How to Cast a Play

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Casting is one of the most important jobs a director will do for a play or musical. The success of the show will rely on the actors playing the part and their ability to carry out the vision of the director. For casting to be successful, directors need to be prepared and run professional, organized and efficient auditions and callbacks. This means keeping things on schedule, having everything in place when actors arrive and being respectful of everyone involved in the process. If auditions are not at the theatre, choose a place that is comfortable, quiet, well lit and sufficiently large.

Character Analysis

  • Before a director begins holding auditions, she needs to have a thorough understanding of the roles that need to be filled. A director should have a clear vision of the play or musical so that she knows who will best fill the roles. This doesn't mean that things won't change during auditions, but the director needs to be familiar with the characters, what their relationships are and how they function in the production. The director should create a character list that includes details such as gender, age, physicality and the character's basic function in the play. This information is usually available to actors who are auditioning. Some directors, particularly at the high school or community level, will also do a line count for each character to get an idea of the size of the role and the time commitment needed from the actors filling those roles.

Audition Promotions

  • Getting the right actors to audition is an important job for the director. This means promoting the auditions in the right places. If the show is Equity, audition notices must be posted on the union website. There are several other effective places to post notices: Online, a director can promote auditions at state-wide theatre websites, national theatre websites such as Backstage.com, and the theatre's own website. Other traditional spots to promote the casting of a play include your local newspaper's arts calendar listings, a theatre lobby bulletin board or program, and the bulletin boards at colleges and universities with theatre departments. Many directors also rely on word-of-mouth and individually recruiting actors that they've worked with in the past.

Equity Requirements

  • Collective bargaining agreements govern how auditions are held at theaters using Equity actors. Actor's Equity is the primary union for stage actors and stage managers. These regulations change with new contracts but the basic rules are that Equity members must be given separate auditions from non-members. Equity theaters must also give advance notice of auditions with such information as date and place of auditions, type of contract, type of role such as principal or chorus, who will be at the auditions and a cast breakdown. The theatre must make audition appointments for Equity members in good standing and allow for walk-ins to be seen on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Audition Materials

  • Selecting audition material is an important part of the casting process. A director will need to choose how each actor will audition. For a musical, this might include each person singing 16 bars of a song. For a play, actors might be asked to give a monologue or two contrasting monologues limited to two to three minutes. Other times, a director may provide audition sides for actors to read. Sides are passages from the play and typically require actors to read with other actors. When possible, directors should make the sides available ahead of time -- two days or more -- so actors can adequately prepare.

Auditions and Callbacks

  • Appoint a monitor to greet actors and sign them in. For professional productions, it is common for directors to ask for resumes and headshots. Headshots and resumes help a director remember an actor; some directors will use the resume to take detailed notes. For amateur productions, it is common to have an audition form that the actor fills out with contact information and any scheduling conflicts they might have. Auditions begin the moment actors enter the room. Directors should take note of how an individual moves, their vocal qualities and ability to follow direction. Use auditions to narrow the pool to those actors who display confidence and skill. Callbacks can give a director more time to see each actor; it also gives both the director and actor the ability to delve deeper into the role. And directors often use this opportunity to guide improvisational exercises to see where an actor can take the character.

Actor Selections

  • There is no set formula for choosing which actor is best for a particular role. This is where the art of directing comes into play. At many theatres, members of the production team may be involved in the decision-making process, particularly producers, musical directors, assistant directors or choreographers. The creative team will discuss how to fill in the pieces of the puzzle so to speak, discerning who the best actors are to play each individual character. Casting is a huge part of the process in realizing the overall vision; it can take a few days or more to make the best choices. Once a cast is chosen, a member of the team either contacts actors individually or a cast list is posted at a specific location -- such as the theatre or on the theatre's website.

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