Great actors can overcome mediocre scripts, but a terrific script can be ruined by poor acting. Casting is one of the most important jobs of the director. Most theatre professionals believe 50-70% of good directing is accomplished right up front during the audition process. So, how do you choose the right people?
There is a running debate among Christian directors about how to find actors since there is likely to be a wide mix of acting ability in the congregation. While the church setting does not usually resemble secular theater in all aspects, the methods of selecting actors are similar. Generally, there are three ways:
1. Open – actors audition together, one right after another; often known as the “cattle call.”
2. Appointment – random selection by the director based upon personal knowledge of certain actors.
3. Individual – private audition with the actor and casting staff.
All three methods or combinations can be effective. Some directors maintain that the open process helps them uncover the best talent. Others say this is too distressing, resulting in losing potential actors and creating strife in the church. They try to avoid the stress by appointing actors without auditions. These directors seem gifted at finding the right people through observation. However, avoiding auditions will limit the possibilities for members of the church, creating a different sort of stress. People may be alienated from theater arts ministries if they feel they “don’t have a chance because the actors have already been chosen” and the director may miss some excellent talent.
So, is there an audition process that can work in a church? Is there one that can build up the body while discovering the right people for the right roles? We think so. There is a way that helps people discover their gifts, allows you, as director, to learn “who is out there” in the pews, and provides adequate opportunities for people to “try out” in a safe setting. We often use an individual audition approach where potential actors meet with us privately.
Prior to the auditions, we introduce the concept of the show during a special evening at the church. At that time, we describe the audition process and provide a character list and description of the roles in the production. Interested actor candidates sign up for an individual audition that will take about fifteen minutes. They complete a brief form, telling us about themselves roles they are interested in, special talents, why they are getting involved, etc. This helps us determine who will be committed to the process if they are selected for a particular part. It also will uncover those who will be willing to do other things behind the scenes to help get ready for the performances even if they are not playing a part on stage. The auditions are scheduled over several days to give potential actors ample opportunity to meet at least one time slot.
During each audition session, we will meet with the candidates, giving them some sample lines prior to their audition slot. At the appointed time, each candidate joins us privately to deliver the lines and to review the information form. You may ask the actors to try communicating the lines without words through non-verbal expression. This may help you to see their ability to draw upon their imagination. You and the candidates will learn a lot together! In fact, the actors may come away with the feeling of having improved as actors simply by going through the process. You will learn whether an actor can take direction from you and can be taught.
If there is music in the show, we have the music director help identify talent, too. We usually ask the candidates to sing a bit, even if they did not express interest in a singing part. You will be surprised at how many new choir members and lead singers are revealed through such an experience!
After the actor has completed the audition and left the room, take a moment before the next audition to reflect about what you just heard and experienced. Use a checklist for each actor to keep you on track as you remember characteristics such as projection, inflection, mannerisms, and special traits.
When you have completed the auditions, it is decision time. This can be very difficult since you will be keeping in mind all of the roles you need to fill. You will be looking for those who can believably work together on and off stage to make it all happen. As you do this, remember:
• Pray, pray, pray! God knows who He’s calling.
• Don’t ignore your spirit and intuition,adm you may find you are led to choose an unlikely candidate; one that turns out to be the best, despite the curious comments from others!
• What actors fit the character?
• Which actors will the audience accept in the roles?
• Who fits well with other cast members and scenes?
• Who is teachable?
• Look for people with energy!
The route to a great production starts with the casting process. Use the individual audition as a key approach not only to find actors and singers for the current project, but also to build for the future. Turn the stress into success!