Any given production of theatre is brimming with different artistic talents. Lighting design, choreography, costume design, performance — and even casting. That’s how Stephanie Klapper views her role as a casting director for theatre, film, television, orchestras, and other streaming media. 

“We’re a designer of the cast,” she says. “Our artistry is a little different to nail down, but I think that’s what we have. That’s our secret.”

Klapper and her team at Stephanie Klapper Casting (SKC) work with directors and producers to connect performers with artistic opportunities. On new pieces and musicals, her team also works closely with the playwright, composer, lyricist, and book writer. As Klapper describes, they develop a deep understanding of the stories and characters in the script, interpret the directors’ wants and needs, and locate opportunities for actors and performers to bring roles to life.

Just like the designers on any given production, their work comes to fruition on opening night when the house lights dim, and the cast takes the stage. Dramatics chatted with Klapper to explore her views on the craft, how she works with her team, and what makes her job so creatively satisfying.

The Process of Casting a Show

SKC is based in New York City. They partner with theatre artists to cast productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway, at regional theatres across the country, on stages abroad, for television and films, for web-based projects, and for audio streaming works.

When asked how many projects she and her team at SKC cast every year, Klapper says simply, “I don’t count. It’s a lot. We’re very, very fortunate, and it’s rare we’re not doing something.”

No two projects are exactly alike when it comes to casting. Sometimes the SKC team has a few months to cast and other times they have to cast on the fly if a production needs to fill or replace a role immediately. Klapper can recall many times when an actor needed to leave a production due to illness or family emergency, but the show was already running and needed a new performer to step in ASAP. She can also recall a few times when an actor was presented with another opportunity and the SKC team had mere hours left to fill the role.

Casting Director Stephanie Klapper

Nevertheless, Klapper says their process typically unfolds as follows: a director or producer sends Klapper the script, she and the SKC team read and discuss it, they receive character descriptions and character breakdowns from the director, and they bring in actors to audition for the director.

“It’s important to know what directors are looking for, and our job is really to get inside their heads,” Klapper says. “We translate what they say and begin to understand aesthetically where they’re coming from and what the larger project is going to be like. That helps us in terms of the actors we bring in for them.”

Klapper says SKC funnels the input and character breakdown they receive from the creative team into their casting process. They consider people who they have previously worked with as well as people who are recommended by the creative team, people who are both represented and unrepresented by agents, and people whose work has been submitted to them. They keep and reference a list of actors who have auditioned for them and actors who they have been following.

SKC’s relationships with managers and agents are also instrumental to their casting process. Additionally, Klapper watches shows in New York City and around the country and works as a teaching artist and guest lecturer, helping to meet and identify emerging talent and broaden the actor pool to choose from.

Depending on the theatre and the client they’re working with, they’ll hold preliminary auditions in person or virtually, then they’ll coordinate schedules with the director for in-person callback sessions, after which the director makes the final casting choices.

Giving Performers Opportunities to Shine

Klapper says there are a few misconceptions about casting and the culture surrounding it. In particular, she says casting directors are often thought of as “the gatekeepers of the world and the people who prevent people from moving forward.” That’s not how she sees herself, her team, or her professional peers.

“I think, almost unilaterally, casting [directors] get great joy from giving people opportunities. It happens in different ways and everybody’s different in how they do that,” Klapper says. “For me, I just really love giving people the opportunity to shine.”

Being insightful is also a big part of their job. They may spot an opportunity an actor might overlook, based on their skills and talents.

“Sometimes productions are about giving people opportunities to find their talent within a role,” she says. “Maybe we’ve seen something in a performer they don’t even know yet, but they have some special ‘Spidey skill’ that we know this part will help them to shine in.”

Klapper describes the SKC team as bright, caring, respectful, and kind people who care deeply about what they do and about giving people opportunities. It’s an open-minded environment that welcomes different perspectives.

“We have great conversations about not just our profession but the world at large and what’s going on right now. I think we all come from different places of thinking, and I think we’re all very respectful of each other and we share what our insights are,” she says. “Every project we talk about, we each bring something different to the table, and I think that’s what makes us so special in what we do — there’s a lot of perspectives.”

3 Tips for a Career in Casting

We asked Klapper to offer pearls of wisdom to students and young performers. She pulled from 25+ years of experience in the industry and offered this guidance:  

1. “There’s no such thing as limits.”

Especially at this time in your life—don’t limit yourself, and know that you’re invited to the table. She says, “What’s great right now, in the culture of casting, is that we’re interested in everybody, in everything, and in great discoveries. We talk more about ethnicity up front now. We talk about abilities and actors who have disabilities and how important it is that everybody’s represented on stage. It’s not just a select group of people.”

2. “Never stop learning.”

Don’t limit your potential in exploring new and different skills. Klapper says, “It only makes you a more interesting person, and ultimately, we’re casting the person — not just the best actor.”

3. “Be kind to other people, be polite, be respectful, and never be faultless.”

It’s important to remember you never know who’s going to be in your life for a very long time. You want to make sure you treat people the way you would want to be treated.

While there are plenty of theatre careers to choose from, casting director are the best of both worlds. The role allows artists an opportunity to have a meaningful impact and closeness to a production, while doing so behind the scenes. It requires fundamental theatre skills, like script analysis, but offers you the freedom to go with your gut and give your fellow actors an opportunity to find their dream roles.

Natalie Clare is a regular contributor to Dramatics, a freelance arts and culture reporter in Cincinnati, and an arts and education marketer. She has a handsome husband, an adorable baby boy, a mischievous cat, and far too many plants.

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