Women in Theatre is a new series where I will be highlighting an inspiring female identifying person within the heavily male dominated theatre industry. In a 2017 study released by the NY Times, women and minority actors/creatives obtain fewer jobs within the entertainment industry. I was fortunate to sit down for an interview with Kate Lumpkin of Kate Lumpkin Casting and learn about her remarkable journey as a casting director and why she loves what she does.
SG: How did you get into the casting industry?
KL: I got into the casting process at a very young age. I was an actor from the time I was a young child. Back then, the only experience that you saw on TV or in real life were actors and directors. I don’t think I really knew what a casting director was, even though I was going in for auditions where a casting director was present. I went to school for theatre and was a professional actor but it never felt like my real means of communication. I knew that I was meant to build communities so I went back to school and studied anthropology which is the study of community building. I realized that there is this thing where you get paid to do this with actors and creative teams and it’s a real job. The second I put it all together I realized that it is what I wanted to do. I sent an email to everybody I knew remotely involved in this, around 200 people, and got one response that asked if I wanted to be their assistant. That is how I got my first assistant job and I never stopped. I fell in love with it. It is the coolest, most interesting, way to use all of my gifts and I became addicted really fast.
SG: When did you decide to start your own company?
KL: My path in casting has been really untraditional. Most people will spend a lot of time as a associate and work with a company for a while and progress in that way. I have never really been one for tradition. I was working for a major network for television and my contract was up. I was trying to figure out my next step. I knew that I have a very specific point of view. I don’t really like someone else telling me what to do. Knowing that about myself, I would rather have my name on three projects that I really care about every year than have my name on thirty five projects that I didn’t really have a say in. I realized that all I had to do was put my name on the door, show up and get people to hire me. I put my name on business cards, registered as a LLC., and made my website. I had other jobs to pay my bills at first as I tried to acquire contracts but luckily I knew that I had been in this industry for a really long time. So, I told everyone I knew what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it, and why it was important to me. The people that this resonated with asked me to be a part of their team. It doesn’t happen overnight, but two years later, I have a steady stream of awesome contracts that I am really lucky to be working on. I don’t thrive as a person working under someone else's vision. I saw a way to fill a hole that I thought was missing in casting and I was really vocal about my beliefs and what I wanted to do.
SG: What is a typical day in session?
KL: There is never anything typical about casting. I am really fortunate because I get to work on a lot of new works and a lot of people approach me because they know that I am really interested in doing projects that express voices that haven’t been heard before and are challenging. It depends if I am in an EPA, I could see around 200 people a day. If I’m in a normal session, I’ll see about 75 people a day. It is my job to create a safe space to do dangerous work and to be present for artists. I am the kind of medium between them and the creative team as the person who helps navigate the space for everybody.
SG: What is a typical day at the office when you are not in session?
KL: Lots of research and communication with creative teams and general management offices. It’s a lot of digging. I am not working on huge Broadway shows where every agent wants to send in for that show. Everything is super specific so my team and I are on Instagram searching for hashtags and locations and stalking YouTube. We do a lot of outreach in any way possible. There is a lot of organization involved. The office is a lot of me at the computer crafting schedules and navigating other people’s schedules and doing really intensive detailed research for the projects I am working on.
SG: I understand that you teach at The Broadway Collective. What drew you to teaching?
I love teaching. I was incredibly blessed to have really great teachers growing up. I realized that the people who help you navigate acting are actually the people who help you navigate how to live because drama is an extension of expressing humanity. Working with The Broadway Collective has been really amazing because I get to work with young people and help craft the next generations ideology about how we create unity. I want young people to know things like they have agency over their bodies and space when working, how we talk about gender and gender identity, race, sexuality- these things are communicated into society through art and so we have to be the people that craft the language and shift the narrative for the next generation of artists.
SG: What achievements are you most proud of?
KL: The achievements that I am most proud of in my life are the relationships that I have built in my life. Professionally, I had my Equity card and I was a member of the CSA (Casting Society of America) by the time I was thirty. For me, that was a really big achievement… two different milestones for very different careers. It was nice to feel like I was recognized by those organizations for my work and status within those areas. I’m mostly just really proud of the casts that I create. I like that they are inclusive of bodies, race, and identity. I don’t look at any of them and think, “wow, I didn’t really work hard enough on that one.” I am also really proud that I can pay my rent with money in the arts.
SG: What is it like being a woman in a predominantly male field?
KL: The interesting thing is there are a lot of women in casting. However, in the field of entertainment, especially in the world of the creative teams that I am working with, it is very much predominantly male. I have often found myself to be the only woman on a creative team or one of very few and so, it is difficult sometimes to feel like your voice is that experience of a life in a room. One of the hardest things, whether it is real or not, is feeling a responsibility to fight for people and being able to maintain my own ability to do that. You have to stand up for people who need to be stood up for. Since the time I could remember, society has told me to muffle my voice and to not look at people and tell them what’s what. I am constantly fighting these things that have been put into my brain and working to overcome it and say, “absolutely not- you were paid for your voice at this table, you were chosen for your voice at this table, and if you don’t own up and stand up and use it- what a waste of a life.” I think that this fighting is something that I have to do with myself a lot.
SG: How would you say the business of casting is changing?
KL: It is a really interesting time to work in casting. The industry as a whole is changing, thank goodness, and I think that casting is an epicenter of a lot of that change. I think we are seeing more inclusive language in breakdowns, a shift towards a lot of different looking bodies on stage. Most importantly, we are seeing a shift in what work is being produced which inherently allows different people to come into the space to be seen. This is challenging a lot of people in positions in power in casting to go beyond some of the work that we have been doing. Even in the last five years, we have seen drastic change in the way that the process is done, who we are seeing in complete pictures on stage, and who is in the room doing the casting.
SG: What advice do you have for aspiring casting directors?
KL: My number one piece of advice is to figure out what your point of view is in the world. Casting directors are just like actors in that we work contract to contract. We are hired because of our aesthetic and the work that we do, just like any other artist. If you are going into casting: know why you are going into casting, know what you want to get out of it, and know what kind of artists you like to support, challenge and bring in. Go see as much theatre as you can- keep really detailed notes. Create spreadsheets after every single show and write the five people you would want to see in something else. Get internships, start cultivating relationships with young directors, composers, and the people you like and get involved. There is no degree for this. You have to be a self starter, an entrepreneur, and someone who is really excited about going out, meeting people, and having a real point of view.
You can follow Kate Lumpkin on Twitter @kathrynlumpkin and on Instagram @katelumpkin