Take Tamara Braun, who played popular vixen Carly Corinthos on the show from 2001 to 2005 and has since appeared on the prime-time series Freddie and House. She still recalls how Teschner "saved [my] acting life." Before she landed the GH role, she was thinking of quitting acting altogether. If it weren't for the CD, she has no idea what she would be doing now. "Maybe I would be living in the mountains making jewelry, involved in the healing arts, owning a coffee shop. Who knows?" she says. "Hmm. Those still sound appealing, but perhaps [I wouldn't be] living up to my full potential."
Teschner had to put a little extra work into tracking her down; the actor had previously auditioned for other roles on GH but switched representation without notifying the Screen Actors Guild. "When I saw him in the waiting room, he said to me that I was a hard lady to find," she remembers. "He scolded me for not registering my new info with SAG. I was perplexed that he would be looking for me specifically. I asked him, 'How do you remember me?' He said, 'I remember. It's my job.'"
That kind of extra effort and strong belief in actors is part of what makes Teschner so special. He doesn't just want to find good actors, he wants to find the right actor for every single role. For each series regular part on General Hospital, he auditions 200 to 300 people. And he looks at every piece of mail that's sent to him, whether the actor has an agent or not. "My job is to be open and available for talent," he says. "You never know where that next person, that next find, is going to come from. And in casting, you have to be very aggressive because there [are] hundreds of television shows looking for the same thing we are. I'm not doing my job if I'm not really in the trenches exploring every avenue and giving as many actors as I feel might be right a real shot at competing for a role. I love the discovery process of finding someone that no one has ever seen before. It's part of what I love best."
When it comes to finding that new talent, Teschner has an impressive track record. The current cast of GH is laden with fan favorites, as well as Daytime Emmy winners and nominees. Over the years, he's given breaks to Joan of Arcadia's Amber Tamblyn and Las Vegas' Vanessa Marcil. At his previous gig, the soap Loving, he cast such future notables as Beverly Hills, 90210 heartthrob Luke Perry and small-screen favorite Rena Sofer (Melrose Place, Blind Justice).
General Hospital was only Marcil's second audition; she still remembers sitting in the waiting room, intimidated by all of the immaculately groomed women around her. She was so green she didn't even have headshots—just a few hastily snapped Polaroids. She started feeling insecure and decided to leave. As she was getting ready to step into the elevator, Teschner called her name. "He glanced over at me for whatever reason, and we kind of—I hate to sound corny—but we kind of locked eyes," she remembers. "He said, 'Are you Vanessa?' And I said, 'Yeah.' So I decided to just go in. I think I was kind of too embarrassed to leave at that point, to look like a wimp in front of him. I walked in and I read with him, and to this day, it was the best audition I've ever had. I felt 100% comfortable, and he really made me feel like he was on my team. You don't always get that feeling from a casting director…. He looked at me in this kind of way that made me feel like there wasn't really anything that I could do that was wrong, that it was all very collaborative."
Marcil nabbed the part of ingénue Brenda Barrett in 1992, winning an Emmy for her work in 2003. She is still immensely grateful to Teschner for helping to launch her career. "I feel like he is so special. He [gave] me a chance when I wasn't that good, but he kind of saw the potential in me," she says. "It's a brave stance to take, and he does that."
Part of what makes Teschner such an intuitive CD is real-life experience: He started out as an actor. His interest in the world of performing began at a very young age. "I was raised in Scarsdale, New York, which is 20 miles outside of the city, and I was fortunate enough to have parents that loved going to the theatre and would go every week," he remembers. "When I was age 7, they started taking me into New York City to see shows. The first Broadway show I ever saw [was] It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!. And I was hooked at a very young age [on] the performing arts. There was really never doubt for me that on some level I would be involved in that."
After graduating from college in 1979, he relocated to New York City. "Like every struggling actor, I had moments that were fun [and] exhilarating and moments that were exhausting," he says. "After a few years of doing that, I realized that as much as I thought I loved acting, I just on a gut level felt that there was a change in store. Through one circumstance after another, I got into casting in 1983. From the first moment I got into casting, from the first day, it felt right. So I consider myself a really lucky guy. I have no bitterness or regrets about not staying an actor, and I found something that I absolutely love doing that feels like a calling for me."
His first casting job was as an assistant at Elissa Myers Casting, and he rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a partner and casting projects ranging from regional theatre and Broadway to films. He entered the soap arena after meeting Mari Lyn Henry, who at the time was director of daytime casting at ABC. "I was so impressed with his intelligence and his humor and his knowledge of the business," says Henry, who is now a partner at Henry Downey Talent Management and Back Stage's Start Here co-columnist. "When something did come up at ABC, I immediately suggested Mark. There was just no other person, simply because of his knowledge of the talent pool and his love of what he was doing."
Teschner's first job in daytime was the series Ryan's Hope; from there he moved to Loving, eventually heading out to Los Angeles to cast General Hospital. He also cast every episode of the 1997–2003 GH spinoff Port Charles. "I love daytime," he says. "You get to have two things in daytime: You get to find and discover fresh new faces, and yet you can bring in established, well-known, incredible actors to round out the cast, so you really have your pick from the complete talent pool. I also love the fact that from taping to air is usually two to three weeks, so that after it's done you can watch it three weeks later and see your work, and there's a real tangible result."
Of course daytime casting also comes with its own set of challenges. "We're on 52 weeks a year," says Teschner. "We're 260-some-odd episodes. So the challenge is always to find incredible actors, no matter how large or small the role—for the dayplayers, for the recurring roles. I'm passionate about those—that affects the show. It's not unusual for somebody to come in for a day or two and spark the writers' imagination or the producers' imagination, and the person that was supposed to be here for a day or two ends up being here for years."
Another challenge comes in the form of recasting popular roles: A long-running soap such as General Hospital may keep a character around for years, even if the original actor decides to leave. "The trick to a recast is finding somebody that makes it their own and isn't trying at all to do a carbon copy of what went before," explains Teschner. "My job is to find people that, while still making it their own, have something about them in their essence, in their being, that exists that is right for the role."
Take the character of troubled Emily Bowen Quartermaine, originated by Tamblyn. "She started as a 12-year-old and left the show when she was about 18," says Teschner. "Well, when we brought back the character, we brought her back with Natalia Livingston. Now, Natalia was a shade older, a little more womanly. And though it wasn't exactly the Emily that had been left on the canvas when Amber left, [Natalia] took it in a completely different direction, and we ended up playing the character with different characters on the show, and she's been wildly popular."
When actors and industry insiders speak of Teschner, a few common themes emerge. First of all, he has an encyclopedic memory. Many of the actors he hires have auditioned for him before. "If somebody leaves an impression, I will try to find a way to use them down the road," he says. "When they come in here, there are so many factors that are out of their control. They might be too young, too old, they might not be the right ethnicity for a role, they might not have the right sensibility, they might not be beautiful enough for a role, they might be too beautiful for a role…. The actor can't control getting the job, but what they can control is their work, and the actor who does good work really leaves their mark in a casting office."
That was the case with Scott Clifton, who has garnered three Daytime Emmy nominations for his work as hunky Dillon Quartermaine. The actor auditioned for several other roles on GH, but he was never quite the right fit. He still recalls Teschner telling him, "You're a good actor, and I want to find something for you."
"I was getting bummed, and I was wondering if it was ever going to happen," remembers Clifton. "And one day I auditioned for Dillon Quartermaine…. I [auditioned] for the producers, and Mark said, 'I want you to come in one more time for the writers and network.' As I entered the room that day, he introduced me to everybody, and he shook my hand, and as he shook my hand, he grabbed me and pulled me in close to him and whispered in my ear, 'I'm gonna get you on this goddamn show if it kills me.' And he did. Two nights later, I got a call saying I had booked General Hospital."
Teschner also puts a lot of energy into reading opposite the actors who audition for him. "I always enjoyed auditioning for Mark, because he would act with me—and with everyone," says Clifton. "He would sit in his chair, and when he would do the scene, he would look at you longingly if he needed to look at you longingly, or he would yell at you if he needed to yell at you. It was so refreshing as an actor, because I felt like I was actually going in and acting, not auditioning."
That element, says Teschner, is simply part of his process. "[I want] to create an environment so when that actor comes in, they can do their best work," he says. "If I don't create a safe place for the actor to do good work, it's not helping me do my job. There's no question auditioning is a tension-filled, high-pressured situation for an actor. I know that, so I don't need to make it more pressurized than it already is. When they come in, they know that they're going to get to read with me and that I will be in the moment with them in the scene, giving as much as I possibly can to connect with them, so they can do the kind of work they need to do to get the job. If I am not there for the actor, how can I expect the actor to be there for me?"
Finally, and perhaps most important, Teschner won't hesitate to fight for an actor. "If he believes in somebody and believes somebody is right for the role, he will go to the mat for them," says Kate O'Donnell, assistant casting director for General Hospital. "He will fight our producers, our writers, even the network to the last possible moment and stake his reputation on the fact that this person is right for this role."
"I'm not just hired to bring a parade of actors in for my producer and network; I'm hired for that gut instinct," says Teschner. "I'm hired for that passion. I've been very fortunate in my almost 17 years here at General Hospital to work with producers who are passionate as well. And what [makes] them terrific producers is their willingness to be collaborative. The way I am passionate is I articulate it and I try to create a situation where if they're not decided, we can maybe give an actor another chance and bring them back."
That happened with Daytime Emmy–nominated Alicia Leigh Willis, who played sassy Courtney Matthews on the series from 2001 through February of this year. "When she came in to read for my producer, my producer felt she was a lovely actress but she wasn't right for the role," remembers Teschner. "I asked my producer if she'd be willing to see her again and would allow me to work with her…. When [Willis] came in, we worked on the adjustment to her performance, taking the character in a different direction. Now, it's to Alicia's credit that she nailed it and she got the role. When she left, my producer turned to me and said, 'You were absolutely right.'"
So what advice does a casting veteran and former actor such as Teschner have for breaking into such a difficult industry? "Do it because you love acting, not because you want to be a star," he says. "Do it because you must act, you have to act, not because you want to make it. Making it, being a star, that's really out of your control; there are so many factors that go into it. But the actor that really makes it about the love of acting, the love of the craft of acting, is really ahead of the game because they have something solid. They have a foundation underneath it all, something they can come back to: their skill, their craft, their passion."
The CD also believes actors should train as much as possible and be constantly evolving. "You have to make it about you being the best actor you can be," he says. "If you're not currently in something, find a way to act: get in class, mount a showcase, get in a play. Don't wait for it to happen to you. You have to sometimes just go up there and create the opportunity to be seen. I go to plays, I go to showcases; I see actors in them, and I bring them in, and I hire them. They're actors that are out there creating an opportunity to be seen, and I urge any actor: Don't wait for it to happen; make it happen."
When it comes to your initial headshot-résumé submission, skip the gimmicks. "I'm not a fan of the gimmicks; it doesn't work for me," says Teschner. "To me, the best gimmick is being talented. I always feel bad when an actor I've never met spends money on chocolates or cookies or something to try to solicit an audition, because I feel that that's money that could have been spent elsewhere in their career."
He doesn't have many pet peeves, but take note: It drives him crazy when actors don't look like their headshots. "To me, if an actor comes in and they don't resemble their photo, it's the equivalent of lying on their résumé," he says. "A lot of times, actors come in and the photo bears no resemblance [to them], and I actually can't make a connection. Here's the problem with that: Any actor that reads for me that I like, I will keep on file for other stuff down the road. But if the actor doesn't have any resemblance to the photo, I don't keep the photo, because when it comes time to cast a part, I won't remember what they look like…. I think that somebody who knows themselves as an artist, as a performer, and can capture that in a photo, trusts in themselves, and that's what I'm looking for. I really want to feel like before that person walks in the room, I have an idea of who they are."
And when you go in, don't assume there's a difference between "soap acting" and any other kind of acting. "I personally don't feel there's any difference between what goes on in daytime and any time," says Teschner. "In fact, I think the actor that comes in thinking there is a certain kind of style and approach to daytime is doing themselves a disservice. If you watch daytime, you see the same phenomenal acting that you see everywhere. If there was a different approach to daytime, you wouldn't be able to turn on every prime-time show and see an alumni of daytime on that show. The crossover in this day and age is momentous, because a terrific actor is a terrific actor."
If you're lucky enough to audition for Teschner, just go in there and make it about the work. If you do well, he will remember you, as he has so many others. "Come in and make it about bringing a scene to life, being truthful, being honest with your choices, coming in with a point of view," he says. "Don't make it about pleasing me, don't try to second-guess what you think the casting director's looking for, because you'll never be able to do that, and a lot of times, the casting directors aren't sure what they're looking for. If you make it about your work and about nothing else, you really leave your mark."