If you’ve attended plays on Broadway, Off-Broadway, or at regional theaters such as Connecticut Repertory Theatre in Storrs, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, Spoleto Festival in South Carolina, or Toronto Centre Stage in Canada; seen films such as “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” or “The Year of Living Dangerously;” or watched network or cable television shows such as “Sesame Street,” “The L Word,” or “Chappele’s Show,” you have seen the work of Pat McCorkle, adjunct professor of practice in casting and performance in the Department of Dramatic Arts.
You won’t have seen McCorkle herself; rather, it is the long list of notable and award-winning actors that she has cast in those productions on stage, film, and television.
McCorkle, who joined the UConn faculty in 2007, has taught courses in “Acting for the Camera” and “Audition Technique,” and has prepared students in the Department of Dramatic Arts for their “Showcase” performances, all while continuing to maintain a very active role at McCorkle Casting Ltd. in New York City, one of the leading casting firms in the nation.
“There are very few people in the world who have seen as many actors as Pat McCorkle,” says Vince Cardinal, head of dramatic arts and artistic director for the Connecticut Repertory Theatre. “She has looked at what works, what doesn’t work; how actors have grown and developed over years. She brings to our students that sense of human development as well as industry success. She’s not going through a Rolodex when you talk with her. She’s pulling out names and credits and successes from her powerful memory.”
McCorkle describes her role as a casting director in straightforward terms: “What I am is a personal shopper for producers and directors. They tell me what they need … My job is to show them or find the people who fit all the parameters appropriately and who would fulfill the director’s artistic vision for the project.”
She’s invested in the development of actors, and sees the University as the beginning of the investment.
With a theater and speech degree from Douglass College at Rutgers University and a master’s in theater education from New York University, McCorkle entered the theater world as a subscription manager at the prestigious Circle on the Square in New York City. Soon, she began to assist the theater’s casting director, the legendary Roger Sturtevant, and found a role that suited her skills. After working at Theater Communications Group, where she cast dozens of young actors who went on to major stardom, she opened her own agency, where she would continue to cast many of those same actors in increasingly important projects.
“The thing about casting is it’s going to be 90 percent of the success of the show, pro or con,” she says. “Actors are constantly changing. Every day there are new people coming into town. That’s why I love teaching so much, because you get to meet so many new actors.”
McCorkle sees as many actors as she can in films, plays, and television to gain insights into the nuances of their performance, so she can know how they might be able to be cast for a director’s specific needs for a production. She notes that while working with director Peter Weir to cast actors for the film “The Year of Living Dangerously,” there was a worldwide search for an actor to play the key role of the diminutive photographer Billy Kwan against the radio correspondent portrayed by Mel Gibson. McCorkle suggested that Weir consider having a woman play the role of Kwan, which led to the casting of Linda Hunt, who won an Academy Award for her performance.
More recently, McCorkle’s casting of a young Keke Palmer as a 10-year old with veteran actor William H. Macy in the television film “The Wool Cap,” earned both actors multiple award nominations.
“The challenges are new every day,” she says. “That’s what makes it hard, but that’s also what makes it fun. It’s not boring.”
McCorkle says one of her major responsibilities when working with students who have the skills and mechanics of acting, is to help them understand the process of auditioning for a role and how the industry works. She provides a “reality check” and helps improve their skills for delivering a strong audition performance to secure an acting job. In casting successful actors to perform in Storrs with students, she wants to cast actors who she knows will enjoy working with new talent and assist in teaching them about their craft.
“The thing for us that really sets our situation apart is that artists trust Pat, so when she calls them and says, ‘Come and work at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, it will be a good experience for you,’ they automatically trust that she will set up a good experience,” says Cardinal. “I think she’s invested in the development of actors, and sees the University as the beginning of the investment. She’s as invested in the university actor as she is in the Linda Hunt with the Oscar. She’s in it for the long haul for the course of a career. She gets on board while they’re still in college. It’s a mission to help support and develop actors in this profession.”
Supporting actors and dramatic arts also extends to McCorkle’s activities as a board member for various theatrical groups and industry organizations, including the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation, which provides an annual award to an emerging playwright that includes a cash prize and production costs to stage the new work. The organization is funded by royalties from ongoing community and regional productions of the musicals “Gypsy” and “West Side Story,” and other shows written by Arthur Laurents, the Tony Award-winning playwright who wrote for stage and film for more than 65 years.
“If you’re going to help the world, you’ve got to give back,” McCorkle says of her work on behalf of the arts. “Arthur developed this foundation. He was interested in how difficult it was for a new playwright to get going. That’s still our focus.”
With the fall season of classes and next Connecticut Repertory Theatre season nearing, and several other projects on the horizon in New York and elsewhere, McCorkle is busy working with directors to find the right actors for new productions. There will be “Big Love,” “The Three Musketeers,” and “Much Ado About Nothing” in Storrs. In New York City, some new major Broadway productions need actors. In New Brunswick, N.J., there will be a production of “Kansas City Swing,” a play about baseball’s historic Negro League that focuses on the national pastime and jazz. There will be casting calls for several films, as well.
“I’m one of the people who likes all of it, which is why I have an independent company,” she says. “I like the mix. It’s always interesting what’s coming up. I’m currently working with playwright Nicky Silver’s adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut play, ‘Make Up Your Mind’ for Broadway. It will be interesting to see how that works.”