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A Few Thoughts: The Casting Process From the Director's POV

"And then it’s down to inches. Millimeters, even. I can be (in fact, have to be) picky about what I’m looking for in a role down to super specifics. Sometimes it still comes down to chemistry or type or whatever ‘needs’ of the play."

I just cast a play. I was blown away by the talent and professionalism I saw at auditions. I am so grateful to be in the position to even be writing this post. Here are a few thoughts on this most recent casting process, for what it’s worth – perhaps it will lend insight to others or start a dialogue about this tricky process.

We received 197 submissions for a 12-person cast. Plus the folks on my list (and Casting Director’s & Artistic Director’s lists), so we had 223 candidates to review. Through evaluation of resumes, we extended audition invitations to 115 people (so, down 100+ already). Of those invitations, we saw 81 in-person auditions and 12 video auditions.

[Important note: I had excellent, tireless help from the theater’s casting team. I would have never been able to pull off reviewing and seeing so many actors – with tons of different sides – without the staff support. I am so grateful!]

Most of the auditions started with sides, except for the folks new to us who did monologues. Sometimes I gave out additional sides on the spot to look for specific things that the original monologue or side didn’t get at. I asked everyone for at least one adjustment.

Out of 81 in-person auditions, I marked 70 as callback-worthy. The talent pool here is excellent!! This is so exciting!!!

But I still have to get to a cast of 12, while respecting everyone’s time. I get the callback list to 43 (still too many, probably, but there ya go).

So how did I get from 70 callback-worthy to 43 called back?

  • Conflicts – if you’re not available for a performance or major rehearsal weekend, I probably didn’t call you back.

  • Physical type is a factor, of course. And how that physical type relates to everyone else under consideration.

  • I personally look for something specific in the handling of language – it’s not the only way (or necessarily the best way) to do classical text, but it’s what I prefer. With so many things to do in the rehearsal process, I find it so much better for all to cast actors who already have this same style as me.

  • I look for actors who bring something different to the side — some different interpretation of the text or character, and executed well+clearly.

  • If it’s not something different in a first read, the adjustment portion of the audition is so important. Did you understand/take my note? If you didn’t understand, did you ask for clarification, before or afterwards? (When I ask, how was that? after a read, I really want to know how it went for you!) If you didn’t understand it fully, did you make a big change so I can see you’re up for collaboration? My adjustments are not always perfect or perfectly clear, but I look for collaboration/dialogue: ask for clarification. Or if it’s still not clicking for us, maybe it’s not just a match. That’s no one’s fault.

In callbacks, I look for all those same things: type, style, uniqueness – and even more I’m looking for our ability to work together. And by that I mean, people who can help me solve this play! Actors who are willing to play in the callbacks, who ask questions, who bring ideas about the interpretation of character and text. People who get as excited as I do about figuring it out.

This shines through best with preparation, but it’s not about having it down ‘flawlessly’ the first time.

And then it’s down to inches. Millimeters, even. I can be (in fact, have to be) picky about what I’m looking for in a role down to super specifics. Sometimes it still comes down to chemistry or type or whatever ‘needs’ of the play. Also – equity contracts, if even a possibility, are always limited.

It must get to 12. I’m so, so excited about the 12 people I get to work with! I’m grateful I get to work with 12 this time, since large-cast shows are not common these days. I cannot wait to begin.

At the same time, I feel the loss that I don’t get to work with so many other talented artists. I wish I could direct as many shows a year as I want just to work with so many amazing individuals.

But, I did get to see all the work in auditions and I truly, truly appreciate every single audition performance. Thank you.

This is my very specific process & experience, personal to me.

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