Critical Steps in Selecting a Play or Musical: Casting


Into the Woods   Performing Arts in Children’s Education  July 2004

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Have you ever seen someone do something  that you know is very difficult to do, but they are such experts that you think that you could probably do it too?  I’ve been watching the Olympic Games and in particular I’ve enjoyed cheering on Simone Biles as she catapults herself all over the gymnastic mat.  Incredible!

An experienced director looks much the same way.  They make it look effortless.  It is not. Casting a production can be challenging, or easy and even fun but it can also be hugely nerve wracking.

In this series on selecting a play or musical, this is the next item to consider–casting

What abilities are required of performers for this production?

First, you have to look at the roles and decide who is most essential.  Does the show require tap dancers for 42 Street (not easy to come by in adult actors)  or singers who can sing in six part harmony for Sweeney Todd (not easy to come by either)? How many men? Men aren’t in great number in community theatre. Many plays and musicals require more men than women (aint’ it the way ?)

If the play calls for a thirteen year old female  for The Diary of Anne Frank, do you have one who can play the character?  If an elderly man is needed for King Lear, do you have person who can play it? How about someone who can dance the ballet in Oklahoma? Or juggle in Barnam? Or you think could learn to juggle? Really take the time and be honest with yourself about what the production requires.  My advice:  If you don’t think you have the people (or at least l/2 of them) that you need BEFORE you hold auditions then change shows.


The Diary of Anne Frank  Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies  2012

What artistic expectations do you have of the company for which you are working?

If you are a guest director, I’d survey the theatre company you are working for and ask for their mission statement.  It may express something about including all community members participating in their productions.  What does that look like exactly?  If they expect you to cast someone with a physical challenge, such as a blind person or one with hearing loss and you are directing The Miracle Worker for them, then you need to know that right up front.

Some companies leave everything to the director to decide.  That’s nice. However, sometimes the company will return to you later and request, “We need you to cast So-and-So because his father is a board member.” Have a personal opinion about such “favors” before you begin.  It will save you heaps of time and headaches, I guarantee you.  Make your wishes known as you pre-plan the show.


The Music Man   Theatre Reading Young People and Schools  2001

Casting is a bugaboo

As I mentioned, casting  has the capacity to be difficult.  Experienced directors will share with you that casting can be very random.  I cast productions using my intuition and if the essence of the character seems to be a part of the actor’s persona. If I am unfamiliar with the actor auditioning, I will attempt  during auditions to direct them in the direction I’m seeking. If  we (and I do mean “we”) can reach a common vision for the character, then I will be interested in casting them.  I don’t always have success with this method, but I am wiling to take a chance.

Unfortunately, there are directors that pre-cast their productions.  I really dislike that.  If Sue is cast that was not pre-cast like Mary, somehow Sue will find out that Mary  was selected ahead of time and that can make for hard feelings within the cast.  Play fairly.

I think it is all right to invite people to audition for my shows, but I have a disclaimer clause that I mention to them, “I can’t promise you a role, because that wouldn’t be ethical.  But I am interested in hearing you read several parts.  If I cast you, I will treat you like every other cast member as I know you would want me to do.  That’s only fair.”  That’s sort of a salesman’s assumptive close, because it implies that the invited person would want to earn the part on their own merit, OF COURSE and not cheat to win it.

TheTalent Pool

Do consider whether you have actors who can sing the roles, dancers who can play dancing roles and actors with the hutzpah to carry off a two hour show.  If not, then I’d change shows.  Sure, there are directors who say, “Well, we will make it work.”  Really?

If the theatre company you are directing for has no problem with unqualified actors portraying roles, then give it a go.  Will you be so distracted by the Duck Out Of Water person that you can not fully engage with the show?  Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way.  Once I cast a woman who was an incredible actress when she was young, but hadn’t acted in thirty years.  She was so anxious about her lines, that she drank herself out of the performing experience and I had to replace her with myself!  I should have known better.

If you are there to set the benchmark for future directors and productions, then by all means only cast the very best.  I’ve directed all skill levels, some brilliant artists and some not so great.  Frankly, I’ll tell you a secret:

If audience members are judging you by one actor’s performance, then they need to go home. 🙂

Herding cats is easier than directing.

Go to my next blog concerning set design and construction.



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