Auditions and casting is a process which is very complex, and differs with every production company. Therefore, I'm just going to talk about the experience at Actually Acting Youth Theatre, and not to presume about other directors/companies processes.
I decided to write this last year when a parent questioned how it all works after her child had been cast in a certain role. I wasn't upset by the question, rather thrilled that it had been asked. But I know that not everyone feels comfortable asking such questions, so I thought I'd write this for all to see.
Why do we do it? Well, there are a few reasons....
So we can meet each actor and they can show us what skills they have. We get to hear their voice, see their physical selves and find out how they see the character they have chosen to audition with. It gives us a chance to play, and see where their strengths are.
We find out how dedicated they are. If an actor walks in, having learnt two pieces because they couldn't decide which one they prefer, it gives us confidence they will learn their lines for the show. If an actor needs multiple prompts or simply tells us they didn't have time to learn the audition piece, it means we would feel very nervous about giving them a large role. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Of course we make allowances for nerves - sometimes those pesky things can really throw our actors, but we can tell who has put in the time vs who hasn't!
Because all companies do auditions. And they can be tough. And scary. So we try to demystify the audition process and give our actors the skills to approach auditions with intelligence and confidence. We are a youth theatre (training) company, so we see the audition as the first step in the learning journey. It gets easier I promise!
NB: As we do individual auditions, actors cannot hide, nor are they able to be missed. They are given the opportunity to show what they have prepared, and often feel less pressure because they don't have their peers watching.
How does it work?
Every actor who walks in the room must prepare and learn a small section from the script, and have at least read the other choices. This is really important. Auditions can be nerve-wracking (I know because I do them too!) which can be exacerbated by not being fully prepared in the first place. At AAYT we chat to our actors first to put them at ease, then give them feedback/direction after they perform their prepared piece and ask them to repeat it. It's important to know that the feedback is constructive and will help them improve as actors, it is not a criticism of them or their abilities. Often it's about the character as we see it, which might differ from their interpretation. We DO NOT expect a polished performance at auditions!
Then we ask them to read another characters piece which we might be considering for them. Sometimes they are perfect for the original role, but we will still ask for another read (cold or sight read), as it gives us a chance to see more of their abilities, and we don't know how the casting will fall. (Please see Casting below for more information about that) This is not a test of how well you read! It is merely another skill which actors should master.
Please note – If an actor struggles to read (dyslexic for example) please let us know and we will ask them to improvise the piece instead of reading it.
Our auditions are the first part of our training, which is why they are so important. It doesn't matter whether an actor has worked with us before, it's their first time with us, or even the first time they've ever acted, they will be treated with respect and kindness. It is merely a mechanism to give us a chance to see what they can do, so we know which role to offer them.
After we have seen all the actors' auditions, we sit down for the difficult task of casting. We know that actors often have their heart on a particular role, but remember, there can only be one actor playing each role!
The first thing we do is work out the tricky roles to fill. These might be highly energetic, very old/young or particularly emotional. Anything that some young actors would find challenging. They might even be a specific gender or ethnicity. We try to choose plays that are gender fluid and diverse, but sometimes there are certain characters that must be played a certain way.
Once we have cast those roles we look at each actor and work out which characters they can safely play. Usually it is quite a few! We talk about each actor's journey so far, either with us or at school, other companies etc.
If we know the actor, we think about roles they have played prior. Most importantly - which role will challenge them the most? Surprisingly it often isn't the lead role.
Actors with little or no experience will often be considered for roles that are most like them, as the challenge is just to get onstage, and find their place in the cast and crew. There are of course exceptions to this. We don't want anyone to feel overwhelmed, but at the same time, don't want our actors getting stale and playing the same kind of character.
If an actor has played a lead role with us, we try to avoid giving them the lead again in the near future. This is for four main reasons....
It is really important to learn to play different types of roles for the actor's own training, so we look at that over the size of the role.
As this is a training theatre company, we want all actors to be exposed to the same amount of training. When actors always play lead, they receive a much higher level of education than other actors. This can disadvantage actors with smaller roles if it is ongoing.
It creates a sense of equality and family, which is exactly what a good theatre company should be.
Actors who always play large roles can be made to feel superior to others, which is counterintuitive. It also can create animosity. It is our job as adults to help children to respect others and be humble with their gifts.
We don't consider sexuality, race, gender, age or any other diversity in casting (unless it is specifically mentioned in the script). Just because an actor is tall, doesn't mean they will necessarily play the parent for example. We are not a professional company, this is training theatre, so our focus is not what our actors look like, but what we can do to improve their skills. The performances are a by-product of the training.
What can parents do to help?
Encourage and help your actor learn their lines. Listen to their audition practise (if they let you!) and let them know if you can't understand what they are saying. Always lead with a compliment so they know you were really listening and not judging them.
Don't tell your child that they are a sure thing for a particular role. While your child might be perfect for it, so might other actors. You could be setting them up for perceived failure in something for which they cannot control the outcome.
Tell your child to work hard and aim high, but be humble. In a perfect world we can celebrate others without detracting from our own sense of self-worth.
If they don't receive their preferred role, be kind and explain why this might be. They are allowed to be disappointed. Try to help them see the role they received in a positive light, not as a consolation prize or that they failed somehow.
As directors we see the big picture, and we have a vision of how to create it. We want to help each actor develop and strengthen their skills, wellbeing and confidence. Theatre is a team sport, and respect is a huge and vital part of the culture at Actually Acting. Not just for each other, but for also for ourselves.
And remember – I am always happy for you to contact me for feedback on auditions, or if you have questions prior.