Lincoln Center Theater
 
 
 
Backstage Blog

by Brendan Lemon

Oh, They Remembered: The Actors Reminisce

Jan 2, 2013

'Tis The Season

Dec 14, 2012

Zach Is Back (And Others Are, Too)

Nov 29, 2012

A Russian is in the House

Nov 9, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get There

Nov 1, 2012

Downton Abbey Versus War Horse

Oct 19, 2012

In Demand: Hair and Make-Up

Oct 11, 2012

Three Generations Watch the Show

Sep 28, 2012

Ariel's Back at the Beaumont

Sep 18, 2012

War Horse's Closing: What to Feel?

Sep 7, 2012

The Actors Take a Vacation

Aug 27, 2012

Mister Klein is in the House

Aug 7, 2012

Checking in with Sanjit

Jul 28, 2012

The Parade in the Lobby

Jul 19, 2012

Kings of Infinite Space

Jul 2, 2012

Merv Has Something to Crow About

Jun 21, 2012

War Horse Takes the Field

Jun 15, 2012

Sailors go to War Horse

May 30, 2012

Facing a Student Audience

May 16, 2012

The Man Behind War Horse

May 8, 2012

Anniversaries, First Nights, and Andy Murray

Apr 20, 2012

A Bonnie Blue Easter

Apr 9, 2012

Where are the Women?

Mar 29, 2012

Catching up with David Manis

Mar 26, 2012

What People Really Say Backstage

Mar 8, 2012

The Story of Andrew and Albert

Feb 24, 2012

Bellying Up to the Barr

Feb 15, 2012

The Guy with the Goods

Feb 7, 2012

What the New Billy Does Between Shows

Jan 23, 2012

Some Actors Say Goodbye, Others Say Hello!

Jan 12, 2012

Waiting for the Next Wave

Jan 5, 2012

Greetings, Friends!

Dec 21, 2011

Which Way to War Horse?

Dec 5, 2011

What War Horse Actors Line Up For

Nov 18, 2011

Eleven Eleven: For the USO

Nov 14, 2011

What The War Was Really Like

Nov 9, 2011

What They Say in the Returns Line

Oct 26, 2011

The World of Isaac Woofter

Oct 19, 2011

How Elliot Villar Survived His Injury

Oct 11, 2011

WAR HORSE: Reading Suggestions

Sep 28, 2011

Herr Hermann on His German Officer

Sep 22, 2011

September Brings Showers - Of All Kinds

Sep 9, 2011

Richard Crawford Makes Some Thunder

Aug 24, 2011

The Stage Manager Speaks

Aug 15, 2011

"Making War Horse" airs this week on WNET

Aug 8, 2011

Houston is in the House

Jul 28, 2011

WAR HORSE in Summer Attire

Jul 22, 2011

Keeping it Clean with Lynn Bowling

Jul 11, 2011

Ariel Heller Hits the Target

Jun 27, 2011

Alyssa Bresnahan: Life with Mother

Jun 21, 2011

In the Winner's Circle on TONY Night

Jun 13, 2011

Mad About Madeleine

May 27, 2011

Lobby Talk: Audience Members Speak

May 20, 2011

Students are in the House

May 12, 2011

Who Taught the Cast to Fight?

May 2, 2011

The Week After Opening

Apr 22, 2011

WAR HORSE on Opening Night

Apr 15, 2011

Is WAR HORSE Sentimental?

Apr 8, 2011

Helping Out a Buddy

Mar 28, 2011

Song Woman: Mighty Kate

Mar 25, 2011

The First Preview

Mar 17, 2011

Seth Numrich: Boy with a Horse

Mar 7, 2011

What Shall We Call Mr. Millar?

Feb 28, 2011

Can I Bring the Kids?

Feb 18, 2011

New Kids

Feb 10, 2011

Keeping War Horse Moving

Feb 3, 2011

What Happens at Lunchtime

Jan 31, 2011

A Gathering of the Troops

Jan 20, 2011

How WAR HORSE Got Cast

Jan 13, 2011

The Voyage Begins

Jan 10, 2011

How WAR HORSE Got Cast

Jan 13, 2011

War Horse isn't the biggest show Daniel Swee has cast at Lincoln Center Theater; that would be The Coast of Utopia, with 45 actors. But War Horse, with 35 performers, did present Swee, LCT's casting director since November 1991, with some special challenges.

"As casting director," said Swee the other day in his file-and-folder-lined office, "you are trying to satisfy the director's and writer's visions. But with War Horse there were unusual demands. One of them was linguistic. For the play," said Swee, who first saw it when it transferred from London's National Theatre to that city's West End, "we needed some people who could do West Country accents, as well as more standard British accents among the story's officers."

A bigger challenge, however, involved casting the dozen people who, through life-size puppetry, play the show's two main horses, Joey and Topthorn. Swee and Camille Hickman, LCT's casting associate, set out to find performers whom they could present to the production's co-directors, Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris. First, of course, Swee had to get a sense from them just what they sought. He had a conversation with Elliott after seeing War Horse in London the first time, and lengthier discussions with both directors after he saw the show twice more in March 2010. "There was at least one wine-filled evening," Swee said, "where they explained to me just about everything I needed to know about War Horse."

Explaining the production could be festive; finding the actors was a more sober, complex affair. It wasn't just the number of actors Swee and Hickman needed to find. It was those requirements for the horse actors.

"First of all," Swee said, "you need people who are fit enough to handle the physical demands of the horses. Not all actors are up to that. Next, you need people who can interact skillfully as part of a team." He continued: "Each horse has three performers, who correspond roughly to the animal's head, heart, and hind." Further: "These performers don't have human speech. Some actors don't want to play parts where they don't have lines."

To find the performers, Swee and Hickman spread a wide net. They reached out to drama schools with a strong physical-theater component (NYU, Cal Arts, and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, among others), and made contacts among the puppetry community, in the dance world, and with such physically intensive hits as De La Guarda and Blue Man Group. During the heart of the audition process, this past May and June, around 110 people vied for the horse roles in War Horse.

"We would see 9 people at a time, for three hours," Swee said. "The performers would listen to Mervyn Millar" - the production's Associate Puppetry Director - "talk about the show. People would do physical exercises. The auditions were partly to determine the physical capabilities of people and how well they listened and learned."

Millar, along with Drew Barr, the production's associate director, winnowed down the candidates. The 110 people were reduced to 40, who were brought back for further physical work and observation. The final audition involved 22 people, who were seen by directors Elliott and Morris, who, in conjunction with Millar, made the final casting decisions.

"The dozen who were eventually chosen," Swee said, "are all in excellent physical shape, and between 5'8" and 6'2", with the height varying according to the demands of the horse." Swee added: "The people chosen are a truly remarkable and exciting group of performers. I'm in awe of their talent, inventiveness, and discipline. Most of them are making their LCT debuts, and I hope they are as thrilled about that as we are in having them."

Casting the horses may have been an involved process, but at least Swee didn't have to find understudies for them; the four teams of three rotate the performing of Joey and Topthorn, so there is a built-in process that comes into play when somebody is out for any reason. Swee did, however, have to work on the casting of the show's 23 non-horse performers. (Remember? The men and women who needed linguistic acumen, among other talents.) But that process, which at its core required six intensive days of auditioning, is another story: one for a snowy day, which, given New York's winter this year, will probably happen soon enough.

Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.

 

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