Finding your cast members can feel very stressful. They are the foundations of the characters and if you get your casting wrong you can end up regretting it right up to the closing night of the production! So I’ve put together my tips to make casting your show as good as it can be.
Why are good auditions important?
- You need to know that your cast will work well together in rehearsals and on stage
- You need to see that the cast have the potential to perform the role they are auditioning for
- You want your audience to remember how good the cast were
- You cast need to fit the requirements of the script
- Your cast need to be able to look like the characters they are portraying
1. Specifying your material
Be clear about the material you would like candidates to perform at the audition. This is especially important in amateur productions, if you are able to give good examples to help steer prospective cast members in their choices, I think that’s a good idea.
For an amateur production, my advice would be to request they prepare either:
- A song from two or three specified options and a set section of text from the production. You can personalise the selections you use depending on the character the audition is for. Publish the extracts well in advance and cut/purchased a basic mp3 backing track for those auditioning to practice with at home. This allows you to see who is going to put in the work for the audition and practice at home as well as at rehearsal.
- A song and monologue of their own choice which is appropriate for the character. In this case, ensure you have given detailed and accurate descriptions of the characters for cast to read and digest as this will help them in picking appropriate material.
I tend to use services like Dropbox to share audition materials ahead of time, that way cast members can download the material onto their chosen device and practice at home, in the car or wherever they need to!
Top Tip: I would always ensure cast sing while being accompanied by a musician or backing track of some kind. It’s important to know that the cast member can sing in tune with the backing track presented and not just pick their own key for the song!
2. Make your expectations clear
This will really save you time and effort later on in the process!
- Outline the requirements for each character and all cast members carefully in writing ahead of the auditions. Consider:
- Will the character sing/dance?
- Will the character kiss another character?
- Does the character have a larger than average amount of lines to learn?
- Are there specific rehearsal dates this character will be required?
It’s also worth publishing the following dates in advance. I’ve know cast to ask if they have to attend the dress rehearsal before and then complain that they were unaware of that date prior to agreeing to take part:
- Required rehearsal dates and times
- Production week
- Technical rehearsals
- Dress rehearsals
- Performance dates/times
- Publicity dates/times
I try and lay out what I expect from cast in rehearsals early on in the process so that we’re all on the same page. here’s some aspects you may want to think about outlining to people in writing in advance of the beginning of rehearsals;
- Rehearsal etiquette and how you expect cast to behave
- When you want cast members to be ‘off book’ (or to have their scripts down)
- How cast should contact you to let you know if they are ill, and what the protocol for this. ie. should they give a specific amount of time’s notice?
The last thing to make sure you have been specific about, is how the auditions are going to run. Here’s some things to think about:
- How will the room be setup
- Will there be space to warm up/practice outside the room?
- Who will be on the audition panel and what will they be looking for at the auditions?
- How long will the audition last?
- When will they hear if they have been successful?
3. Help people to prepare
Remember, you want to help cast members prepare their material as best as possible and show you what they’ve got on the day. One possible way to do this is to run some pre-audition workshops where you can give cast tips and a bit of direction on their material. This is helpful to the cast member as it gives them some feedback to prepare, and it’s great for directors too, as it shows you how far the cast member can take and implement direction. Here’s some ways you can help cast members prepare for auditions:
- Specify the material as far in advance as possible
- Give cast members feedback during pre-audition workshops
- Ensure cast have a chance to ask questions about the material they need to perform at the audition
- Help the cast to feel comfortable with the material by practicing it with them
4. At the audition
Once you get to the actual auditions, there are some things I always try and put in place to help the cast feel at ease, and to reassure them that the audition process is fair and transparent. This is especially important in amateur theatre where many friendships and families are involved. Remember, you want the best possible cast for your show, and rejection is a fact of life! It can be difficult, but your friends and family will respect you for making brave decisions, even if they are initially a little hurt.
An open room
I find an open room can be a great way to keep the auditions transparent and to be supportive to all prospective cast members. If you have all cast members watching the auditions, it helps them feel as if they’re all in it together, and they start to cheer each other on. It’s also good for cast to bond prior to the beginning of rehearsals.
A fair chance
However you run your auditions, you must ensure that each cast member is treated fairly and in the same way as all the others. If you allow one person to restart their song, or dialogue, then you must ensure everyone has the chance to do so, should they need it. Try and outline this at the beginning so that people know what to expect. Equally, if you’ve asked cast members to prepare a piece for the audition, ensure you hear the whole piece you asked for from everyone. It is very unfair of a director to ask cast members to prepare something and then not hear it performed at the audition.
The audition panel
I think three people is a great number for the judging panel, and I always try and include a ‘friendly face’, someone who is going to give the cast members a smile and help them to feel at ease when they audition. It’s also worth warning people ahead of time that you’ll be making notes to help you with your decisions later on, so not to worry if the panel are looking down or writing during the audition.
5. How to inform people
There are two schools of thought on how to let people know about the outcome of the audition. One is to invite people to accept a role they have been offered. This is more appropriate for professional productions because of the involvement of agents and pay rates etc. However for amateur theatre I prefer to publish a cast list outlining who will be playing what. This way, people are able to digest the outcome of auditions in advance of the first read through or rehearsal, and it allows parents to help junior members to adjust too. Inevitably you will be unable to keep everyone happy with the outcome of auditions, so try and remember that people will be upset to begin with but they will come round once rehearsals start. Of course, you can offer feedback, but it’s worth outlining that if people request feedback from their audition, they must be prepared to accept the honest view of the panel – make it clear that it is feedback and not a discussion or negotiation or this can get messy!
Top Tip: If you publish a cast list, try and do so in the evening and notify everyone at the same time. That way people aren’t dealing with difficult news before work/school in the morning or over a lunch break.
I hope that these thoughts will help you to plan your auditions and give you cast a good experience in the process. Remember, getting the auditions right can be the key to opening up a fun and productive rehearsal process and run of the show!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on my auditions tips, and if you have any of your own you’d like to share. You can send me an email to share your thoughts.