Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Joys of Casting

I thought today I'd tell you a bit about casting a show. This is perhaps the most important, most misunderstood and most frustrating part of any show (and also among the most enjoyable!). Getting the right people for the right roles is part art, part science, part faith, part extreme sport. Since we're trying to fill seven summer shows with exactly the right people I thought I might offer up few tidbits about the things I consider when I'm casting a show, in no particular order.

  1. Does a person have the necessary physical traits to play the character in question? Are they tall enough, short enough, do they possess any physical traits that are directly referred to in the script (I have one female role this summer that calls for a "well-developed chest" - try casting that one politely!).
  2. Can they handle the demands of the role? Leading roles are a lot of work, some smaller roles have unique challenges. For me, probably the biggest question is can they learn the lines? Sadly, in this day and age, the answer is most often no, and that's usually what will stop me from casting someone on the spot.
  3. Are the able to work well with fellow cast and crew? I don't have much patience for divas, or people who treat the techies as second-class citizens (in the unionized professional theatre, the techies actually are better paid than the actors).
  4. Can they make all the rehearsals? Again, a purely practical consideration, but if someone is going on vacation for two weeks during the rehearsal process then I have to question not only how prepared they will be come opening night, but the effect on the rest of the cast, who's had to listen to a stage manager reading in lines and "act to the air" for two weeks.
  5. Have I heard anything about this person? If I haven't worked with someone before I usually like to know what, if anything, they have done before, and with whom. Theatre is a small town, and people do talk to one another - a bad apple who's burned their bridges at one company has likely been talked about in all the others. I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt, though, at least once, but I still like to go in with both eyes open.
  6. Have I anything on this person that would prevent me from casting them? I keep a master database of every actor I have ever worked with, and I assign each actor a status, based on how my experience was with them - "Open" means they're perfectly fine to work with, "Dormant" means they've either moved away or don't want to do theatre any more, "Caution" means I've had some minor problems in the past, but not enough to prevent me from taking a chance on them if I need to, "Blacklisted" means I won't cast under any circumstances. As you can imagine, you have to do something really bad in order to get blacklisted. I also have an "exclusions" category - people I wouldn't want to put with this person, either due to conflicting personal histories, or the potential for future conflicts if they were together.
Notice, in all the things I listed above, I said nothing about the "t" word, talent. I don't care if someone thinks they are a "good" actor. Really, there's no such thing, at least as far as talent is concerned. A "good" actor, if you want to be one, shows up on time, works hard and gets along with everyone else. It's as simple as that.

Well, now back to filling these seven shows.

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