Don't Call Us...We'll Call You
Whether casting for a single production or developing a drama team, holding auditions can be a stressful process for both you and your actors. It can dredge up painful
memories of those childhood afternoons on the kickball field: as "team captain" you try to select players for your team who can boot one out of the park as dozens of faces look back at you, silently pleading "Pick me, please pick me." While the audition process may never be a painless one, following are a few "be-attitudes" that can help you choose the right players and keep the ball rolling.
1) Be prayerful – Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before choosing the twelve who would serve with him (Luke 6:2-13) and probably passed over some very "qualified" people because his father had other plans. Be open to God's leading before and during the casting process, and remember that the final decision is best left in his hands.
2) Be serious (but not too serious) – Auditions are serious business, but they should also be fun. Actors do their best work when they're relaxed, so communicate to them (in whatever way you can) that they're in a safe place and are free to have a good time. On the other hand, actors need to know that they can trust you as a leader, so beware of getting goofy or wasting a lot of time with disorganization. In a sense, you're auditioning for them, too, and need to put your best foot forward. Warm but professional is usually the best track.
3) Be kind – Auditionees will almost always be a self-conscious bundle of nerves (some just hide it better than others), and the smallest look from a director can unintentionally communicate volumes. Laughing, frowning, yawning, or looking distracted or disinterested while a person is auditioning can be a real blow to an actor's self-esteem. You may be snickering at a private joke with your stage manager, but the actor will always assume it's about them. It takes a lot of courage to audition. Give your actors the respect they deserve!
4) Be organized – Every director has a different system that works for him or her, but I highly recommend using audition forms (with basic information including name, phone numbers, height, hair color, birth date, prior theatrical experience, etc.) and taking detailed notes during each individual audition. Don't assume that you'll remember which "Amber" had the great timing and which "John" was perfect for the leading role. Write it down!
5) Be clear – After directing for a while, the "business" of auditioning can become fairly routine to a director. But bear in mind that this may be uncharted territory for some of your actors. Take time to fill them in on all the details: who you are, what they're auditioning for, what's expected of them, when the cast list will be posted, when the rehearsal nights will be, how the auditions themselves will be conducted, etc.
6) Be attentive – If your auditions consist of readings from a script, be watchful of actors who may be able to act well but not read well. If you sense that an actor is responding to his or her partner but is stumbling over words, try an improv exercise with them. Another type to be mindful of are the actors who can't follow direction – in other words, actors who give an amazing audition but are incapable of changing their performance. Try giving direction from time to time and see if the actors can be flexible, but be very clear to the actor that, if you do give direction, it isn't because of anything they've done wrong – it’s just to see their versatility.
7) Be accountable – I rarely recommend casting alone. It's easy to pigeonhole actors based on performances we saw years ago, and likewise some of our "old favorites" may not be right for the leading role this time around, so it's usually helpful to get advice from an outside perspective to avoid any biases. Even if you know exactly what you're looking for, it never hurts to have another trusted opinion (or two).
Experts agree that casting can account for about 80 percent of the success of your production, so take your time and do it well. Problems will still arise, and obstacles will always need to be overcome, but by following the above steps in choosing your team, you should be able to approach the plate with confidence and, Lord willing, be prepared to knock one out of the park on opening night!