As the primary writer for Casting Networks’ Get to Know the Casting Director series, I’ve talked to a number of people in the profession, and there’s a pretty obvious throughline that’s become evident. At some point during our conversation, the casting director will almost always talk about how they’re rooting for actors’ success. And a number of people in the profession have demonstrated in very tangible ways how much they support actors, such as by issuing open calls during the pause on productions caused by COVID-19 last year. There are a number of instances in which casting directors have shown incredible altruism toward members of the acting community, but this article is focusing on one person in particular. Keep reading for three times Jason Kennedy took action to champion actors in incredibly impactful ways.
1. He allowed roughly 70,000 video submissions for the Bluestein/Kennedy Casting Virtual Open Call so that an extraordinary number of actors could be seen and practice their self-taping skills.
As mentioned, some casting directors conducted free open calls during the pause on productions to give actors the opportunity to practice their craft and showcase their skills. Each open call was unique to the casting director who created it, and all were certainly invaluable to the actors who were able to participate before the submission deadline or limit was reached. However, I have yet to hear of another open call that allowed for a staggering 70,000 actors to be seen. Even with a team to go through all the submissions, many might view the undertaking as an overwhelming task. But Kennedy called the response “incredible” during our interview last year. “We were happy that we were able to do something like this that could offer some positivity, some support, and a brief distraction from everything that’s going on,” he noted.
2. He utilized his @kennedycasting Instagram page as a platform to take action toward needed change in our industry.
Kennedy harnessed the power of social media to contribute to the ongoing fight for better and more accurate onscreen representation of the Black community. “I had no idea how this initiative with #PromoteBlackActors would be received,” said Kennedy in a post about it. “It soon evolved into discovering new faces through our open call who I felt were ready for representation, hence the hashtag #UnrepresentedButNotForLong.” You can search both hashtags on Instagram to see how the initiatives had positive, tangible effects on the careers of some of the featured actors. Nondumiso Tembe was an actor featured in one of the #PromoteBlackActors posts, and when I interviewed Tembe last year about her experience as a Black actor in Hollywood, she referenced Kennedy’s efforts as a good example of allyship. (Since the fight for change in our industry is far from over, industry members who want to be allies and gain understanding can read the full article on Tembe’s experiences here.)
3. He assembled a list of SAG-AFTRA actors on the verge of losing their health insurance so that he could keep them in mind for roles.
In order to be eligible for coverage under the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, union actors have to meet the requirements of certain earning minimums or days worked. The pandemic’s effects on productions extended to actors’ job opportunities and the restructuring of the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, resulting in some actors being at risk of no longer qualifying for coverage. Cue Kennedy. “I cannot make any promises that anything will come of it, but having this info MIGHT help me, and possibly my colleagues, KEEP YOU IN MIND,” the casting director shared in his Instagram post calling for union actors about to lose their insurance. “Yes, this is very personal stuff, but we are a community that supports each other and lifts each other up. If this helps one person, it’ll be worth it.”
It often goes unnoticed when someone goes out of their way to altruistically help people, but recognizing such efforts may encourage others to follow suit. As our industry adapts and continues through these pandemic times, Kennedy exemplifies what it can look like to support one another through it. And the idea is not limited to just casting directors helping actors. Industry members in various roles can alternatively offer assistance and lean on one another as we all move forward together.