You picked your show, ran successful auditions, and now it’s time for the final hurdle – casting announcements. Ask most theatre educators, and chances are they have a post-casting horror story – from students entirely quitting their program to angry parents marching into the principal’s office. And as much as they know the process was impartial and focused on merit and talent, the bottom line is: feelings are always going to get hurt.
So how do you prep for a successful, productive, and healthy casting process? We have a few tips to help.
While no one can guarantee there won’t be drama (this is a theatre program after all), improving your audition process could help limit some of the controversy. Three things to consider when planning theatre auditions:
- Audition Format: What materials do you expect your students to prepare? Who is going to be present and judging? How long will they have to present their audition? Are there any resources available for first timers? The more you can take the guesswork out of the audition process, the less anxiety your students will feel.
- Production Details: Not only should they be familiar with the show itself and the roles available (they should be encouraged to note any preferences they may have), but also the commitments you’re expecting from them in terms of rehearsal schedules and responsibilities, which can help avoid headaches down the line.
- Rubrics: You may have an eye for talent and know who that perfect person is for a specific role, but if a controversy arises, you want a better way to articulate that decision to a heartbroken student. Rubrics help do that and make it easier to provide tangible feedback students can use to improve for future auditions.
Lastly, be aware of your own biases and preconceptions. Because teachers spend multiple years with their theatre students, it can be easy to choose a property around a performer who you’ve watched grow into what you envision to be the perfect actor for a certain role. But doing so can undermine the educational aspect of your theatre program. Keeping an open mind and allowing yourself to be surprised by what all your students bring into each audition is a good frame of mind that will allow you to avoid any accusations of pre-casting. Put in place practices like the ones mentioned above to make the casting as impartial and transparent as possible.
Improving your casting process
For theatre educators looking to take the audition process a step further, consider bringing outside experts into the fold, whether that’s someone from a community troupe, a choreographer, a fellow arts educator, or a supportive administrator.
Similarly, consider opening your callbacks to students. Whether it’s a section of a song from the show for each character or reading short scenes together, allowing students to see selected performances can help ease the disappointment of not getting a part and give them a chance to see what you saw when you made the selections.
Color Conscious Casting
Adjust Your Casting News Delivery
We’ve seen it time and again in movies, TV shows, and likely our own lived experiences – students anxiously waiting for the cast list to be posted, the rush to look for their name, and the excitement (or heartbreak) of seeing that final list in person.
Today, that may not be the best choice. Not only does it add a fair amount of undue pressure to the situation, but also it makes the reception of the news a very public affair. Depending on your students and preferences, you can look for new ways to deliver the news.
This can range from one-on-one conversations, a private bulletin or email thread to those who are cast, or a personalized note delivered to students in their homeroom class. Of course, you can also opt for a live cast announcement, where students get the news at the same time and immediately move into their initial read through, cutting down the chance for any public speculation or fallout.
The bottom line is you know your students and what works for you and them – but there’s always plenty of ways to update the experience.
How to Handle Post-Announcement Disappointment
Even with the best preparation and care, emotions can still run high after the cast is announced, especially for those who didn’t get their dream part. And for theatre educators, this is often where most of the work is needed. Here are some strategies to consider:
- Immediate Acknowledgment: There will always be disappointment, but minimizing those feelings is never a great idea. It’s important to let students (and parents) know that their feelings are valid and heard. For some, that’s as simple as having a sounding board to get through the heartbreak of not being cast. For others, there may be some additional work involved.
- Constructive Feedback: Part of the benefit of having a rubric and taking notes during the audition process is to be able to provide constructive feedback for any casting decisions (this is the additional work mentioned above). Again, while students may take things personally, you understand the rationale behind your choices, and providing that feedback can be an opportunity to grow. Note that if you go this route, it’s important your notes are constructive. Don’t simply write “NO” in large capital letters and move on, even if that is the fastest way for you to notate your thoughts in the moment. Make note of skill areas where the student might benefit from more training or refinement; avoid notes on body type or other factors out of the auditionee’s control.
- Educational Resources: Of course, feedback is only part of the equation. How do they get the skills you want to see from them to get that lead role? That’s right – educational resources. Take some time to compile any content you might think is helpful – workshops, YouTube videos, or even mentorship from a fellow Thespian can help students find tangible steps they can take to enhance their audition performance skills for next time.
- Alternative Opportunities: They may not have gotten their preferred part, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of the production – which is often the sense your students may get after not making the cast. Instead, explore additional opportunities like technical roles, assistant directing, stage management, or joining the crew. Be sure to discuss the importance and value of these roles and how they contribute to the show’s overall success.
Finally, and most importantly, take the stigma out of not being cast. Throughout the entire process, reinforce the idea that every experience, whether a success or failure, is a stepping stone towards improvement and learning. Celebrate the effort and courage it takes to audition and encourage students to continue pursuing their passion in theatre – after all, with a little practice, they could be the lead in an upcoming production.
It Comes Down to Culture
Your students are invested in the process and your program, which means they care, which is what every teacher wants. And while they may be heartbroken with the casting announcement, there are plenty of ways to still make it a positive experience for everyone (yourself included). For starters, focus on making the entire audition process and announcement as transparent as possible. Whether that means giving your Thespians rubrics and guides to make the most of their audition or keeping announcements semi-private to avoid any public embarrassment.
However, most of the work to handle casting controversy happens after the announcement. One of the easiest places to start is to open a dialogue with students. If they have any concerns, be sure to have office hours that make it easy for them to discuss. Outside of that, creating a pathway to improvement and further involvement in the production is the perfect way to foster inclusivity for all Thespians.
Theatre is a process, and while students may not get the result they want today, handling your casting correctly can ensure they develop a lasting connection to your program.