Schmigadoon!, the Apple+ series that began airing last summer, is so fun, lively and at times, full of craziness. With an incredible cast that featured Cecily Strong, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron and Ariana DeBose and musical numbers that felt like it was straight out of a MGM musical, it was one of the best shows of the summer.
Part of the reason why it was so good is because of the terrific work Canadian casting directors, Corinne Clark and Jennifer Page, did to find the cast. In this interview, they chat about Schmigadoon! and Zoom auditions. They also have some excellent audition and self-tape advice that every actor should check out. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or on YouTube.
I’ve done a bunch of musical theater, so this show was right up my alley.
Corinne Clark: It’s so fun and so fantastic and I just think that from what we read on the page to what ended up on the screen, it’s even better than I could have imagined.
The cast is just so supremely amazing and talented. Were most of the cast required to like sing and dance?
Corinne Clark: A lot of them, yes, many of them. Some didn’t really have much experience singing or dancing but had good training at theater school and so were able to pick up what they needed to. And they were well supported with an amazing choreographer and production team.
What were the auditions actually like? Was it kind of like a normal like musical theater audition?
Corinne Clark: I guess in a sense. I would maybe call it a bit of a hybrid. It was a conventional TV audition, and some roles were required to include a tap piece or a song. But they weren’t always required to be the best singer, just to maybe be thing on key, at the very most. But then obviously there were those roles that really required a high level of singing ability.
The scenario of the show is kind of ridiculous, in the best way. When the actors came in, did you have to tell them to treat the material… to play it almost serious?
Corinne Clark: I think that sums it up kind of perfectly, really. Yes, I would say that we encouraged that. In fact, the more believable and the more natural they seemed as their character, the easier it was to, to buy into it.
Was that written on the breakdowns, or did you tell them when they walked into the room?
Corinne Clark: Well, funny enough, there was no walking in the room. <Laugh> I really wish that we had been able to meet them in person. But we did actually do zoom calls with a good majority of people that we presented to the producers. And so, I will say that yes, in those instances we were like, ‘please, it wasn’t necessarily written on the breakdown…’ but it was definitely a note that we gave either pre-taping or during any callback scenario that we did.
How did that work with the singing and the dancing, to actually know that they could do that?
Corinne Clark: Well, we held zoom dance callbacks, if you can believe it, with a gallery panel of 30, 40 dancers. We had our choreographer and his assistant choreographer in New York on the zoom call as well. And we recorded everything. We had everybody’s little square and we had them learn choreography on the call, perform it during the call. And then we also requested individual will self-tapes from a lot of the dancers.
How do you guys like casting with zoom?
Jennifer Page: In some aspects of it, it’s been great because you can watch a lot more auditions. You can see a lot more people and have the time, when you have it, to go through and really sit down and watch. But I do miss the in-person connection that you have with actors.
I think there are pros to zoom, and actors have been great and have been able to adapt and do callbacks, like weird chemistry reads over zoom. it must be so hard because you can’t be in person to read off the reader or other actor.
And so, in that way, I’m sure it’s been very challenging for them, but they’ve all sort of stepped up from plate and done a great job. And we’ve all kind of, I don’t know, adapted to this new challenge <laugh> but I look forward to getting back into the room one day.
I’ve talked to a couple casting directors now and, like you mentioned, they are able to see a lot more people. What’s the ratio now, is it like 2-to-1 that you’re seeing more people on self-tapes or zoom?
Jennifer Page: Yeah, I would say so most definitely. Where we could see maybe 10, depending on the size of the role, you can now see 20 or 30 you can request tapes for.
Corinne Clark: What I miss is being able to do the redirect in the moment and I think that’s the thing that’s being lost in this new dimension that we’re experiencing.
We tried doing large casting sessions via zoom and because of the technology, there’s so much delay that we often are running 30, 40 minutes behind. So, we’ve sort of pulled back from that scenario for those reasons because people are just waiting far too long. I think waiting in a waiting room sometimes is fine because you can work on your lines and pace, talk to other actors. It’s a different experience than waiting in your kitchen or living room, set up and ready to go. The clock’s ticking and you’re getting in your head.
I do think that it’s just become a different kind of a job. We will send notes, but we don’t get that chemistry with the actors. That also takes away from getting to know actors to a certain degree. Sometimes to meet them in person and see them and get a feeling for them helps you cast them in other projects. And I miss that, like Jen does.
You said redirects, I feel like I’ve booked a lot of things because of a redirect.
Corinne Clark: Yeah, it’s a shame. But I think that the actors are becoming incredibly savvy, and they know that we need… Oftentimes, we’ll get two takes and it’s almost like they’re anticipating the redirect, or if we give a clear note, then they’ll be careful to do that.
And maybe actually what you bring up is maybe food for thought. Maybe we give them tone and note and then they do a free for all take where they get to be creative and do their own thing and we get to choose between. Maybe that’s a good template to go forward with.
With the show, did you bring in people you’ve mostly worked with before or had seen to audition?
Corinne Clark: I’d say in most cases, yes. Because in Vancouver and in Canada, it’s a much smaller market than the United States. And so, Jen and I work on many projects of big cross genres. So, we were looking to a lot of people that we booked on comedy series that we’ve done over the last five years. But also too, there are some really wonderful dramatic actors that kind of would work in this genre as well. We were really looking for actors that we knew would resonate with the material and so a lot of them we had worked with and had experience with.
However, we did break a lot of new talent, especially a lot of youth talent. And Jen and I are in general known for being open to new talent and new ideas, so we always keep that door open. I’d say maybe a 70, 30 split in terms of who we knew before and then open to new talent, always, always.
How do you guys find new talent? What’s the best way for somebody to get on your radar?
Jennifer Page: Through the normal processes of having an agent. And when, especially when you start a pilot or a new series, you can really unearth a lot of talent because you’re just looking to really read more than usual.
We’re working on a project right now where we’re just being able to pre-screen and pre-read a lot of talent that we potentially don’t normally get a chance to read. But occasionally we do open calls and things like that to really look far and wide.
Corinne Clark: Jen touches on a good point. We have launched many digital open calls over the last couple of years. Maybe even more than pre-COVID, we were doing digital open calls and looking for something specific and post on social media that we’re looking. We often reach far and wide, not just for Schmigadoon! but for other projects that we work on.
What advice you can give to actors, either audition-wise, when they come into your room or just in general? Like, what mistakes do you see a lot?
Corinne Clark: I’d like to just talk on a technical note for self-tapes since we’re in that reality and it looks like we’re going to be in that reality at least, my feeling is other 12 months, sadly. Your reader. <laugh> I know everyone’s challenged with finding good readers, but if you can have them be as neutral as absolutely possible. It’s really not important for the reader to kind of give an Emmy performance. We really wanna focus on the actor. It’s almost like they should just read the lines, but just a little bit of flavor, not much at all.
And if at all possible not right hot on mic. Because that’s another thing, because the audio levels are so varying and most people are listening on their earbuds and a big audio spike for the reader can be a little off-putting for the directors or producers. Especially with people that work in this medium, we’re all kind of sensitive to sound. So that would be a huge technical note.
I love natural lighting. I don’t think that people need to get too crazy with studio lights and backdrops, whatnot. I think just a simple white wall or a neutral space, you know, outside of a window is just fine. Don’t spend the money on that.
And interestingly enough, what’s working is readers over the telephone or over a zoom call. I’ve noticed a lot of people who can’t get somebody to come a room with them or doing it that way. And that kind of minimizes the hot audio that we hear a lot of when people are doing in person auditions.
And that’s always been kind of a thing for me. When we set up our studio, we try to mic the actors away from the readers. You can still hear the reader, but that the actor is really the one who’s being showcased.
And then I guess what we touched on earlier is just giving an option per scene. And I think the tone and the vibe these days is to go really natural anyway, whatever the genre is. It just has to be very, very ground, unless you’re doing comedy. And even comedy can be kind of grounded, those jokes are not big anymore. They’re usually dry and fast.
Jennifer Page: Try to figure out the tone of the project and ask your age to ask us if you have questions regarding tone. It’s usually when you get a breakdown and you get the names of the executive producers and the writers, you can sort of look at their past work and kind of figure out usually what the tone of their past shows have been. And nine times out of 10, they’re usually a similar tone with the new projects.
When you guys watch a self-tape, how far do you go into it before you turn it off and go into the next one?
Corinne Clark: <Laugh> it depends. <Laugh> That’s an excellent question.
Jennifer Page: I try to watch the whole self-tape, because some actors have some have slower starts and it’s nice to sort of see how they go through the entire scene.
Corinne Clark: Sometimes you’ll miss something. The first scene won’t be great, but the second scene will be good. So, Jen and touches on a good point there.
What’s the craziest audition story that you have?
Corinne Clark: <Laugh> Oh boy. Jen and I have worked together for over 20 years, so there are a lot of those stories. Oh, funny use of props. We’ve had that. We’ve had somebody use a big woolly sock as a knife. I was reading, Jen was doing camera and he asked if we could kind of get a little physical. And I said, ‘sure.’ I wasn’t totally off book, but this was a bit of a method actor that we were working with, and this is something we probably wouldn’t do these days, but this was a long time ago. So, we were game.
And so, he <laugh>, kind of had me pinned and his had his arm behind his back and he whipped out this wool sock, like a workman’s wool sock. And Jen and I just started laughing. <Laugh> Like laughing so hard, we couldn’t stop laughing. And then the director started laughing. I felt so bad for the actor because we couldn’t get it together.