Written by Gen Fuller and Cory Hott.
With 25 years of experience, SCAD Dean Andra Reeve-Rabb gives us an inside look as life as a casting director, creating the only casting office in the world at the university level, and what to do during an audition.
Andra Reeve-Rabb, dean of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s School of Entertainment Arts, looks around her simply decorated casting office. The office, located in Crites Hall, has only two desks, a couch, a conference table, and a flurry of headshots taped all over the walls.
“This office is set up exactly like my office was at CBS,” she says with a smile. “At CBS, I would see 75 actors a day. All I wanted, honestly, was for the next person to walk through the door to be ‘the one,’ because then I could move on to the next billion parts I had to cast. I never understood why people didn’t make rooms like these safe for actors. It puts them at ease and makes their performance better.”
Reeve-Rabb was born and raised in North Carolina and attended the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where she earned her B.F.A. in acting and directing. After graduating, she ran to New York City. Her first year in the city landed her an internship with the casting office of a then-unknown Conan O’Brien.
“On day one, they said, ‘Andra, we need three Santa Clauses, two baby New Years, and a homeless man…in two hours,’” she says, frantically. “I knew immediately it was what I wanted to do.”
Her time studying to be an actress and director—and brief time in New York City acting—led her one step further to be a casting director.
“I understood the language on the other side of a table like this,” she says, “and it gave me a little bit of a super power.”
Reeve-Rabb’s time at “The Conan O’Brien Show” eventually led her to CBS, where she became the director of prime time casting for CBS New York. It was her responsibility to find the talent for shows such as, “The Big Bang Theory,” “CSI,” and “How I Met Your Mother,” just to name a few.
It’s her understanding of the inner-workings of the industry that have led her to “discover” the likes of Daniel Craig and Idris Elba.
“There are actors who walk in and you just know,” she says. “When I was at ‘Conan O’Brien,’ I loved casting so much that I would cast student films in the area. I remember working on one and bringing in this young girl. Her audition literally took my breath away because of her honesty and believability.”
The young girl was a young Natalie Portman.
“[Her] talent has led her to cast, oh, you know, nearly every single night of the week for prime time television,” laughs JJ Maxwell, public relations and marketing manager for SCAD. Maxwell has worked closely with Reeve-Rabb to show the world the excellence that is occurring under her watch.
While on vacation in Savannah, Reeve-Rabb was introduced to SCAD President Paula Wallace, who took an interest in her.
“President Wallace said, ‘Well tell me what you do.’” Reeve-Rabb recalls. “So I told her what I did at CBS, and she said, ‘Why don’t you do what you do at CBS, but here [at SCAD]?’”
That simple conversation led to not only the creation of the first and, to date, only casting office at the university level in the world, but also to Reeve-Rabb bringing her entire career full-circle, allowing her to work on the opposite side of the industry.
“The exciting part about being at SCAD and starting this casting office is that we’re in Hollywood now,” she says. “I’ve been able to reach out to my industry friends in L.A., New York, and Atlanta, and say, ‘You have an incredible talent pool here. I have nearly 300 actors who are training to do what you’re casting for.”
In the past two years she’s placed students in 252 roles on professional projects, from Netflix shows, to movies being filed in Savannah.
“SCAD has immersed students into a real-world setting, preparing them for what they will actually experience on future production sets, something unheard of in the academic world,” says President Wallace.
What could be more amazing than having your first scene as an actor with John Travolta or Morgan Freeman? Being cast in a Netflix show and getting to film 12 episodes in New Zealand–and then going back to class the next day?
“I now get to see the Daniel Craig’s and the Idris Elba’s as they are starting out in their freshman years of college,” she says.
Her passion for connecting the pieces between casting, acting, and directing, and her ability to find that chemistry that transforms words on a page to Emmy-nominated and award-winning pilots, has seamlessly translated into her work at SCAD. A poster for, “The Buzz,” a collaboration between 120 students from seven different departments at SCAD that won a College Emmy, hangs prominently and proudly on the walls of the casting office. In 2018, Reeve-Rabb was named one of Variety magazine’s “Top 10 Entertainment Educators in Film and Television.
“That’s truly the most humbling thing that’s happened to me in my career. I’m not saying that to brag,” she says, leaning forward in her chair. “I’m saying that if Variety looks at what we’re doing at SCAD and points to that, that means we’re doing something amazing.”
And humble she stays, with her mirrored CBS office to remind her from where she came. Now working on the opposite side of the industry, Reeve-Rabb has become a prime example and lesson in the art of coming full circle.