Casting – Round 2: Antatomy of our casting sessions

So our casting sessions have more or less concluded. What an adventure it’s been! We’ve had so many different people contacting us about the roles (including a former Miss Great Britain and by pure coincidence someone who featured in Dan Collier’s original version).

Make no mistake, casting is extremely hard work. In fact it’s pretty much a mini-production in its own right. You have to attract the right type of people to the project (much like you will need to market a production afterwards), you need to find a suitable venue, you have to set dates and schedule people. Exhausting, but great preparation for when production hits.

We structured our castings in the following manner (I don’t know if some of this might be useful to any actors out there, perhaps it’s a perspective on the other side of the table):

1. As we were in a secure location, we had someone on the door to let people in and greet them. We also put a few signs up outside of the location to direct people to the right place (this said it should have all been on the maps we issued).

2. The first thing we did would be to get some photos of the actor. There were three shots we were really after, a headshot, a full length shot and a full length profile shot. This was in part for promotion and to assist our costumer designer.

3. The actors then had a few minutes to themselves sitting in a quiet area where they could hopefully try to focus or relax. Thankfully we had a reasonable location for this.

4. Sherilee would then invite the actor into the room and we would meet, shake-hands and ask them to sit. The first question I’d ask would be: “Do you mind if we film this casting?”. To be honest no one did mind, if someone were to say “Yes”, well then they would be in the wrong place!

5. The second question “Do you mind if we use the photos to help us promote?”. Again, no one minded but it’s nice to have it filmed and on record. We will also make sure this gets added to the contract for successful candidates also. We would then double-check with them which character(s) they were auditioning for. It would also give them to opportunity to let us know if they wanted to try for a different role upon reflection.

6. We then tried our best to put the actor at ease. We would start by asking an initial question of a “Did you find us okay” or “How long did it take to get here” nature. This was then followed up with “Please tell us a bit of background about yourself and what you have been doing” to keep things reasonably informal. The range for this was quite wide and could encompass many things as well as acting. This was quite an enjoyable part of the process, but you had to keep an eye on the time because it’s surprising how quickly the time could get eaten up here.

7. We would then explain a bit about ourselves, our backgrounds, what we were hoping to achieve both in terms of “Baby Oak” and this particular project.

8. One decision we made early on was to send the script out to everyone we invited for a casting session. Now some people might balk at this idea, but I have to be honest – for us it paid dividends. The advantages were:

  • many of the actors learned their lines beforehand, resulting in a more natural performance when tested.
  • it was a way of seeing how enthused about the project they really were
  • it meant we could ask them for feedback on the script
  • we could ask if they had any particular thoughts or questions about the character they were auditioning for.

On the whole there was some extremely useful feedback here about whether the script was connecting, also a few great ideas for the characters. There were a handful of instances where the actor had prepared a background monologue for their character. Now this from a director point seemed solid gold! Not only does it make the actor stick out in your memory, it also shows that they are interested in the character, they taken the time to consider a potential background history and it’s another great opportunity to showcase your performance skills.

9. We would then ask the actor to perform a scene or two from the script. Some of our characters aren’t huge parts, so these were rather straight-forward. For the larger roles, in the first instance I would ask if there was a particular scene they wanted to perform. To be honest, absolutely everyone tended to go for the easy option – the opening scene. I’m not entirely surprised, but it would have definitely stuck in my memory if someone did pick a trickier scene. In any case, we honoured this choice, but I would also add “I’d like you to read this scene also”. The performance part was fascinating! Some actors wanted to stay sitting, others wanted to pace around furiously. Both Sherilee and myself got a taste of what it must have been like for the actors. We would take turns to become the opposing characters so the actors had someone to “bounce” off.  I’d like to think that this helped to ease many of the actors (we were also prepared to go outside of our comfort zone to in order to help their performance). One thing you quickly learn is that you need to let go of “how you envisaged things in your head” as a director when an actor becomes involved. Some of the variations on display amongst people auditioning for the same roles were quite astounding.

10. Once they had performed the scene(s), the first thing we would do is thank them for performing as this part never looks easy. We would then just end the session with a few formalities. These were things such as “are you available on the dates”, “do you drive or can you make it to the set” or “is there any medical history or dietary requirements we need to be aware of?”.

11. We would finally end by telling them when they could expect to hear if they were successful and thank them for coming in. Then we would then invite the next person in and repeat all over again. We booked people in for 10 minute slots. Occasionally we booked ourselves a break which we would be lucky to see any of (if we did it was extremely brief – enough for a quick glass of water).

So did we find our Trevor and Joanna? Well, that would be telling! 🙂 We have just under a week to reflect before we need to let people know. For some characters the choice is likely to be more obvious than others. I will find myself poring over the audition footage because there are some extremely strong candidates to consider. It’s going to be somewhat painful deciding which way we will eventually take characters in some cases. Sherilee and I will be meeting up next week to make the decisions, so let’s hope the mists will clear before then!

Before I sign off, I’m not sure if any local Oxford people read this – but I’d just like to mention that a friend of mine, Brian Conroy who played Samaritan in Gardening and Other Crimes will be launching his new venture WOAPA (West Oxfordshire Academy of Performing Arts) next week.

If you are local and interested in dancing/singing/performance arts, please get in contact directly at info@woapa.co.uk or by calling 07943 353032. The Singing group 16+ is debuting on Wednesday at The Batt School, Marlborough Lane, Witney at 19:30. I’m sure knowing Brian it’s going to be a great evening, so if you are available and this is your thing – I heartily recommend checking it out!

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One response to “Casting – Round 2: Antatomy of our casting sessions

  1. Thanks for the plug Andy, and best of luck with the filming – can’t wait to see the finished result!
    We have some great songs planned for the WOAPA singing group – its going to have a real ‘Glee’ feel.
    Our main Academy for 4-16yrs launches in the new year – and we’re delighted that Tim Noble (Kylie Minogue’s choreographer) is going to join us in Feb for some dance masterclasses. Places will be limited, so anyone wanting to take part should get in touch sooner rather than later.
    Brian

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