Casting no doubts

It's estimated that there are 75,000 actors in New York City. Joel Manaloto, attending an average of 10 plays a week, is on his way to seeing every single one of them.

Born in Lakeview and raised in Baldwin, Manaloto, 25, is the rare person who can make a living from his obsession. He's a casting director, specializing in non-union productions. That means he casts, for the most part, credit-card-financed indie films and plays so off Broadway they're done in candlelit basements seating a dozen people on broken furniture.

His weekly average of plays goes up with the Aug. 18 kick-off of the Third Annual New York International Fringe Festival, an 11-day orgy of avant-garde theater in 20 venues on the Lower East Side. One hundred and seventy-five productions will run from 3 p.m. to midnight every day. Fifteen foreign countries are represented and 30 U.S. cities, presenting everything from a Tom Waits-William Burroughs-Robert Wilson musical to King Lear to soon-to-be-classics titled My Penis and Geek on Smack.

Manaloto will see 30 of them, including one of the most eagerly anticipated—Notes From the Underground, Dostoyevsky's magnificent rant, adapted and directed by Michael Gardner, and cast by Manaloto.

"Producers, I've found, are mostly from Manhattan, mostly raised upper-middle class," he says. "Actors are mostly from the suburbs, or anywhere in the country except New York. I can connect to both worlds."

He's been busy doing that. In the past year he's cast 22 films and 37 plays. "All I do all day is something I want to do. I got an undergraduate degree in finance from NYU and went on for a masters in film," Manaloto says. "But even in business school I lived with and hung out with actors. I bummed around for a year. Then last year I was temping, typing at Sloan Kettering Hospital from 9 to 5. By 4:30, I was beat. Not just beat. Beaten. Now, though, it's not unusual for me to go 20 hours straight. It's what I want to do."

He lives in three worlds: an apartment on the Upper East Side; the rabbit warren of clubs, cafes and theaters off-off Broadway; and Baldwin, which he still refers to as home. "I go every six weeks, like clockwork, to stay for three days. I have this fear of my body collapsing, so I go home. And get my hair cut at Dominick's in Oceanside, where I've gone since I was seven. He always asks the same question, 'What're you doin' home?' I say, 'Getting my hair cut.' And he never believes me."

Early on, a connection was made between theater and money. "When I was eight my father took me to see Andy Gibb in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Andy was sick and his understudy played it. What a career, you know? Wow, understudying Andy Gibb? But my clearest memory was my father saying, 'I paid 30 bucks for this ticket. You better appreciate it.'

"Casting, I use 98 percent of my business degree and two percent of my film degree. I can make a living. It's a huge range. In the last three months, for example, I've had things that paid $65. And I've had things pay $2,250. I've never turned down a job because I was offered too little money. I've never been refused a job because I asked too much. I don't turn down work. The toughest thing I had was for an industrial film. They needed a sumo wrestler who wasn't in the Screen Actors Guild. I combed the city and came up empty. Lots of sumo wrestlers but all in SAG. An agent told me the only thing in New York harder to find would be a non-SAG midget."

Did he get his man? Manaloto nods. "A former football player at the University of Alabama. Huge Korean guy. He could even act a little."

Young actors revere DeNiro; young directors, Scorcese. Who does Manaloto idolize? "Francine Maisler. She cast The People vs. Larry Flynt. Think about it. Courtney Love. The guy who played Woody Harrelson's brother was Woody Harrelson's brother. Flynt as the judge. James Carville. That's where casting is a creative act."

Is there a casting couch for casting directors? "Not this casting director. I love actors, but I try not to get involved with them. I don't even socialize much with them." (It would be too easy to get close.) "I get tons of mail. Chocolates with the résumés and photographs. An actress sent her picture, an invitation to a show and a condom. My response was to sit and stare at it for half an hour."

 
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