A major, and rather important part of your production are the cast members who will play the roles in your show. Oftentimes, an audition (or casting) will be arranged to assess talent who are interested in your project and to find the right people for the parts. If you are going to be casting performers, you will have to put out a call and advertise to attract performers to come and audition for you.
For resources on where to post your audition call (and what to include) click here.
Planning your audition
There are many things to consider, logistically and when planning for an audition. They are almost like an event in and of itself. To ensure your auditions run smoothly, here are some things to consider when planning.
- Time - ensure that you have a sufficient amount of time to plan for your casting, to run the casting and then to select your performers in time for the beginning of rehearsals. How long you give yourself really depends on what your project is. Are you rehearsing for a large scale show or smaller show? How many performers will you be casting? How much negotiation room do you want to give yourself between offering a role to an actor and the start of rehearsals?
- Space - Auditions are typically held in an open room, studio or theatre performance space. But, the space in which you hold your audition is completely up to you and the needs of your audition. Typically, it is a space that is quiet so that you and your auditioners can focus on being present in the room.
- Accessibility and Inclusion - How you post your auditions, your casting call, and even the space you use to host auditions will make a huge difference in the types of artists that you engage with. For instance, do you need an accessible space that either has an elevator or perhaps is on a main level, where a person in a wheelchair can enter? Will you need an ASL interpreter? Ensure you have the resources you need in order to create an inclusive audition room.
It is important to include audition space into your budget and know how much money and resources you can allocate to the audition before researching and booking a space. If you are hosting an audition in a theatre venue, it will probably be more expensive than renting a studio for a few hours.
Some considerations to make and questions to ask when booking a space:
- Washrooms: make sure that your space has access to washrooms and that there is clear signage posted to get to the washrooms. If there is not clear signage, ask the rental venue if you are able to post your own directional signs.
- Change rooms: Does the space you are renting have access to a change room and is having one important for your auditioners who will be coming to audition?
- Holding room/warm up space: having a room for performers to warm up and hang out is helpful for the auditioners to take time to prepare and is great to have as a space for them to wait around should they have to
- Accessibility: make note if your space is accessible for all people who are going to be coming to your audition. Is there access to a lift or elevator? How wide are the doors? Ask if any additional accommodations are required. For a full list of considerations visit Accessibility, and check out ACTRA's Guide for Auditioning Deaf Actors
- Contract: a contract between you and the venue rental should have a signed agreement. For information on what this should be, visit Booking Your Venue
- What do you need from your auditioners? Before you host an audition, you should understand what you require from those that are auditioning. Are you doing a classical play and want the auditioners to read a piece from the script? Will it be an improvised audition? Or will they have to prepare a 2-min dance/movement piece for you? Have this detail sorted to make sure you know what to ask of your auditioners and know what you need to best cast the right people.
- Type of Audition: there are different types of auditions that you can hold. These include open/general auditions, invited auditions, group auditions, and individual auditions. Each require different types of attention and logistics.
- Personnel: usually there is not one person running an audition. Ask yourself, who on the team needs to be at the audition? Typically, you will have a panel as well as facilitators who help run the events of the day.
- A Breakdown - a breakdown is the text that includes information about the show, the characters/performers in the show, who is involved in the project and other important details about the project, in order to inform those who are auditioning about what they are to prepare and expect, and where they need to go to do the audition.
- Marketing - In order to host an audition, you will have to advertise it and make potential auditioners aware of it. You will want to create various marketing materials when running a casting campaign, as it is great to have visual materials to use. Materials can include, photos, videos, posters and/or postcards, etc. Basically, anything that will help you get the word out about your casting and that you can use in association with your breakdown can be used as marketing material. This is material that will need to be planned for, so make sure you have your marketing strategy in place and are prepared to prep these materials before launching your casting campaign.
- Tech/Equipment: you may need access to specific equipment, depending on the type of audition you are hosting. For instance, do you need a microphone setup? A speaker system? Tables? Chairs? Will there be a technician working with you or do you have to run the tech elements yourself? Consider the following specifics:
- Dance Auditions: is there a dance floor in the space (is it sprung or Marley)? Do I have access to a stereo or will I have to provide my own speakers? Is my space wide enough for the number of auditioners that have to move in the space?
- Theatre Auditions: Is there a singing call that requires certain acoustics? Is my space wide enough to accommodate a movement call? What are the floors like? Do I need to provide a chair for the auditioner?
- Music Auditions: what are the acoustics like in the space? Do I need sound equipment for my auditioners?
- A general (or open call) audition: for this type of audition, you extend the invite to anyone and everyone to join the audition call. Auditioners will likely not submit anything in advance and as the panel, you may not know who will be showing up or how many people will be there.
- Invited Audition: with an invited (or submission-based) audition, you are asking interested candidates to send you their information in advance and will be pre-screening their materials before they audition for you face to face. You will, in this case, know how many people will be at your audition. Materials you may ask performers to submit include: a headshot, performance resume, demo reel, self-tape, or anything else that will allow you to assess the talent before a live audition. With an invited audition, you will then invite only the candidates who submitted their material and who you believe would be a great fit for your production.
- Group Audition: these mean that there will be more than one person in the room at once and typically, auditioners will be given the same call time and do some form of group activity. This includes, but is not limited to: improvisations, movement-based auditions, monologues, dance auditions, etc.
- Individual audition: this is when each auditioner is given a specific time slot for their audition and they audition in front of the panel by themselves.
- Panel: the panel includes anyone who will be making decisions on the talent selected for the show. It can be made up of as many people as needed. Usually, the artistic director and/or director of the show sits on the panel, the choreographer (if involved), musician/musical director (if involved), producer, and any other key artistic associates involved with the project.
- Facilitators: You will likely need people to facilitate the day and ensure that everything runs smoothly. This includes anyone managing a sign-in desk, someone to answer questions throughout the day and relay any information back and forth between the panel and auditioners
- Non-traditional casting is an important component of any theatre’s efforts to include artists from a wide range of backgrounds when attempting to have their stages reflect national and regional demographics (definitions and terms from Djanet Sears' article "Play Equity and the Blindspots". Non-traditional casting is an umbrella term referring to 4 specific approaches to racial and gender diversity in dominant culture plays:
- societal casting reflects the diversity of contemporary culture: a woman of colour playing the role of the social worker in George F. Walker’s Problem Child, or a man of colour as Miles in Michael Healey’s Drawer Boy;
- conceptual casting transposes the world of the play into that of another culture: setting Judith Thompson’s The Crackwalker in Kingston, Jamaica, or Colleen Wagner’s The Monument in Rwanda;
- cross-cultural & cross-gender casting supplements the play with thematic inferences: in Morris Panych’s 7 Stories, casting the inhabitants of the apartments from a wide range of cultural backgrounds as a comment on diversity in a large city. Or in the case of Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, women from a variety of races and ethnicities might play all of the roles (including those of the male characters) to emphasize how this revisioning of Homer’s Odyssey is being told from a women’s point of view, and to highlight the role of the 12 murdered maids;
- colourblind casting asks audiences to be blind to the actor’s race (or gender): this is frequently reserved for contemporary productions of the “classics”. In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, Juliet’s mother (Lady Capulet) might be Black, Juliet’s father (Lord Capulet) White, and Juliet herself Asian. Or in a production of Oedipus Rex, Oedipus himself might be First Nations and Jocasta South Asian – talent over identity and/or stereotype.
Writing a Breakdown
What is a breakdown? A breakdown includes the information on a casting notice that goes out to the public and is read by performers and agents who are interested in auditioning for your show and/or company. It includes all pertinent information about your casting call, what performers need to prepare for the audition and details about the show they are going to be auditioning for.
What to include in a Breakdown?
Show name and info: include the name of your production and a brief synopsis of what the show will be about.
Company name and info: include a few sentences about your organization as helpful information for the auditioner.
Key people who are involved in the project. Include all that apply and are confirmed on the project already: Director, Playwright, Designers, Producers, Stage Management, etc.
- Date and time of the audition: start to end, or include how long the auditioner is expected to there (ie. Auditions taking place on February 22 between 10-6pm. Please expect to be there for 10 mins).
- Location: this includes address of where the audition is being held, but it is also helpful to include some directional info - ie. main intersections, nearest subway station, or bus stop.
What does the actual audition consist of? Include in your breakdown what the auditioner can expect to do at the audition.
- What should they prepare? (if you are asking them to prepare sides, let them know that they will receive them upon booking an audition)
- How long should it be?
- Will they be auditioning alone, in pairs, or as a group?
- Do they need to bring a headshot, resume, sheet music, movement clothes, etc?
Character descriptions: depending on the show, you may have specific characters which you are auditioning for. If this is the case, you may want to specify and give attention to the roles you are seeking. Character descriptions can specify age, gender, name, personality, appearance, context of the character, etc.
Conditions of the Contract: this includes some of the following, but you can include as many details as you feel necessary in this section:
- Pay: what is the pay rate for the performer auditioning (if profit share, or under a specific contract, specify that)
- Length of the contract: how long will they be required to be under contract with you? (include a general amount of time - ie. 2 months, or be specific - ie. January 23, 2018 - March 23, 2018).
- Where is the performance venue? Where is the rehearsal venue?
- Hours they are required to work per week/Approximate Rehearsal Schedule.
Contact info: include a contact name, email and number for any submissions or general questions auditioners may have prior to an audition.
Callbacks: it is important to note if you will be holding callbacks. Callbacks are kind of like a second audition, where performers who stood out at the audition will be asked to come back to audition again.
NOTE: Since you will be including all of these things in your breakdown, it is best to go through these details prior to advertising your audition.
- Be as specific as possible and include as many details as you can in your breakdown, the person auditioning should be able to understand exactly what it is they are supposed to do.
- If any of the considerations regarding your audition space (listed above) need to be addressed and noted to the people performing, you can include that in your breakdown as well (ie. dancers will be required to perform on a hardwood surface).
- Know the demographic you are targeting and use that to strategically advertise your audition. If you know you want to cast someone over the age of 40, you should probably not send the breakdown to universities and colleges, nor should you send it to dance audition platforms.
Casting and gender
It can be very challenging for trans, gender non-conforming (gnc) and gender non-binary (gnb) folks to have to fit into the limited gender options for casting and to perform gender in the same way as cis-gender artists. Gnc or gnb folks auditioning for characters described as man/male or woman/female risk not having their gender affirmed throughout a project by the team if they are cast. Casting calls almost always begin with gender, usually using biological terms like male or female. This makes it very difficult to even submit at all if one doesn’t identify with those terms. By opening up all roles to all genders and performers, artists can submit for the roles that fit them best. The binary “normal” can be deconstructed by redefining characters by traits, archetypes, attitudes or habits; if a character’s gender or sex is not used directly to further the plot, then it shouldn’t be necessary to put it in your character description.
Sometimes, when trans roles are created, they can be tokenizing roles that lack dimension. Similarly trans, gnc and gnb people are often cast as a foreign or strange other; inhuman in some way.
Roles that are specifically created for trans, gnc or gnb folks should be as complex and reflective of the human experience as any role given to a cis-gender artist. Trans, gnc, and gnb folks want to be cast for more than their gender identity. Understand that casting a trans, gnc or gnb performer into a role makes that role trans, gnc or gnb. Allowing a performer the ability to define the gender of their character gives room for a much richer tapestry of representation within the world of the production.
Within all gender identities, there is a spectrum of ways to present (for example, there are more masculine presenting women or vice versa). Trans women in particular feel the pressure to wear make up, dress up and present as a “perfect woman” in order to have their gender affirmed and ensure safety. A trans woman should be affirmed as a woman no matter what she is wearing or how she presents. Writers, creators, producers and casting directors should be aware and open to all the variations in gender presentation.
Running your casting campaign
Once you have planned for your casting, booked a space, taken all considerations into play, you are ready to run your casting campaign. During this period of time, you will advertise your auditions, and if holding an invited audition, you will collect submissions from performers.
Where do you advertise your casting call? Using your materials and your breakdown, you will want to look into various outlets to Advertise Your Audition. You want to be specific about where you post your audition to attract the type of performer you are trying to for your specific roles. There are a variety of places to advertise a casting call. These include casting databases, websites, Facebook pages, etc. Be sure to understand whether a service is a paid or un-paid service. Some websites require payment to post, so if you intend on posting there, ensure to note that expense in your budget as well. You should also note whether the platform posts notices for union performers, non-union performers or both.
The audition day
There are a few things that should be considered and prepped for the audition day. You want to be organized and create a welcoming environment for performers who are auditioning.
- Sign-In: typically, auditions have a sign in table upon entry to the audition space. This is good practice to ensure that you either know who walked into your audition room and have their contact information or to know who showed up from the list of those you were expecting. Sign-in can be as simple as having the auditioners sign their name, phone and email on a sheet of paper before entering the room. Or can be as complex as plugging everyone’s information into a laptop/tablet and having it digital. Sign-ins may or may not be used if your auditioners have individual time slots.
- Introduction: It is always great to greet your auditioners prior to the start of the audition. If performers are auditioning individually, you may briefly introduce yourselves and then go through some key points of what they can expect during the day. If performers are auditioning as a group, you can follow a similar structure and, depending on the environment, you may ask each auditioner to introduce themselves to the group.
- Closing: it is polite to thank the auditioner(s) for attending your audition call and it is always good to make room for final questions. At this time, you can let the auditioners know when you expect to be making your final decisions.
The Intermission Magazine Article "Don’t Cast a White Actor as MLK, and Other Reasons It’s Important to Listen" dismantles the notion of why "the best actor should just get the part.”
Databases for finding Queer and BIPOC Artists:
- CultureBrew.Art is a digital platform to promote and foster intersectional interculturalism throughout the performing and media arts sector in BC. Its central tool is a searchable database of Indigenous and Racialized Artists (IARA).
- diversity.ACTRAonline.ca is ACTRA’s online searchable database of Diverse Professional Talent, available for free to ACTRA members and their partner agents, Casting Directors and Producers.
- Canadian Latinx Theatre Artists Coalition