Ruminations on Casting - Revelations Aplenty for Our New Mosaic
Director Derek Goldman (right) with the company of Unexplored Interior.
Standard thinking among DC directors, producers and casting pros over the years has been that we have a strong talent pool of actors, but the pool is thin, or doesn't run that deep, or particularly wide. The mandate has been to cast early – from 9 to 14 months in advance – especially if one was looking for actors of a certain age or standing, there simply wasn't enough seasoned talent to be spread amongst the dozens of theaters looking for the same type of leading woman or man.
Mosaic Theater Company is a new enterprise started by some old theater hands. We thought we knew the local pool. We began auditions for our inaugural season a bit later than in a typical year (which is to say May, 2015) but not so far into the summer that one could say we were dangerously late. We were worried about what we'd find; who'd be available. What we found was revelatory. We found a goldmine we didn't know was there.
Of course we were looking for something different than what I, at least, had looked for in the past. This was to be a season with an emphasis on actors-of-color. Of the 38 actors being hired for mainstage productions, a full 24 to 26 would be actors-of-color, including our pre-selected solo performers. Would there be enough talent to fill these ensemble roles adequately?
The truth – and it says something profound about how Mosaic's mandate has pushed me and our repertory to new places – is that I've seen more African-American and South-Asian actors over the past three months than I did in the past 17 years across town... That's not a huge surprise, since Mosaic is something truly new in my experience (a new multi-cultural theater committed to modeling inclusiveness at all levels of staffing, board representation, and in our body of work,) but it speaks to the thrill of thinking one knows a theater community and then discovering brand new aspects of it as one adjusts artistic and geographic coordinates.
Mosaic's Resident Director Jennifer Nelson works on casting with interns Isabel Thompson and Lauren Katz
Thanks to amazing work from busy casting director Jenna Duncan, and a team approach to deep research culling through conservatory and lab rosters alongside past productions we'd attended, while being open to strong word-of-mouth recommendations from the acting community itself – we found pool upon pool opening itself into a veritable Great Lake of talent lapping onto our shores at the Atlas.
The revelation for all of us who sat through some 350 audition slots over the 3 month period was that the African-American talent pool in DC and Baltimore is deep and prodigious; that there is more talent being harvested at training grounds like Howard University than we'd ever realized. The thrill and relief is that for every one of our ensemble shows, we were able to cast entirely locally and within budget. No out-of-town casting treks made and none needed. It was all here in front of us the entire time.
Our mission commits us to bringing communities together. We're made up of multiple communities in this new Northeast quadrant in which we find ourselves, and we see our mission as a very intentional effort to invite, to blend, to infuse, and preserve a diversity of talent; we see that fusion happening in DC's talent pool and it will be showcased powerfully on our stage. While hardly a novel approach to making theater in this town, our commitment to diversity feels unique in recognizing that our setting at the Atlas gives us a rare opportunity to fuse local and global engagements - to bring the African and Middle East dramas into a resonance with the explosive conversations on race so relevant to our moment.
To bring multiple communities into the theater, we must tell the stories that reflect those communities — that address and challenge and lift up those communities by digging deeply and making associations to other regions and issues that dramatize parallel stories. We bring a mighty acting corps to this endeavor – a local United Nations that makes us proud and speaks to the promise of our name – to be a vibrant, new Mosaic. We bring ourselves and our respective pasts – our yearnings, concerns, and openness to a new setting to achieve new resonance and a reason for celebration – to salute the potential for new shared experience; moving experience; as we create gatherings that will have meaning in and of themselves, building a new Mosaic that reflects the range and robustness of who we are now.