pulled me into more pieces, so if a given piece doesn’t make it back the following week someone else has usually grabbed me for a different piece. But right now, they’re doing playoffs, a sort of March Madness-style tournament of top serials from the season. I was in a few different ones, of which two are left as of right now.
Rick: First, for your unintentional pun, visit www.sadtrombone.com.
[I do so. Readers, I also encourage you to do so now.]
Me: Wow! You win the prize for the first sound design element in any of these posts! But seriously, Rick, the Maglites. Two of them.
Rick: I was in Boy Scouts growing up, and the “Be Prepared” thing kind of stays with you. If one flashlight dies, there’s a backup. And if it’s dark and you’re looking for something in or around your car, having to search for a flashlight first is a big pain. My dad has that same Boy Scout thing ingrained in him, too, so most Christmases I end up getting new flashlights, batteries and knives from him. That’s not all he gives me, of course. He’s not like a crazy survivalist guy living in the hills. Though he does actually live in the hills. I’m not helping my own case here. It’s just his way of making sure his kids are safe. Anyway, flashlights tend to accumulate for me because of that.
Me: And shoes too, I’d venture to say. Because I see another pair of shoes! This time, Converse, in your ComedySportz duffel bag.
Rick: Well, because the brand of ComedySportz is based on it being “competitive” improv played as a sport, we all have uniforms. The Cons are part of that. But if I’m doing improv at iO or another place, I’m usually in a shirt, jeans and a regular pair of sneakers.
Me: What’s in the other bag in your trunk?
Rick: Ha! I guess that’s another one of those “Be Prepared” things. That’s a roadside emergency kit. So in there are jumper cables, fix-a-flat, road flares, an emergency blanket, that sort of thing. The only part of it I’ve ever had to use has been the jumper cables, but I guess it makes me feel better just having it in the trunk, in case something happens. It’s the disaster version of having extra headshots on you. Though I’d guess most actors have had auditions that felt like car wrecks, too.
Sara Israel is a writer and director living in Los Angeles.