Casting Musicals: Amatuer Theatre

This month we’re going to follow up on a post I made all the way back in April of this year, where I discussed casting in an educational setting.  This post is meant to refer mostly to community theatre performed mostly by a fleet of volunteers, though as always feel free to adapt the ideas to your specific situation (or refer to my earlier article if you are working in education).  Let’s dive right in!

Before Auditions

As I mentioned in my previous article, the task of casting a musical actually begins before your first auditioned even walks in the door.  Recruitment is the key to giving you viable options to begin with (after all, you can’t cast people who don’t audition (unless you can - we’ll get to that later)).  Especially at this level of theatre, recruitment becomes by far the hardest part of the entire process.  Community theatre is almost exclusively volunteer or with very modest stipends, which makes acquiring cast members a challenge.  Here are some strategies that I’ve used successfully in the past:

  • Emphasizing the community improvement / social justice / humanitarian aspects of your organization and production
  • Reaching out to specific individuals in the community that hold positions that could influence other actors: coaches, educators, and other similar figures are great ways to get the word out to newer actors
  • Posting your call on local audition boards

Community theatre is an exciting step up from educational theatre in terms of talent level, but it comes with a whole different host of drawbacks, and this is almost certainly the most debilitating one.  Make sure to spend time on audition publicity, because this is where the show can falter.

During Auditions

So we’ve got our pool of applicants and we’re ready to start auditions.  Rather than just outline my philosophy again here, I’ll simply direct you to read this section of my previous article.  Instead, I’ll add a few remarks specific to community theatre here.

I see more validity in the argument in favor of dropping monologues for musical auditions in the community theatre realm than I do in the educational arena.  In schools I feel it’s almost a responsibility to give students the chance to showcase their acting with monologues as opposed to songs.  But in community theatre, we’re assuming a baseline of talent.  Acting chops become apparent pretty quick at this stage, and therefore I understand the desire to remove the monologue portion of the audition.  I still tend to favor its inclusion over its exclusion, but time often does not permit it, and where necessary I understand the cut.

However, here, more than ever, I believe that auditioners should be singing cuts of songs not from the show they are auditioning for.  Actors should be able to clearly demonstrate their knowledge of the show and its associated style, as well as present something unique to the auditioners, who may have never met the actor before.  In a school, relationships can build between faculty and students, allowing for a much more easy-going atmosphere.  But in community theatre, where performers may come and go quite quickly, being able to make an impression is important, and withholding the songs from the show from applicants really pulls that out.

As music director in a community theatre, I often find that their simply isn't a budget or means to hire an accompanist for auditions, and so my role almost invariably includes accompanying actors for auditions.  This can provide a challenge in terms of taking notes, so I try to convince my fellow creative team to structure auditions to allow for thirty seconds of reflection on the audition before moving on to the next.  I usually do this by engaging in a dialogue with the director and/or choreographer, and then quickly jot down thoughts, or have the director add them to their notes.

After Auditions

After all of those lovely actors have performed for you and the creative team, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and decide who you’re calling back to see more of.  This can be a tough conversation, especially since you likely don’t know many of the actors in question, and can lead to indecisiveness, and over-inclusion in callbacks (at least, that’s my personal problem with this situation).  As long as the team is fine with the length of callbacks, this can be no problem at all, or a huge problem, but as always the solution is teamwork with your fellow creatives.  Work with them to assemble a callback schedule that will work for all of you.

At callbacks, you have free reign to focus exclusively on music, so try to unearth their training and abilities as a singer in callbacks, not just their ability to play a character and sing a certain song.  Often this info is pertinent to casting the ensemble, and for casting the actor in future productions, even though you may turn them away for this particular show.  I always use material from the show for callback material, and try to keep the number of bars to a minimum, since I can guarantee that they will go overtime (this seems to be an unfortunate fact of callbacks).

After Callbacks (Or, Actually Casting the Musical)

Callbacks and auditions have been completed, and you and the rest of the creative team are sitting down to cast the musical.  The actually process of casting a show gets tougher as you rise in rank through the different tiers of theatre.  As the talent level increases in community theatre, so does the challenge in casting, as multiple actors will stick out to you as solid choices.  Unfortunately, I can’t be of much help here, since I don’t know your particular situation.  There really aren’t any hard and fast rules about this sort of work.  I refer again to my advice of determining in advance what the most important facet of each role is: song, dance, or performance, and let that dictate which member of the creative team gets final say.  You should not be giving the most input on the casting of a speaking-only role, unless it affects the casting of your singing parts.  By the time you’re done with callbacks, though, invariably things slot into place and there are only a few discussions to be had.  Casting a musical, is, truly, the easiest part of casting a musical.

And that’s all for today.  Stay tuned for next month’s post where we continue the series I began last month, Orchestrating a New Musical.  Until then, may your casting come easy!