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Thoughts on the casting process

With 5 of our 6 shows for 0809 now cast (and the last one not being cast until the beginning of November), I thought I’d post some thoughts on the whole process. I’m not sure if it’s helpful for actors or interesting to an audience member, but we’ll see where it goes.

IN GENERAL

  • Reputation precedes the individual. Word travels fast in this business, even for things that happen outside the theater. Directors talk to other directors, particularly about actors they don’t know or don’t have current experience with. If you develop a reputation for any sort of bad behavior, it’s going to count against you. I believe that no amount of talent is worth dealing with certain behaviors. We’re looking for talented folks, but those who are also hard-working, easy to get along with and in it for the greater good (the work, the show, the company) and not just themselves. If it comes down to a great talent with an attitude or a lesser talent who can be worked with to get to the same results who is a true team player, I’ll go with the team player.
  • We are not this big scary or cliquishly snobby private club. I know that is sometimes the perception, and I think it just might be easier for some folks to cling to that than to be open to the reality. Any group of any sort that does any kind of work has a core, however small, of people they can rely on. We’re no different. Specifically, we have fashioned ourselves as an artist-driven company. Our board of 9 are all theater professionals and we are surrounded by an ensemble of dedicated artists 20-30 strong depending on the year. So yes, we already have a body of talent to choose from, but we’re also looking to add to that group at all times. 11 actors on our mainstage this season had never worked with us before. Of course the more you work with anyone and they produce solid results the more likely you are to want to work with them again. Part of Jobsite’s mission is also to create an artistic home, and we’re trying to do just that for those who choose to put in the work for us. That will never stop us from being on the hunt for new blood.

GENERAL AUDITIONS

  • Please, for the love of the Gods and all that is holy, follow the instructions given. If a company asks for 2 1-minute pieces, prepare that. Not 1 5-minute piece or 2 3-minute pieces. If they ask for a contemporary and a classical piece, give it to them. 5 copies of a headshot and resume? Bring that. Most directors at an audition are very suspect of any actor who can’t even follow these simplest of instructions.
  • Always assume when people ask for monologues that they want them to be memorized. If you want to be taken seriously, take it seriously. Try to choose material that not only shows off your strength, but your versatility.
  • What they say about the audition beginning as soon as you arrive is true. If you’re rude to other people, folks take notice. If you harass the person helping coordinate the auditions, it will get back to the directors.

CALLBACKS

  • The same Golden Rule about being nice to people applies here. Folks take notice when people start acting too aggressively competitive with each other or doing the stare-down/cold shoulder things. We like nice people who can get along in a group.
  • Be patient with us. We do our best to not waste people’s time. That doesn’t mean though that things are always fast.
  • Everyone at a callback is there for a reason. The director sees something in that person and considers them a possibility. There’s not much in it for us to call people back we have no intention of ever putting on stage. Nothing is finished until all offers are accepted and a public announcement is made.
  • Follow instructions. If someone asks you to do something different, give that choice all you’ve got. If you’re allowed to watch others audition and the director is giving feedback to other actors reading for the part you are – pay attention, make adjustments. Knowing a person is directable is a key part of casting.
  • Make bold choices, and commit to them. Don’t just stand their and read with a script over your face.
  • Engage your scene partners. Be generous. Connect. It’s not just about you. Directors also notice a stage hog when they see one, and it’s not very attractive.

THE MIND OF A DIRECTOR

  • We really and truly want everyone to do well. We want you to smoke it, to tear it up, to kill it.
  • We want to put the absolute best cast together possible.
  • It’s difficult to work in this fashion amongst friends, and it’s virtually impossible to work in this business for very long without making personal connections with those we work with. Be respectful of that. It’s not fair to try to leverage your friendship for a part. It might actually even blow up in your face.
  • Similarly, don’t just assume a director is going to cast so-and-so over you because they’re friends. That said, see my note on the level of trust you build up with those actors you know. If you’re at the callback, you’re in the hunt. It’s on you to impress.
  • Each part effects the other. There’s more to getting cast than just being good. It’s about how the director sees the part, what you bring that may fit that or change their mind, how you look/work with someone else. It’s an enormous puzzle. I’ve now heard from all of the auditions for this season and every director has said that they could have cast their show well at least 2 different ways.
  • This work is typically the hardest part of putting a show together. I don’t expect a pity party about it, but directors deserve more sympathy than they ever really get.

MOVING ON

  • So you might not get the part, but the work you do in auditions is never wasted. Since we audition the summer prior to a season, there’s always the chance we might lose an actor to an out of area move, a family emergency, illness or even better-paying work (it’s happened). You never know when your phone might ring down the road. You might even find yourself getting a call for a totally different show based on an impression you made. You may also find yourself getting a personal invitation direct to callbacks the next time around. It’s also not unheard of for a director at another theater to call someone and ask for recommendations, where your name might just turn up.
  • The more you get out and get your face seen the better. It goes back to that familiarity/comfort/trust thing. Get involved. Go to shows. Volunteer.
  • Your reputation can also come back full circle here, if you don’t get cast and proceed to head to the nearest watering hole and rail against the show, the director, the company and anyone who ever like a show they ever produced – don’t be surprised if that word goes back to those you were talking about. It’s a small city and a smaller industry.

This year there was a great showing of new faces at auditions. Of those folks, 5 new faces have already been added to the ensemble. I’m looking forward to seeing even more of them at the Pericles callbacks.

We’re lucky to have so much talent in this area. It deserves to be shown off, nurtured and developed. This region also needs to dedicate more attention and resources to keeping this precious commodity here, and not continually draining out to places where an actor might be able to get more work, money or respect.

Did I miss anything here? Got something to add or something you want to agree/disagree with? Me likey feedback.

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9 thoughts on “Thoughts on the casting process

  1. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here again – as much angst as we actors have over the whole process (as evidenced in my wall o’ text on the subject several weeks ago), I don’t envy the position directors are in at ALL. It’s hard auditioning for someone you consider a friend. It’s got to be 10 times harder to have the shoe on the other foot with a similar relationship.

    As mopey as I’ve ever gotten about not getting a part I’ve wanted, I can honestly say I have yet to go see one of those shows and not said to myself “I understand now.”

    You’re doing it for three shows this season, too. Here’s me, not envying you. Remind me to go buy you a drink or 10 after Pericles goes up.

  2. “We’re lucky to have so much talent in this area. It deserves to be shown off, nurtured and developed. This region also needs to dedicate more attention and resources to keeping this precious commodity here, and not continually draining out to places where an actor might be able to get more work, money or respect.”

    You’re darn tootin’. On that note, there is simply more talent in this area than there are parts. That’s just one more reason to support ALL the live theater in the area. If you are a member of one ensemble, it is your civic duty to go see shows that other companies are putting on- when and where your schedule will allow.

    The more we support each other across ensemble boundaries, the more the theater scene in Tampa grows. And the more it grows, the more the area’s reputation as a theater destination grows. With that kind of reputation, we bring more quality players into the area. It snowballs and then there are more parts to go around.

    Regardless of my feelings toward individuals in any given production, I go see it. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. If I don’t get cast in a show, I go out and see what a different actress has done with the part. It’s always interesting and I usually end up learning something.

    And if you don’t get cast- do a side project! What better way to express yourself artistically than to choose and/or write your own material? I, for one, have been involved in two Jobside projects and I’ve got one on the way. Don’t wait for theater to come to you. Go to it.

  3. Getting cast, to me, is so important because I love to be part of such an illustrious group. Jobsite has been such an important part of my career, volunteering and performing feels like play more than work. Auditioning and callbacks are so exciting because I feel like I’m an addition to something substantial.

    I, as an actor, feel honored to be even considered for these shows (5 out of 6 this year!). Never would I give a cold shoulder to any actor or director! Playing as a team for something greater than any of us individually is without words.

    πŸ™‚

  4. I think something else to keep in mind is that all the directors at Jobsite are also actors. We have empathy for the situation more than you can possibly imagine.

    I personally know what it’s like to sweat bullets at a callback praying for a role and I know what its like to watch actors in that same position three weeks later. I feel every single actor this year – because I am one of you.

    If I can add one other thing as a director – get a copy of the script. No. Matter. What. Come in knowing the content, the style, everything. Do yourself a favor – read out loud EVERY single role that is your gender. As many actors can attest – I had actors jumping all over different roles.

    Being comfortable with a script shows professionalism, experience, intelligence and a clear message that you are interested and want the role. That counts for a lot in my book. As an actor, I don’t walk into auditions cold and as a director I look for actor’s that know the script.

    80% of what I do as a director is cast the show. 20% is rehearsal.

  5. Thanks for putting all that in writing!!! As someone who has sat both sides of the table, and someone who has been cast and has been cut, I know it is never easy. Casting is always equal parts hard work and “fate”… because so many things are simply out of your hands. And emotional investment is always gonna be there, so I always try to give all involved in the process a little breathing room… and that includes myself.

  6. I am giving you a standing ovation, David! That was brilliant.

    One of my pet peeves is when I am working at an audition, signing people in, passing out numbers, etc. and I see potential cast members in the waiting room, listening in at the door and bad-mouthing the other auditionees while they are in there doing their thing. That’s enough reason for me to put a bug in the director’s ear that this is NOT a team player we want to deal with.

    This industry is NOT about COMPETITION, it’s COLLABORATION. There are only so many of us in the area!

  7. I agree with everything that has been said here, but I feel that as an outsider it is my duty to put in a different perspective. I have attended auditions and callbacks at Jobsite and a number of other theaters. I have witnessed Jobsite grow ever more popular and more successful (hooray and kudos to you) and I have also been on the other side of the table and involved with the production aspects of many shows. I know that nothing kills the motivation and enthusiasm of a “new blood” actor at a callback more than seeing (and knowing) that a certain actor is going to be used in a show in a specific role. There is nothing wrong when, as a director, you envision and trust a specific actor in a role. What is not fair to the rest of local talent is when that role is kept open and much time and effort is wasted (or felt to be wasted) on a role that was never intended to be available. Steve Garland, Matt Lundsford, Kat Stevenson, Kari Goetz, etc. (pretty much the Jobsite ensemble) seems to always be picked for shows. I understand that these are people who are reliable, talented (and very talented), and available and that directors know intimately and know are valuable assets. Everyone knows the directors are going to use them, so why hide it? Here’s my suggestion: Instead of having “new bloods” waste the time and energy on studying for a certain role (that is going to be given to a “mainstay”), why not pre-cast with the certain actors that the director knows he/she wants. There is nothing wrong with pre-casting. It lets the rest of the community know, “Don’t waste your efforts on this role, it’s taken”, and suggests that we local talent spend our energy on another role, or if one that suits us is not available, another audition. The pre-casting does not even need to be fully publicized. The talent doesn’t need to know that Jason Evans is playing the part of Mr. Dusseldorf, we just need to know that Mr. Dusseldorf is not an available character. It’s just decent to us and to you as well, for we will apply more energy to a role that is available. No one is suggesting that you don’t let any “new blood” in: I’ve seen Jobsite for the last ten years and know that you have grown and accepted more and more people into your fold. My suggestion is merely to explain the other side of the coin and to reveal some of the angst that many “new bloods” feel when attending Jobsite auditions. I love Jobsite, I would love to be involved more with Jobsite, but I feel it would be a boon to the community if there were more of a trust between the community and the theatre. I hope that this helps and I would really like to see it put into effect. I truly feel it would send a good message to the new (and old) talent and build more trust in the community. This season looks great, I can’t wait to see it!

  8. Anon –

    Thank you for the feedback.

    As much as the core of the Jobsite Ensemble might like to be offered a role sight unseen, as Artistic Director I’m just not comfortable doing a lot of precasting.

    To be fair, when we have precast as a part, we do typically put out that whatever role is not open, or we don’t even list it as a casting need.

    Cases in point: We did not search at all for a Ray in Blackbird as that actor had already been made an offer. We did not audition at all for Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune as it was a special project specifically chosen for those actors.

    My opinion is that any open role is an open role to be taken by anyone. As I’ve said in previous posts, we’d never chose a play we didn’t think we couldn’t cast, and in order to know that we obviously have to survey our pool and go “check, check and check.”

    That doesn’t mean though that someone new or someone who has perhaps been on the periphery can’t take the role away from some of those people you mention.

    Mark Leib said a long time ago about us that “casting is destiny” and in large part he’s right. That’s why it’s so important to get people in a room and actually see pairings and chemistry and all those intangibles. I’d hate to cast a show another way and a week in rehearsal realize I made a mistake or worse, have to let people go because it just isn’t working out.

    I know I’ve mentioned before that Steve Garland came to audition just two years ago, and I didn’t know him from the man in the moon. He read once and I knew I would use him as Katurian. Matt Lunsford and Ryan McCarthy were actually brought in by me under my assumption they’d be contenders for the roles of Katurian and Michal (respectively), and they walked away with Tupolski and Ariel.

    I could go show by show on any given season and give you specifics as to instances where I thought maybe someone was a strong candidate for a specific part going into it and they either lost the part to another ensemble member or even a person new to the company.

    I hope you see my point. I can think whatever I might think but until I have real bodies up on stage and see not only how the folks I know read together but how the folks I don’t know come into the mix – I’d be doing the show and this company a disservice just by saying, “well, Kat, Kari and Jay are rad – I’m just going to cast them as X, Y and Z.”

    And again, can I say how happy I’d make people if I just decided to walk around and hand out parts?

    A side maybe no one thinks about is also how certain core ensemble members also end up losing out on parts, and that can lead to feelings of resentment or anger. Folks who feel they’ve earned their stripes and don’t get why we went with someone unproven.

    It certainly cuts several ways I guess.

    This process protects everyone – new blood, old blood, the director and the company.

    But thanks again for the feedback. I hope I’ve made it clear that we’re honestly not going around precasting everything and having these auditions for show.

    Best,
    -dj

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