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Blog Stage Q&A with Casting Director Jen Rudin

Jen rudin headshot Casting director Jen Rudin was Director of Casting and Talent Development for Disney Theatrical Productions in New York City from 2007-2009, where she cast the stage productions of The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, and Tarzan. From 2002-2007, Jennifer served as head of casting for Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, CA.

We spoke with Rudin before her upcoming six-week Actors Connection Showcase Class, a scene study class in which actors will work in pairs to prepare a scene that they will present to five legit New York agents. Read our Q&A with Rudin to learn about her teaching approach and why scene study has become a dying art, hear about her upcoming projects, and more:

Blog Stage: What is it that makes you want to teach, in addition to casting?

Jen Rudin: It’s interesting. I used to do these workshops a lot in the '90s, just to sort of make extra money while I was making my way in the casting world, and I actually really enjoyed teaching. I feel like, especially with audition technique, actors need really firm, concrete feedback on what to do. It’s really fun to teach, and also I feel like I’m really helping people in what is just a horrendous business, a competitive business, and a business where no one’s that nice. I try to be a decent human being by spending time with actors and hoping to help them, and I translate that into my casting sessions as well.

Do actors have to have a particular level of acting experience when they walk in the door for your class, or do you see actors at all levels?

I definitely see people of all levels. Obviously, they need to be able to make the time commitment of six weeks, and also know that it’s going to be scene study, which is kind of crazy these days because nothing is really scene study anymore when you’re auditioning for a play. So it’s really sort of back to basics, making choices and making sense of the scenes and working together, and it should be really fun. But it really is for people to brush up, and to get the tips and tricks that they need to be able to walk in and make some choices in a very short amount of time in the audition room.

I’m actually kind of excited for the scene study, because I feel like actors kind of forget that’s kind of the basics. If you are an actor, you should be able to look at scenes and interpret them. So I’m kind of excited to go back to some of my favorite plays and shoot scenes for everybody and go from there.

And you mentioned that that’s a less and less common skill. Why do you think that is?

Because these days, an actor’s getting some TV sides for a quick thing or one line on Law and Order, and it’s just not the opportunity [for real scene study]. Everything happens so fast these days with auditions, and the opportunity to spend some time actually doing scene work is a luxury. But I think it will be really good for people to get back and actually remember that it’s about endurance as an actor, about being able to stay in a performance. If you’re a theater actor, you need to have those necessary tools.

So it’s not just about what you have to do to get that one particular job, but you always want to be expanding your skill set.

Yeah, I would hope good actors want to do that. It should be fun.

The end of your six-week Actors Connection class is devoted to presenting a scene to five agents. Do you have to change your approach as a teacher when the final goal of an acting class is that type of showcase?

If [industry] is coming, it’s important for people to showcase at the end – especially after a several-week class – because it gives them a goal to work towards. Otherwise, you might just have some lazy people, but I think they’ll really step it up if they think that people are actually going to come and see their scenes.

But really, ideally they’re just themselves in front of these agents, and that’s how they should do it. Hopefully it’s their best day, in front of somebody who might be able to help them take the next step in their career.

Do actors taking your classes then have an in with you as a casting director?

Yeah, sure. You always think of the people in front of you when you’re casting something, and so I can’t guarantee that anyone taking the class will end up being cast in something but it’s certainly a possibility. It happens all the time. Or they could possibly be a reader for me at auditions. But it happens all the time. Honestly, it’s about working and meeting people.

What could an actor do in your class to turn you off or make you hesitant to work with them? What should actors avoid when they’re taking a class with a prominent casting director?

They definitely want to be there for the work, not necessarily for the future auditions that could happen. Also, I judge people all day for my day job, so I can spot somebody who's going to be kooky crazy, and I just say leave all the drama outside the room. Don’t bring it in.

You were the Director of Casting and Talent Development for Disney Theatrical Productions until 2009. Are you still working for Disney at all?

I’m not there anymore. Unfortunately, my position got dissolved in the summer of 2009. I spent five years casting the animated movies at Disney, and then I spent two and a half at Disney Broadway, and a lot of what I did was talent development, trying to find people for our shows and do outreach and find talent in unconventional ways. So no, I got dissolved, but a lot of my freelance jobs since have been for Disney.

Many people would think that casting for theater and animated productions must be very different, because onstage theater acting and more "behind-the-scenes" voice-over acting seem almost opposite. But I’ve spoken with voice-over casting director Andrea Romano

Yes, she’s great.

And she said that theater actors actually do better when making the transition to voice-over. What are your thoughts?

They do, they absolutely do. Actually, the actors who are great for animation are often the theater actors. Back in the old days, the Disney animated movies were primarily voiced by Broadway people, so actually when I was brought out to L.A. in 2002 to do the voice casting for animation, they wanted a theater casting director.

If you look at The Princess and the Frog, which is the last movie I cast for them, it’s filled with theater actors. Jennifer Cody’s a Broadway gal. Michael Leon-Wooley did a voice, and Anika Noni Rose. So I agree with Andrea 100 percent.

And your own theater background is actually directly what led you to Disney.

Yeah, it was.

When you were Director of Casting and Talent Development for Disney Theatrical Productions, were you also casting Disney animated films at the same time?

I wasn’t, no. I was in Burbank in California for five years, from 2002 to 2007, and I was in New York from 2007 to the summer of 2009. I mean, I’m still in New York, but I was doing Broadway the last two and a half years of my time there.

So you were never in a position to tell actors, "Oh, you’re not right for that animated film, but I’ll bring you in next week to audition for this theater production."

No, but there definitely was synergy between the two. When I left animation, I would take some of our Broadway actors and see if I was able to put them at least in an audition room for animated movies for Disney, because I tend to view it all as synergy between the different divisions.

Can you talk at all about upcoming things you’re working on. I saw last week that you were attached as the casting director for Tim Burton's animated Frankenweenie feature film. ?

Yeah, we did a lot of the casting in December for the kids in New York. Tim Burton has been very busy with Alice in Wonderland, so he’s going to start to look at my choices this month, I think. I’m starting a movie for Peter Bogdanovich, so that’s exciting, and I just finished casting a very fun non-Equity tour of the Berenstain Bears, and that was great.

Those are all very different projects. Do you make a conscious decision to vary your work?

Well, it’s, I’ve gotten sort of segued into doing a lot of the Disney stuff, which is the family stuff. You want to be careful. Just like any actor, a casting director doesn’t want to get pigeon-holed into doing one thing, so I think it’s important to keep everything varied.

I’m going to start a movie for Fox in a couple weeks called The Sitter. That’s Jonah Hill’s new movie and that’s a totally PG-13 crazy, wacky, fun comedy that’s not Disney. It’s a different studio, and I’m excited about that, because it will be another kids search and also because it expands [my range]. I do love Disney, but it’s good to expand and not to be pigeon-holed into being just one type of casting director.

How much does the work actually change from a raunchy Jonah Hill comedy to an animated family film? Does it feel like your job is actually different?

I don’t think so, because you’re really just trying to identify charismatic talent, especially when it comes to kids. I really love doing kid searches, because really, kids can’t fake charisma. They either have it or they don’t. So it’s just that the venue will be different, whether or not it’s a Disney animated movie or a Fox R-rated movie. The kids just need to be great, smart, fun, and have personality.

Does your approach change in terms of open call, agent submissions while you’re looking for these kids or is that pretty much the same all across the board?

It’s pretty consistent. I’m a big fan of open calls and getting the word out, because I feel like, especially with kids, sometimes the kids that are the best are the ones that aren’t "showbizy" and already all-knowing and too coifed. I like the kids that are very natural and real, and not the ones that are fake and showbiz and too unnatural.

Are you able to find that in New York and L.A., or are do you have to expand your search beyond those regions?

I’ve been all over the country at different times. I like to open up the doors. Especially these days with technology, you can have a kid tape an audition, and then if it’s great, come to New York for a call back. We didn’t have that in the '70s, the '80s, the '90s.

What should the goal of an actor taking your class be, beyond just presenting their scene to agents?

I think it’s really about consistency, and that’s why it’s a six-week class and not a one-night class. So you might be great Tuesday night and then the next two nights you might really be off your game, and it’s up to the actor to find the best ways to be able to always do their best. And they have to really learn that for themselves.

Every actor’s different, so I just want people to show up and be ready to work. It’s not easy. Theater acting and show business is very difficult. We will also be covering some basics of auditions in the course, because that will come up in the class, and we’ll build community, get to know each other, and become an ensemble by the end. So that’s exciting.

Jen Rudin's upcoming Six-Week Actors Connection Showcase Scene Study Class begins April 8 and runs every Thursday through May 13 in NYC. For more info and to register for this and other upcoming Actors Connection seminars, classes, and events, visit www.ActorsConnection.com.

Jen Rudin won the 2006 Artios Award for casting Chicken Little. Additional animated film credits include Meet the Robinsons (2007 Artios Nomination), The Wild (2006 Artios nomination), Academy Award-winning film The Incredibles, and Academy Award-nominated Brother Bear. Recent animated films include The Princess and the Frog, starring Anika Noni Rose. She also cast the Los Angeles premiere of Jason Robert Brown's musical 13, winner of the 2008 LA Drama Critics Circle Award.

Prior to joining Disney in 2002, Rudin was a freelance casting director for film and theater in New York City. Her independent films have premiered at such prestigious film festivals as the Tribeca Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Hamptons Film Festival, and the Hollywood Film Festival, among others. She served as resident Casting Director from 2001-2002 for the esteemed Ensemble Studio Theater in New York City, and she has also cast hundreds of national television commercials, including the famous "Can you hear me now?" campaign for Verizon.

Upcoming films include include Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, Peter Bogdanovich's Squirrels to the Nuts, and Greener Pastures: A Roberto Clemente Story.

For more info, visit www.jenrudin.com.

-- Daniel Lehman

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