Today we visit with Patrick Cassidy, the new artistic director for 5-Star Theatricals, the pre-eminent musical theater company in Ventura County. Our interview with Cassidy is the third we’ve conducted with recently anointed artistic directors, following our articles on Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard and Conejo Players Theatre in Thousand Oaks. As is well-known, Cassidy is the progeny of theater royalty, being the son of Shirley Jones and the late Jack Cassidy, both of whom played major roles on Broadway. Their son Patrick has had a stellar career of his own, but has been drawn to his roots here in the Conejo Valley. He is understandably thrilled to take on this role in the town where he brought up his children and there is little doubt that we will be seeing more of his illustrious mother at 5-Star shows in the future. We talked with Patrick about his thought processes in designing a vision for 5-Star that embraces not just top-flight performances, but mentoring young artists as well.
VCOS: I see you as having a dual purpose with 5-Star. First of all, you’ll be producing shows, but also, you’ll be mentoring. How will you be balancing these two tasks?
PATRICK: They certainly go together for me. Seven or eight years ago I started teaching because I had coached both my children throughout elementary school and high school in sports and really enjoyed it. I loved working not only with them but their friends. So I fell in love with process. Then I asked myself, why couldn’t I do that in terms of the craft that I have been doing in my whole life, which was acting, singing, and most specifically, in musical theatre, which had been my mainstay. So I started with a very small class and again, I fell in love with the process of helping kids, and that led me into directing, which is pretty much the same thing because, as an actor, it’s about you. You give of yourself, but what you’re constantly thinking about is you: your voice, how you look, do I fit into the suit that week, whereas as a director or a teacher, it’s all about them, giving your knowledge and watching somebody else flourish from that. So that was seven years of doing that, at colleges, then in Las Vegas I was the resident director there and worked on the show Le Rêve for a year in teaching acrobats, dancers, and synchronized swimmers about acting choices and tensions and things like that, not just using their bodies. So I really fell in love with that process.
VCOS: When you’re in a cast, are there opportunities to teach while you are paying attention to your own work? Did you find yourself wanting to do that at the same time?
PATRICK: Sure. In the casting process, even during an audition, you can help somebody by giving them some advice, something that you know, and get them to change their audition a little bit to suit what is needed in terms of casting, but it’s all a teaching process and it’s all a learning process. So when they interviewed me for the job, one of the things I wanted to put forth was this education program. My sister-in-law, Kim Maselli, is the resident director for the Pacific Festival Ballet, which is another non-profit, resident company here at the Civic Arts Plaza, and she has another tremendous school called the California Dance Theatre. So Kim trains these dancers, using the Balanchine technique, to become soloists or to be parts of ballet companies across the country. But on the other side, she gets to train these kids to actually be in one of her ballets that they do at the Kavli Theatre. Well, I thought that was a tremendous template for what I wanted to do here. 5-Star Theatricals puts on, in my opinion, the closest thing to what the Pantages has, to what Broadway has, in terms of musical theater, in this venue. There is nothing else like it, just in terms of the quality of the work, the full orchestra, all of that. What better thing to attach an education system that trains kids to be able to get to the level where so many kids, locally, have gone on to pursue their dreams. That was my idea, which is exactly what Kim does in the ballet world.
VCOS: Did you have that in mind when you took the position to be working in tandem with other local groups, or did that just happen?
PATRICK: It’s been kind of an evolving process; it was definitely on my radar. But the idea was just to have it evolve, and to give kids a chance to invest in…this is a skill, it’s such a skill, and nothing confirmed that more than watching 650-plus actors come in – and not just kids, but adults – that need to not just get themselves in a class that teaches technique to know how to do an audition to get a part, but also how to apply to Michigan or Carnegie Mellon, because that’s what they’re going to have to go through. Auditioning is a skill, just like learning to dance. It’s all one thing. To sing, dance, and act in musical theatre is a craft. It takes years of working on it to get really good at it.
VCOS: That skill of being able to do an audition is that first step that leads to success. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not familiar with how to conduct yourself during an audition, you’re not going to be able to show what you’ve got. What is your Rule No. 1 for an audition?
PATRICK: That’s a big question. You obviously have to convey who you are while you’re singing, and to have fun at the same time. But it’s so the creative team can get a little more insight on what makes you an individual. Granted, you have to sing great. You have to be a good actor. You have to be funny if the part calls for it. That’s all a given. Now – how do you find that specific uniqueness that makes you individual and different?
VCOS: This is what made A Chorus Line such an interesting show, because all of these people are going into that audition, trying to be singled out, trying to be unique, for a cookie-cutter role.
PATRICK: And, of course, the Cassie character is overqualified or too unique to fit into the ensemble. Shrek was a very interesting casting process, maybe the most interesting one I’ve ever gone through because the ensemble are literally our supporting leads. The ensemble consists of individual fairy tale creatures that have to sing individual lines of music and have to speak lines of dialog. And they have to be funny and dance incredibly well. They all have to sing great and they all have to have unique personalities, so it’s a triple-threat process, even for the ensemble.
VCOS: Do other shows have that kind of diversity in the ensemble? I can think of Into the Woods as an example.
PATRICK: Yup. Definitely that one. You’re right. The ensemble members are playing individual characters and those characters have their own individual moments, as in Shrek.
VCOS: So as a programmer, when you’re looking for a show to produce, there are of course the commercial necessities, but do you look at it in terms of “I’d like to give a variety of opportunities to as many people as possible”? Or are you going for strong leads first?
PATRICK: Well, we have three Equity contracts, sometimes four, so those are considered “golden tickets” but the predominant part of our cast is non-union, and with that, you’re giving these young performers a chance to really shine. I’ll say this – Trent Mills, our Shrek, is a non-union performer, and what a wonderful opportunity for him. That’s the big difference, I find. Not a lot of non-union people get the chance to carry a show. Not only do they have to have all the skill sets, but they have to have the confidence and security to know that we can really gamble on this person and they can carry the whole show.
VCOS: So when you use your “golden ticket” Equity people, that’s not necessarily to provide a star for a show, it’s to shore up the supporting cast?
PATRICK: Yeah. For me, the best person who comes in for a role, whether they are Equity or not, is going to get the part. The person who fits the puzzle of what the director, the musical director, and the choreographer want, the vision they see. So the one who is most suited for that role is going to go them, whether they are union or not. In Shrek it worked out perfectly. It really did. Trent Mills is a terrific actor. He’s six-feet-four, perfect for the part, really funny, moves great, great voice, just a funny, funny man.
VCOS: What can you tell me about him?
PATRICK: He comes from the L.A. area but went to Boston University and we’re very excited for him.
TO BE CONTINUED!
5-Star Theatricals’ Shrek opens October 19 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. For tickets, visit www.5startheatricals.com