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Behind the Magic

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No one needs to explain the value of theatre credits to Julia Flores. Though she has worked in film and television, her main job is casting national tour and Broadway productions for McCoy Rigby Entertainment, including the Tony- and Emmy-nominated Peter Pan.

Casting for more than a dozen theatre companies, from TheatreWorks in Palo Alto to the Globe Theatres in San Diego, from Milwaukee Rep to the Arizona Theatre Company, Flores strives to keep her actors as well informed as possible. "I want actors to know everything that I know about the role," she said after a morning of L.A.-based sessions. The travel involved is part of Flores' commitment to doing her best work, noting that, "When you hire Flores Casting, you get Julia Flores. I'm just that committed to my clients."

First Casting Job: Crime Story (1987). "I was an intern at a casting office, and we were working on the Vegas-based show. We were videotaping everyone in town and shipping the tapes out," Flores recalled. "I had no idea what [casting] was. I was going to USC, and my counselor said I would never graduate on time without doing an internship. So I interned for Rick Pagano and Sharon Bialy. They offered me a job when I graduated, and I worked there for three and a half years." After taking a little time off, Flores worked with several other casting directors, including Barbara Claman and Judith Weiner. "I really missed doing theatre, though. San Jose Rep and Berkeley Rep were very supportive and kept coming to me to get me to cast things, so I decided to do theatre exclusively." That was seven years ago. Flores got her bachelor's degree in theatre, but "casting turned out to be everything I wanted: stability with creativity, structure but with each show being different."

Coolest Casting Gig: "Each one of them is so special. I would have to say the Jimmy Buffett musical, Don't Stop the Carnival, based on the Herman Wouk book. We did this last year at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. This was five or six trips down to the Bahamas to do the casting with Jimmy, who makes everything fun. Luis Perez, the choreographer, and Michael Rupert, the director, did phenomenal work with the Bahamians we cast. It's Bahamian law that you have to cast 75 percent Bahamians. It was not easy, but it was just so much fun. So, as far as the cool factor goes, that was just cool."

Flores added, "Either that or the national production of Peter Pan for the McCoy Rigby family. They're amazing people to work with. Also I have so many kids in my life; to be the lady who knows Peter Pan, that was great."

Currently Casting: A Class Act for the Pasadena Playhouse (the West Coast premiere of the Broadway play about the life of A Chorus Line co-creator Ed Kleban). "That will be directed by Lonny Price, who was in it on Broadway. It's stolen my heart. The show is just really, really special." Flores is also casting Jesus Christ Superstar, the national tour, which will kick off in La Mirada. "That show, and King of the Moon, are both for McCoy Rigby," Flores noted. "King of the Moon will stay put at La Mirada. I'm actively casting for those three shows right now."

Key Things She Looks for in an Actor: "Commitment, commitment, commitment." How does she know commitment when she sees it? "It just screams out at you. I know almost from the minute I meet an actor whether they take responsibility for their career, whether they are doing the work in order to get the results they want. There are some actors who want the results without doing the work. I have no patience for that."

A Typical Audition: "We very rarely have the actors improvise. My clients know I don't like surprises and I don't want actors to be surprised. So as long as the actors are forewarned about something I'm OK with that. I'll notice that a director is tossing an additional scene into auditions, and I'll go down and prepare the waiting actors for that. I try to give actors as much time to prepare as possible. I want actors to know everything that I know about the role, where we'll be reading in the script, rehearsal and performance dates, money, contract, who will be in the audition, all of that. Agents always would ask the same thing, so I finally put it all in an info sheet and started saying, 'Let me just fax it to you.' I'd like it if the agents would then fax that to their clients." Flores said. "But I have utmost respect for my agents because I know how little money they're making on this and how dedicated they need to be to their actors to allow them to go off and do theatre for a certain amount of time."

Pet Peeves: "Laziness. Lack of commitment, lack of responsibility, lack of respect," Flores listed. At the time of our interview, Flores was holding last-minute auditions to replace a lead actor, who had been cast two months earlier but dropped out to take a smaller role in a bigger project. "I will never bring him in again. He made a commitment; he signed the contract. I cannot hire him again. It's about a work ethic.

"I have fought for some of my clients to start coming to L.A. as opposed to Chicago or New York, but L.A. has such a bad reputation for actors who won't come into an audition because they want to stay available for TV and film. Or who come into an audition and then turn it down because they want to stay available for TV and film. Or who come into an audition, book the role, and then back out because of TV or film. My job is more challenging during pilot season than any other time because of the way actors are tuned toward staying available for TV," Flores noted.

Advice for Actors: "Training." What does Flores consider the best form of training? Theatre! "Even for TV and film actors, theatre is where you learn everything. It's where you learn to be a better actor and a better human being, really. You can always tell a theatre actor," Flores explained. She recalled how a couple of years ago Christa Jackson, whom Flores had used many times in the chorus, came to her and said she wanted more. Flores backed her up, and "She was my Evita last year [for McCoy Rigby Entertainment at La Mirada, and, later, on tour in Taiwan] and was really incredible. She made the commitment to see the decision through. She didn't just talk about it. She did a lot of really hard work. That's what I respect most in actors: hard work."

"Actors need to know we're on their side. I can't speak for all casting directors, but I go out of my way to make it easier on the actor. Acting can be so isolating. Actors need to remember that there are many people on their side. The hierarchy makes it so that actors have no control and no say. Part of the reason I do theatre is because actors do theatre because they want to, not for the money or the prestige. Those are people I like to know."

Self-evaluation is important to Flores. "If actors don't get a job, they need to examine why. I have such respect for actors who call to get feedback, or have their agents call for feedback. Every audition is a growing experience, an opportunity to learn about yourself. If you don't get the job, it's not always about us, it's not always about them--and I hate to even put it in 'us' and 'them' terms. Learn from it. It's again about the commitment."

Her final bit of advice: "I wish actors would utilize the LORT/EPA auditions. Don't call me because you want me to see you, pay attention to when the call is and show up! I'll sit here all day during a LORT audition, and just a handful of actors will show up. If you want the job, you should take advantage of that."

Best Way To Get Seen by Her: No need for an agent, said Flores. "I am incredibly actor-friendly. Any actor who knows me knows that. I am only as good as the actors I know and the actors I love. Some of these actors I've known for the 15 years I've been casting. We've grown up together. They call me directly. I can have this open-door policy because actors call me, but they don't badger me. They're smart about it. They're human about it. Actors treat me with respect."

Her Biggest Casting Challenge: "Finding people who are committed enough and skilled enough for the roles that I need. It's a happy challenge."

What She Would Change About the Casting Process: "I've pretty much changed everything I didn't like about casting sessions. I always hated that actors are the low man on the totem pole. In giving them more information, I'm trying to give them more control. I put a lot of thought into hiring a reader. I greet all of my actors personally and walk them into the sessions. I always say, 'It's great to have you here.' I know what it takes. Actors give up a lot to do theatre."

Most Gratifying Part of Her Job: "It's the magic. I am so incredibly blessed to have this job. I'm getting to see it all happen. I'm there from the very beginning. I miss all of the rehearsals, which is sad, but to see it all work out from the director's first phone calls with me to putting people in roles to seeing it all click in performances, it really is magic." BSW

Julia Flores

9121 Atlanta Ave., Ste. 430

Huntington Beach, CA 92646

Casting Qs is a weekly column by Bonnie Gillespie focusing on the casting directors behind the projects. Suggestions for Qs are welcome via e-mail at CastingQs@yahoo.com.

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