While I teach and work at a University, UGF is a small, private school, and we need to also work with members of the community. In other words, I, like many of you, don’t have a bottomless pool of talent. I can’t be picky and decide ahead of time that I want a particular “type” or “look” for a role beforehand, and then wait for that actor to magically appear. So I have developed many strategies to try to make sure casting can still lead to a magical show.
Like many smaller theatre communities, I am often dealing with seeing 75-80% actors I know, and 20-25% new faces. I will talk about what I am looking for from everyone, then some specific things about new faces vs. the familiar.
I want someone who will take chances and make bold choices during auditions. You’ll see this in audition advice everywhere. But it is an even more distinguishing factor in a small pool of largely amateurs. Directors, take the actors who make bold choices. Even if they don’t fit your perfect vision of the role. They will be creative, they will force you to be more creative on how you view the role and show, and they will inspire your other actors (over time) to start making bold choices themselves.
I want nice people who can get along. I don’t have time for divas. And smaller theatres can be full of divas. Guess what, in those big theatre pools like NYC, very few theatre actors or stars are Divas. Know why? Because no one wants to work with a diva, and when you have a bottomless pool of talent, why on earth would you? Don’t train divas. Of course, in a small community, sometimes the divas are the ones making bold choices. So I have a mental balancing scale. But if it ever becomes clear that the actor causes more strife than support in the cast, they disappear off my list fast.
I’m looking for the above, as always, but the first thing I want to know is are they new, or are they experienced? And not perhaps for the reason you might think. If they are experienced, I know they understand the job they are getting into and how much work it can be.
With someone new, there is a wonderful thing to keep an eye out for, it is, for lack of a better word, the “spark”. What can they learn over the course of the 6-8 weeks of rehearsal? Talented beginners in every field can make remarkable improvements in a short period of time. So I am not assessing where they are right now, but what they could be. There are ways of doing this. Give a direction, give a short lesson in auditions or callbacks and see if they absorb it.
I also try to find an actual role for these new actors who show a spark. Getting the lead is not unheard of for someone new in my group. (Double-casting often mitigates the risk on this, but that is another story.) They aren’t going to grow playing a one-line walk on.
In general, I believe actually casting new faces frequently is important if you want to keep your quality up in a small talent pool. New actors bring Ina new fresh energy. We all like to keep working with our friends, but if they know you cast new people as a rule, they tend to keep their own skills a little sharper…. They actually have to compete.
Try hard to avoid typecasting, or thinking you know what they can “do”. Your pool is small, you can’t afford to think that way. No actor likes being instantly typecast, so give them the courtesy of an open mind each time to see how they’ve grown or what they can do. Often, you will be surprised. Or maybe not. But when they get typecast again they often feel better that they were given the chance to do something else. This works great if they see others who were actually cast outside the parameters of what they usually get cast in.
Pull them a little bit. Give them a chance to show their growth. Often actors who have been around for a while without getting cast or getting a big role can feel defeated before they even start. Make sure you set the tone. Make sure you give them a chance. Don’t assume. Give them direction. If someone keeps coming around, and helps with other things, look for that opportunity to take a risk casting them in something larger. If they’ve been that dedicated, chances are they won’t blow this chance and will surprise you.
The more you are willing to shake things up all the time, the more diverse and dedicated your talent pool will be. This can be scary. As humans, we crave the familiar. But remember, as an artist, we need to explore uncharted territories. As director, you are the leader. If you are willing to show by example that you are willing to face the unknown, your team will be right there with you.