An insight into the highs and the lows from a Producer’s point of view…
We recently held auditions for what must be our ninth or tenth StageAbility pantomime. You might think that it’s become a walk in the park over all those years of practise, but you would be wrong!
Each year brings with it a different script and different characters to cast; it brings different children to audition along with their different personalities, issues and abilities; it brings those children’s parents along with their hopes, opinions and worries; and it brings together children from StageAbility’s weekly drama classes and clubs, as well as children from outside of our classes who would like to get on stage…phew!
It starts off relatively easy. I might even say that we start off excited. Our Director and I have selected the script, we have a ‘vision’ for the parts we need to cast and we let the world know about our upcoming auditions on social media, through StageAbility classes and clubs and via any other outlet possible.
The requests for audition packs roll in and our excitement builds (particularly when we get past ‘that’ crucial number which means the project could be financially viable). The names are mostly familiar, but there are always a few which are new to us which intrigues us…what will they be like?
When audition day comes, it is never quite as we imagine. We are disappointed by no-shows and by some of our students’ lack of preparation. We are concerned for children who really struggle to step into the room and then, in turn, delighted by those who really do themselves justice or do even better than we had imagined. It really is a roller coaster…and quite exhausting!
After the auditions (and recalls if we have held them) we start to cast the show. We start by discussing the children who we think – in our own opinion – are no-brainers for a certain part. In most cases, we are surprisingly unanimous in these decisions.
Then the Director and I move on to talk about which children did stand-out auditions and we look to see where we could cast them. Sometimes this is easy, but sometimes even someone who has done a fantastically strong audition may not fit any of the available roles. This is because not all young actors are able (yet) to play all manner of parts. To be able to play comedy, evil and heroic characters takes a lot of skill – even some professional actors can’t play every part. And sometimes, they just don’t pair well with their opposite player.
Next, we turn to those children who did a good job – a specific role may not have jumped out and shouted at us and they may not have been ‘top 5’, but they did a good job. Again, we go through the same process, slotting them into the cast where we think they can bring some character and entertainment to the roles we have.
At the end of this process, there are always talented, dedicated children whose names are not written on the cast list. As I said before, many of these children are known to us – we might see them weekly – and we are keen for them to be part of the project and have the experience of a big show.
When it comes to panto, we are lucky because we have been given licence to change or add characters to the script. We’re not afforded this luxury when we licence a musical. So yes, sometimes we will write in a part, but only if it will add to the performance. We don’t add lines into a script for the sake of giving a child something to say or the resulting performance could be very tiresome for an audience.
Part of the difficulty is that our core values for our main business – delivering drama classes and clubs – are all about building children’s confidence and self-esteem, being inclusive and making sure that everybody is involved. For our larger productions (our pantomime and our spring musical) we try to give participants a realistic experience of auditioning and ‘winning’ a part.
Of course, we offer everyone (there are a few caveats) a chance to take part in our chorus, but some children see this as a step down and would rather not participate than take up this offer. Our StageAbility students are drilled in their attitude towards casting and the importance of auditioning to take part as opposed to being a main part.
We only find this out once we have sent out the casting, which again, has huge ups and downs. Note to self: ask children in the audition if they would take a chorus role!
Once we have cast a show and see our vision before us (!) we cannot wait to send out the casting.
And then it starts, a real mix of emails; some expressing joyful thanks, others expressing deep disappointment, but in the main, silence. I don’t know why it still surprises me after all these years, but it does and, for a few days, it can bring me down. It’s not nice to know that a child is upset, even though ‘that’s showbiz, kid.’
I know many theatre companies never enter into discussion about their casting decisions, but I always try to respond to give an insight to upset parents into how decisions were made. I think it’s important.
Following our auditions this year, all of the above happened and it took me by surprise again…when will I learn? We have certainly learned some more lessons and will do everything we can to manage expectation going into auditions for our spring musical.
I’m pleased to report, though, that rehearsals for this year’s pantomime, Cinderella, have got off to a great start and we invite you all to come along and watch this talented group of youngsters take to the stage!
Here’s the link to select your seats and buy your tickets!