Launching a performing career – at any age – has never been for the faint of heart. Coping with constant rejection and random decisions by producers is just a small part of it. With the ever-soaring costs to mount most stage and screen projects today, there can be multi-millions riding on a single performance. How do casting directors and producers know, which kids can handle such enormous pressure and who can’t?
In the case of a stage musical such as Annie, very young children must carry the show – eight performances a week and sometimes twice a day.
“It is a huge burden to place on a child,” says Joy Dewing, founder of Joy Dewing Casting in New York and one of the Annie scouts who discovered Davie fourth-grader Issie Swickle. “But the ones who have been training, who have been doing the work, know what they are getting into. Yes, we are taking a gamble. But a lot of casting in general is instinct.”
“What’s great about Issie is that she is calm. There are no affectations. She’s not trying to impress anybody. She doesn’t fidget or make faces. She acts like a normal kid.”
Annie creator Martin Charnin who has watched “thousands upon thousands” of children audition over four decades, says successful young performers typically share a common trait.
“They all have to be very, very smart,” Charnin said by phone from New York. “Obviously they have to be able to perform. But beyond talent they have to be smart and they have to have a social I.Q. that is really high.”
When he puts his money on a single kid, he does so because she has “a fire I can sense.”
“Most of the kids – they have it in their bones. They relish being on stage. They pay attention. They learn quickly.”
I have a great feeling about this young girl,” he says of Swickle. “She’s very clever.”
– Deborah Wilker