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Seeing double at St. Ignatius – Drama director casts most roles twice

January 23, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

St. Ignatius seniors Madison Sidwell and Francesca Izzo are very good friends who shared the spotlight – every other night – this fall.

Both were cast as Dolly Levi, the central character in “Matchmaker,” St. Ignatius College Preparatory’s fall production which ran Nov. 12-15 and Nov. 19-22. The drama program traditionally double-casts each of its productions, a tradition that goes back decades.

Madison said it helped. Francesca is one of her best friends: “We talked about our character together.” Knowing there was someone to fall back on if something went wrong or she forgot something was comforting, Francesca said. “We respect each other so much because we know we are all very talented,” Francesca said of the cast. Both Francesca and Madison plan to major in theater in college, with auditions in the spring.

SI drama director Ted Curry usually casts two students for each role in both the fall play and the spring musical, he said, continuing a tradition that predates his arrival 15 years ago. Curry, who graduated from the Jesuit high school in 1982, owned a professional interactive mystery theater company at Fisherman’s Wharf and acted professionally for years. He speaks nationally to theater education conferences about double-casting.

Double-casting’s biggest advantage is it allows twice as many students to participate in the drama program at the nearly 1,500 student coeducational San Francisco high school, he said. St. Ignatius also has a fall drama festival and a spring cabaret, with the aim of giving more students opportunities, he said.

“That’s why I double and triple cast – to get more kids involved. This show (“Matchmaker”) is written for 13 actors – and double cast, so 26 actors,” said Curry, who grew up in Westlake, attended Our Lady of Mercy School and graduated from St. Ignatius in 1982. He studied theater at San Francisco State University and has a Bachelor of Science from University of San Francisco in organizational behavior and leadership.

Whenever he speaks nationally about double-casting, Curry said he gets pushback from other drama directors. “The argument against this is they say how can you give each individual time? You are naturally going to like one more than the other.”

That doesn’t happen, said Curry, a married father of two now young men. “I treat it as a team, creating each character.”

The teamwork and lack of student acting ‘stars’ that necessarily go with double-casting roles help prepare students who go on to perform in college and professionally, he said.

However, Curry said he single cast “Westside Story” last year and came away with a desire to spend more time with each individual actor. In the fall, during the double-cast productions he scheduled individual one-on-one time and also set aside time to work separately with each cast as a group.

“What you call the teams is massively important,” Curry said. Never does he call one team the A team and the other the B team. “We have an opening cast and a closing cast. Everyone asks, what’s your better cast? That doesn’t exist.”

The two casts perform alternate nights and when they are not on, they understudy the cast performing. It helps in emergencies. Recently the school produced “Dead Man Walking” and the student playing Sister Helen Prejean fainted on stage. The understudy took over, Curry recalled. “Halfway through the second act, the audience figured out it was a different girl,” Curry said.

St. Ignatius’ drama program bills itself as the longest continuously running theater program west of the Mississippi with 143 consecutive theater seasons as of last year, according to the St. Ignatius College Preparatory website. Students have gone on to professional acting careers. Curry said he has two former students starring in television series right now: Jacqueline Toboni stars in NBC’s “Grimm” and Colin Woodell is the lead in “Devious Maids” on Lifetime.

Double-casting takes nothing away from each individual’s crafting of a role, Curry said. “You end up learning by watching others act. I always tell the actors, you will be making your own choices. You could make the same choice and yet it will come across differently.”

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