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In Search Of Talent For Old Globe

March 13, 1987|MIKE GRANBERRY | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — David McClendon's daughter is not just observant, she's wise. Recently, someone asked this 4-year-old what her daddy did to make ends meet, and she replied: "Well, he goes to this theater at the airport."

Sometimes, it feels that way, McClendon said. Much of the time, Daddy McClendon is running out the door, on his way to Denver, New York, Dallas, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

McClendon's job: auditioning and casting actors for the Old Globe Theatre.

A 35-year-old native Oklahoman who might easily be called "a tall drink of water" back home, McClendon is officially in charge of casting, but he also directs. Directing is his first and truest love, his dream of dreams. He has directed such Old Globe productions as "Greater Tuna"--its setting was Texas, which he calls "Baja Oklahoma"--"Quartermaine's Terms," "Breakfast With Less and Bess," "Mass Appeal" and "Moby Dick Rehearsed."

He says he has the highest respect for actors, many of whom become his friends.

"I like actors a lot," he said. "It's got to be one of the most difficult professions one would choose. I couldn't do it; I wouldn't do it."

This time of year, McClendon sees actors more than he does his own family. But he never leaves home without his love of family, love of directing and need to get the best people for the best production imaginable.

Within the framework of auditions and the span of a year, McClendon sees just about every actor that any director can see--those who don't audition well but perform with the best; those who audition well but perform poorly; those who seem relaxed and easy, thoroughly professional during auditions, and then turn into nasty, blithering curmudgeons once the show starts.

"Oh, sure, it happens, but the thing I love about casting, is that it's a crapshoot every time," he said. "Until you put all the pieces together, you just never really know."

McClendon has been with the Old Globe since 1979 and has worked as casting director since '81. He casts almost every role (with heavy collaborative help, however) for 12 main shows. He looks for talent and versatility.

A good example of the perfect Old Globe soldier might be Larry Drake, whom McClendon notes can do Lenny in "Of Mice and Men," anything by Shakespeare and the hee-hawish "Greater Tuna" with equal ease.

The Old Globe is not a resident company--meaning it has no resident actors--and thus McClendon's job is harder, though happily so.

"Our primary commitment is to the audience," he said, "which is why we don't have a resident company. We can do better, we think, with a varied cast."

The intention is to cast as many actors as possible, though some of the same faces keep cropping up. One is Jonathan McMurtry, an Old Globe "associate artist"--one of a few.

McClendon's task is to find just the right actor for each role. Not long ago, he helped to find an actress who could capture the essence of the title role in Stephen Metcalfe's "Emily," about a frustrated young career woman. Voila! Madolyn Smith, who had starred several years earlier in "The Country Wife," got the part. By most assessments, she was smashing.

Out of an annual Old Globe budget of $6.5 million, McClendon said $800,000 to $900,000 is spent on casting. He sees about 2,000 actors a year, occasionally as many as 300 in a single day. One day recently, he received 150 resumes.

He juggles appearances by recognizable names and faces--from television, David Ogden Stiers of "MASH," Robert Foxworth of "Falcon Crest," Sada Thompson of "Family"--with those of college students who may become Old Globe stars of the future.

He is especially drawn to three campuses that he says produce some of the best young dramatic talent in the country. He named them as Juilliard in New York ("first-rate"), Southern Methodist University in Dallas and UC San Diego.

"UCSD is very, very good," he said.

His job is more than just auditioning, casting and flying. He has to worry about housing for actors (the Old Globe is trying to buy an apartment complex), salaries, transportation, benefits, agents and the rules and regulations of Actors' Equity Assn.

McClendon is so optimistic it's hard to think of any of these causing him worry or doubt, much less anger. He says he is aided by his wife's perspective. If he grumbles about an actor who doesn't work out, she tells him it could be worse: She aids in the rehabilitation of stroke victims at Sharp Cabrillo Hospital.

McClendon said the Old Globe has an excellent working relationship with Actors' Equity, choosing to employ 12 Equity actors for every one who isn't. He cited a recent panel, on which he appeared with a representative of Actors' Equity. The representative said that, out of 35,000 actors in the union, only 800 to 1,000 are "above the poverty line."

McClendon was startled by that.

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