Understudying at the Geffen

Had a great time working with the amazing cast of These Paper Bullets at L.A.'s Geffen Playhouse. Covering both Justin Kirk and Damon Dauno gave me some big and talented shoes to fill. Going on and performing for Justin was one of the more exciting afternoons of my career to date. Here is a cool article in Backstage about the understudy casting process.

#ICastIt How the Beatles Influenced Casting On "These Paper Bullets"

Photo Source: Michael Lamont

Phyllis Schuringa, artistic associate and casting director at the Geffen Playhouse, took a step back in time to cast the season opener “These Paper Bullets,” a fun throwback to the ‘60s take-off of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The show originally opened at the Yale Repertory and will continue on to the Atlantic Theater Company after its Geffen run. The show was initially intended to as a complete package, but some actors became unavailable, giving Schuringa the chance to be involved in casting a couple roles in addition to all the understudies.

“It was kind of an all hands on deck process,” she says. Working with Telsey + Company in New York, Schuringa and team cast Nicole Parker to play the lead character Beatrice (echoing Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing”). The role of Leo Messina had been cast, but there was a last minute drop-out, so Schuringa suggested Nick Ullet. Ullet was well-known to the Geffen and the LA theater community having been cast at the Geffen before, but Schuringa says she wasn’t sure if anyone in New York would be aware of him, so she sent a clip she found on YouTube with her suggestion. “Everybody at the Atlantic loved that little clip and that’s how he got cast.”

Schuringa’s biggest task may have been casting the understudies (Katie Amess, Georgia Dolenz, Joby Earle, David Alan Novak, Sam Trueman, and Matt Wool). With a company of 15 there were logistical considerations. “It was a patchwork of trying to fit together how to cover these parts with the fewest number of actors and that was like putting together a puzzle.” Add to that the musical aspect of the auditions and Schuringa had a fun challenge on her hands.  

The four leads make up the band “The Quartos” and perform live, so Schuringa was looking for actors who could play the drum or guitar and sing. Director Jackson Gay was able to attend the one day of auditions to help assess the musicality of the actors. They also put the actors on tape for the musical director Julie McBride, but Schuringa says, “we ended up not needing that tape because the ones that came in and did a great job, it was really, really obvious that they were good for those roles.” For the audition, actors sang and played one of their favorite Beatles songs. “Watching them, hearing their Beatles music was great because musicians know that. It wasn’t like they had to learn a new song; it was like they could show us something that they already knew. It makes a real joyful [audition]; they could show us their take on the Beatles music.”

What Schuringa really looked for were actors with a fun and imaginative take on the material. “Just the ability to be kooky and crazy and to want to improvise with the material…With serious musicianship.” The most imaginative actors were the ones that got cast. Schuringa cites Georgia Dolenz (daughter of Monkees member Micky Dolenz), who auditioned for the Beatrice and Higgy understudy as an example of the imaginative actors she saw. Dolenz had auditioned for things at the Geffen before, but it was never the right part. “I finally figured out what she was really, really good at and she’s really good at this improvisational humor and playing that period which was really, really fun to me. I mean, that’s one of my favorite things that happened. We found a job for Georgia Dolenz in this piece.”

Check out this promo clip from the Yale Repertory production:

The show runs Sept. 8-Oct. 18 at the Geffen Playhouse.

Pictured: Frida (Kate Blumberg), Claude (Damon Daunno), Higgy (Ariana Venturi), Leo (Nick Ullett), Ben (Justin Kirk), Ulcie (Keira Naughton), Beatrice (Nicole Parker), Balth (Lucas Papaelias), Pedro (James Barry), and Don Best (Adam O’Byrne).

Inspired by this post? Check out our Los Angeles audition listings!

Henry IV Cast Announcement: One Grateful Director

Joby Earle announces the cast of Henry IV for Smith Street Stage

A few weeks ago we held callbacks for our upcoming production of Henry 4. It was my first time casting and I can say the view from the other side of the table is a humbling one as you get to witness artist after artist come and wrestle with this impossible task that is the audition process. It is a brave, strange, act, this. On the plane home I felt deeply grateful and confused as to how anyone makes a choice as to whom they are eventually going to go with. I had a few hunches, mostly based on what I perceived to be a shared pleasure in working together, or actors who came in and seemed not afraid to try things at risk of failure.

The rubric I finally decided upon was that of my idea of what it must be like to put a sports team together. Match people’s strengths, get a variety of training, go with those whose collaborative spirit seem to match their talent and facility.

All of this is attempted to be gauged in a total of spending no more than 30 minutes with someone over the course of auditions and callbacks. It’s a harrowing task for both those who are casting and those who are auditioning.

And yet, one by one, actors came in practicing patience, ease, grace, bravery. It was a sight to behold, and I hope more get to experience it.

To all who came in: thank you for your work. For whatever it’s worth, it was a gift to us sitting in that room.

All my best,

Joby Earle


Jonathan Hopkins                    Falstaff

Hannah Sloat                           Prince Hal

Jane May                                 King Henry, Hostess Quickly

Michael Hanson                       Hotspur, Pistol

Lauren Pennline                       Poins, Westmorland

Beth Ann Hopkins                   Bardoff, Douglas, Warwick

Jonathan Minton                      Worcester, Chief Justice

Sam Reiff-Pasarew                  John, Gadshill, Shallow, Doll


'The Fog' screening May 9th


The Fog, directed by Ted Martland, written by Nathan Ellis, and produced by Ariel Heller and David Breschel will have its premiere on May 9th.

"A young combat veteran pushes himself to face his most painful memories in a Los Angeles acting school."

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