Stage gauges online casting

Theater embraces digital auditions for speed and efficiency

Perhaps it’s fitting that oldest of the dramatic arts — live theater — would be the last to adopt the new technology of digital casting. But this timesaving approach to populating a show now seems poised to take root in the legit world.

Two major musical revivals — “Funny Girl,” opening at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theater in February in advance of a presumed Broadway transfer, and “Annie,” slated to return to the Rialto in fall 2012 — are giving the process, which allows actors and their reps to upload videos and support material such as headshots and resumes onto websites, what may be the kick-start it needs. Several companies are already staking claims to this expanding business, offering various services to an array of interested parties.

The site ActorCast was conceived by Chris Gantos and Eric Hayes, co-founders of Cast It Systems, a “closed casting system” used by studios and producers.

“ActorCast is (an) open system for actors, talent reps and agents to join,” Gantos says. “So when a casting director is looking in Cast It, the system pulls options from ActorCast.”

As an example, Gantos mentions Bernie Telsey, the high-powered casting director attached to both “Annie” and “Funny Girl,” for which competitor Let It Cast is leading the online search for the lead role of Fanny Brice. “Bernie is casting out of New York, where he’ll host the physical open call for ‘Annie,’ ” Gantos says. “But he can take video auditions from all over the world, and ActorCast packages it all, as long as he’s using Cast It.”

Telsey acknowledges the changes to his field. “More actors are putting themselves on camera,” he says. “Ultimately, there is usually a call back or live meeting of sorts, but more and more that step gets skipped, depending on the part and the project. People are now used to doing things digitally, and that’s more acceptable for casting, too.”

The appeal is one of efficiency as well as breadth. “Digital is just so immediate,” Telsey continues. “We can be done on our end at 5 p.m., and an hour later the director or producer can have it. We don’t need FedEx or a messenger. And we can hear from actors we might not know otherwise. It’s an open call. There could be a girl out there with a voice like Fanny Brice, and she could send a video via the Internet, and I can watch it on my iPad.”

Web designer Yoktan Haddad and partner, director Laurent Touil-Tartour, created Let It Cast a year and a half ago almost by accident, when Touil-Tartour needed a cheap and quick fix for his own casting quandary. When his friends and colleagues heard about his solution, they wanted in.

“Actors were crazy about it,” Haddad says. “It gives them the chance to present themselves in a more artistic way, because the tool allows them to submit performances rather than just resumes and headshots. Multiple parties are involved in any casting process, and there are advantages for each with this system.”

Let It Cast also got involved with theater serendipitously, following a demonstration of the system for the Casting Society of America’s board. “That’s how we landed ‘Funny Girl,’ ” Haddad says. “We never figured theater would be an option. We assumed theater was very local, and we thought of our tool as international. But it’s useful for different decision-makers to access auditions online, because they’re not always in the same city. Our system allows for them to collaborate no matter where they are.”

For “Funny Girl,” Let It Cast is requesting that those hoping to fill Barbra Streisand’s shoes perform a song — any song, though preferably one from musical theater. “Because a song shows off personality,” Haddad says. “This isn’t a straight hire process. It’s just enough for the production team to tell if they should bring a person in for a traditional audition. It’s more like a taste; it’s not the whole meal.”