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Spotlight Interview with Mark Teschner (and Why I Believe in Casting Director Workshops)


AmberSweet 11-25-13 Picture for ArticleDriving on to the lot at Prospect Studios was a first for me and it was exhilarating to say the least.  When I said, “My name is Amber Sweet and I have an appointment with Mark Teschner” I felt on top of the world…and almost barfed a little.  This was one of those really cool actor moments; strutting up to the General Hospital building in my best heels to an exclusive interview with a huge Casting Director.  My face hurt from smiling.

I met Mark at a casting director workshop.  Let me start by saying up until that day, I was pretty against workshops; not only do they usually cost a fortune, I kind of hate the idea that you have to pay to play.  But after much deliberation, I realized that I had to put my ego aside and bust out my wallet, because whether I like it or not, that’s how the game is played, and I’m here to win.

I walked into a room full of ridiculously beautiful people (all of whom could be on a SOAP tomorrow) and was doing my best to remain positive.  I could feel the nerves in the air and the other brunettes sizing me up–if it weren’t for the $150 I shelled out for this “paid audition” I would have left.  Then Mark arrived and my walls came down.  He was funny and attentive, gave encouraging and practical notes, and spent equal and substantial time on each scene.  Yet, what was most impressive and refreshing was that this “workshop” felt nothing like any other I’d been to–it felt like a class, and Mark’s adjustments and critique truly improved the work of each actor in it.  The class was worthwhile, productive, and Mark was fucking RAD.  You could tell that he cared about the actor, cared about the work (not the paycheck), and he wanted to be there.  Mark Teschner officially restored my faith in casting director workshops.  I was an instant fan and when I approached him about an interview, he agreed to let me pick his brain.

Sitting in his office with the live dailies of GH streaming behind me, Mark and I casually talked about his journey to casting, his thoughts on the necessary evil that is CD workshops, and (after seeing me practically drool over them), he let me hold his Emmy.

You’ve received countless awards for your work in Casting.  It’s astonishing to me that there is yet to be an Oscar for Casting.  What are your thoughts on that?

MT:  The Casting community has felt frustrated for years about the lack of Oscar acknowledgment; we are the only main title to not get a nomination.  Having said that, there have been years of effort put into creating that award.  I feel that the tide is changing; there have been several Casting Directors that have been very active in this area and have made amazing headway with the Academy.  I think the recent and incredible documentary Casting By really shed light on the creative aspect of Casting and just how essential it is to making a film, and I feel like we are getting closer.  The AMPAS just created a branch for Casting Directors (for the first time ever) so rather than being members at large, there’s actually an executive branch, which is a huge step.  My gut feeling is it will happen, I just don’t know when.

Casting By was such a great documentary, a must see for all actors; it opened my eyes to a lot of aspects regarding the Actor/CD relationship.

MT:  Yes.  Casting directors can be the greatest ally of an actor, we are your champions; when we believe in an actor we work tirelessly and passionately to try to create that possibility.  It is not us against them; when the actor walks in we are not looking to say no, we are looking to say yes.  I think more actors need to realize that when you walk in the door there is endless possibility–we are just as hopeful as you are that something magical will happen in the room.  The greatest feeling as a casting director is when you feel on a gut level, that you have found what you are looking for: that combination of talent, presence, charisma–where you feel THIS is something special.  The most frustrating feeling is when you’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of actors for a role, and you may have seen wonderful talent, but there’s been no one that sparks you on that gut level.

I have recently read a lot of articles on trust; trusting yourself in room, knowing that you bring something unique to the part, and not letting yourself get in the way of YOU.

MT:  Absolutely.  If we had the role cast we wouldn’t have you audition–we want you to do well.  Furthermore, there is no point in comparing yourself to other people in the room; there’s always going to be someone prettier, more talented, more established in the room, but YOU are in that room for THAT audition because you have the possibility of booking that job.  An actor must come into the room with a strong point of view on the material that they feel emotionally connected to, that they feel brings the character to life.  There is no point trying to tailor your performance to what you think the casting director wants–often we’re not even sure and it’s the situation of “we know it when we see it”.  I think the most empowering choice an actor can make is one that is from their place of truth, not where they think the casting director’s place of truth.

Can you talk a little bit about how your acting background comes into play in your teaching?

MT:  I don’t necessarily think that you must have a background in acting to be a good Casting Director, but I definitely think that I am a better Casting Director having been an actor.  I have benefited from training as an actor because I can speak the actor’s language; when giving an actor an adjustment or a note I am not making it about the result, I am helping them in process of that moment and using a language that they can relate to, in order to open up the possibilities in the work.

I already told you this, but after taking your class I had a new found respect for workshops, and walked away a better actor having been there.  Can you talk about your thoughts on CD workshops?

MT:  Workshops can be a great tool for actors to try and find a balance between how they perceive themselves and how the industry perceives them.  Casting is very subjective, everyone has a different opinion, and there is no right or wrong opinion.  You have to take what feedback you get from industry professionals and process it in a way that makes sense to you.  If you’re hearing something consistently that you’re not aware of, then maybe that is something you should take a look at.  I don’t view my classes as “casting director workshops” and I am not an advocate of the pay to play situation (though I understand why that system exists).  For me, I don’t want an actor to come in and make it about trying to get a job, I want you to make it about the work.  I feel like I would be doing actors a disservice if I just sat there, watched the clock, and said “thank you.”  I want to empower actors (at whatever level they’re at) and challenge them to get out of their comfort zone, leave the workshop a stronger actor, and do the kind of work that’s required to survive in this town.

What would be your best piece of advice to actors?

MT:  One of my favorite quotes is “don’t wait, create.”  You can’t sit around waiting for the business to find you.  You must love acting, but don’t make pursuing a career your entire life, you have to have balance; find things outside of acting that fulfill you, so that you have a rich emotional life.  A grounded, well rounded, creative person is in a much better place both in terms of doing good work, and surviving this industry emotionally.  Lastly, there is difference between an actor coming in trying to get a job and an actor coming in to do the work.  You’re not there to please the Casting Director or to be their friend.  The actor who is coming in to do the work is really in a better place because they don’t need anything, they are present and they have no attachment to the result, only an attachment to the work.  That is a very empowering and dynamic place to be and it’s very attractive.

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Amber Sweet

About Amber Sweet

Amber Sweet is an actress best known for her breakout role in the independent short "There's Something in the Woods.” She is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and a proud company member of Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre, where she tours SoCal in the show "What Goes Around.” Amber is a founding member of the up and coming all female comedy group, Full Frontal Females, where she writes, produces, and acts. Amber will be filming two independent features in 2014, "Clarion Falls" and "Pretty Things", as well as hitting the Off-Broadway stage, reviving her role as Bella in the critically acclaimed production of "Women Are Crazy Because Men Are A**holes.”