The Drama of Casting in Community Theatre
It's possible that casting directors or those charged with casting a show have it harder than those auditioning, particularly in the community theatre world wherein the director knows the actors all too well.
Just one piece of the puzzle is making the casting choices themselves. But as administrators, you must also deal with the reputation, consequences and even possible fallout of those choices. It's a small world after all, and community theatre tends to be even tighter-knit and full of friends with whom you also work.
Gossip, rumors and hurt feelings are part of casting. How do your fellow California Community Theatre members handle the drama?
Do you or have you in the past had issues in your community with grumbling/rumors/gossip due to casting decisions?
What Happens When You Cast?
When we were first starting out, we cast the same folks a lot. Others complained that we were just casting from our friends. Over time, the pool has grown, and we now seldom cast the same people twice. Now people complain that we are prejudiced against people we've used in the past. You just can't win!
As a Director I always encourage all the performers I may see to try-out for my next show. Sometimes there are misunderstanding when i encourage someone to audition who does not get cast. The complaint is, "When you asked me to try-out, I thought you had me in mind for a role" My answer is "I always encourage performers to try-out, even if you don't get the part, you had an opportunity to practice your preparation and audition piece."
I have very typical stories I bet. "That person gets to direct because they are major donors." "She always casts her husband." (I promise you I would not be doing that if I did not have to. He is spread much to thin already! ) "She doesn't like me, that is why I never get cast there." Typical.
How Can You Handle The Drama?
To my knowledge, we haven’t had this issue, but if it occurs in the future, we would probably approach the cast and crew together as a group, and let them know that we are aware that there have been some comments made about how the show was cast. We would explain the thinking that went into our decisions, and let everyone know that their focus and ours needs to be on working together to create the best show and best audience experience possible. We would emphasize the importance of working together collaboratively, and ask that those who may be disappointed or upset regarding the casting to put those concerns behind them OR to discuss them privately with the director or board of directors, and to retain a positive attitude with the cast and crew.
We try to discuss it with people. We try to be extremely transparent. People will talk no matter what we do. People make weird assumptions about casting choices. It's really tiresome, and I've personally grown to just hate auditions.
Casting decisions are made exclusively by the Director, The Board will refer any questions to the Director. Gossip is not treated as having any credibility.
We do not have a formal policy for casting. But it is understood that we are a COMMUNITY theatre. On occasion but very rarely, a director might cast a particular actor for a specific role. Two years ago we produced Driving Miss Daisy but we did not have a man of color to play the role. The producer and director went out and recruited the same man! He is now an active board member and an integral member of our organization. Pre-casting is frowned upon and discouraged but on super rare occasions necessary. That is the only time in 10 years that this has happened.
We have a designated Board member who meets and confers with the Artistic Committee Chairperson to confirm that the audition process is open and not precast unless necessary. Gossip and rumors are dealt with the same way.
"First, we try to cast everyone who auditions if we can. Second, I often tell people how open we are to new actors, and point out that frequently half the people who come to tryouts and get major roles are new to our theater group."
No particular method. I tend to be more forthright than some are comfortable with and put the facts out is so far as I am ethically able to. I also try to avoid them in the first place by being completely transparents when roles have been precast.
Do your volunteers/directors/designers/actors share this ethos?
Yes. The process is in the open and the public is invited to attend all auditions and meetings. IF a role is pre-cast as above, we let everybody know and still open the audition with a "heads up" that one role mat be filled.
"I am not sure. They are often the ones who are telling me about the gossip in the community. People rarely come directly to me with their complaints. Again, in so far as I am able, I tell whomever is speaking to me as much as I can and encourage them to tell others when the topic comes up. I also encourage them to have the person complaining reach out to me."
Some do, some do not.
What Are Some Easy Tips to Keep the 'Drama' to a Minimum?
Post the cast list in alphabetical order rather than emphasizing the larger roles at the top. And prior to posting or announcing the cast list, be sure to thank everyone for their time and effort, let everyone know how difficult it was to make casting decisions due to the talent and skill of those who auditioned, and clarify exactly how decisions were made. Emphasize the importance of ALL cast members, including supporting and ensemble roles. And most importantly, make sure to focus on ALL cast rather than just the leads during rehearsals.
"Set expectations early. Stick to deadlines for announcing the cast. Make it completely clear how the process works."
We let it be known that any issues regarding casting only go to the director. The Board will never get involved, even if we disagree it is still entirely the purview of the Director.
Regarding casting announcements-- We had such a good turnout of excellent women that we could have cast Steel Magnolias with two completely different casts. Decisions were difficult. We told everybody what I said above, in fact the director said we could have cast it three times. Stay positive and be open throughout the process. Most directors tell prospects right up front that even though they may have and excellent audition they may not get cast because the cast has to "fit". I can't cast a 5'6" man as Frankenstein when I have another equally good actor that is 6"3". On only a couple of occasions in the last ten years have we had any grumbling.
When holding auditions the artistic committee instructs the director to allow all who show up an opportunity to 'read' or present their prepared audition material even though they may not 'fit' the role or any role to be cast.
If a role is precast, be clear in all your announcements of the auditions. Be brief, though as interesting as possible, in your press and social media announcements and then give easy access (html links etc) to as much information as possible about what you are looking for and how the actors can best succeed at auditions. Provide friendly, encouraging people to welcome actors and stage manage the auditions.
Remember people are new to this, and you want them to have fun.
Open auditions. Director meets with executive producers and artistic director to make the final decision.
Forget the Drama with the Current Cast....What About When You Can't GET a Cast?!?!
It's an hour before opening night and your lead actress can't talk.
One month into rehearsal, your dream Audrey II drops the show; nothing you say can convince him to reconsider.
It's the final night of casting Moon Over Buffalo and you have not seen one single person that wants to play Howard; two weeks later, you still haven't found anyone; by tech week, you've decided to play the role yourself (you're directing the play).
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If so, you may have been the victim of a ....
Check out these quick tips for handling a casting emergency for your community theatre.
"We always have casting emergencies. No tips here. We just do our best. Small town and all."