This is a scenario all-too-familiar to parents of theater kids. Your young performer auditions for a show and the cast list is posted. However, he or she is not on the list or is not cast in an expected role. Learning how to receive casting information is an important part of a student’s theatrical development. It is also an essential skill for parents, who often have little or no experience as performers themselves. In this parents guide to auditions and casting we’ll explore the DOs and DON’Ts of responding to your child’s casting that will be productive and helpful to your child.
How Casting Works
“This industry is a tough one, and it’s important for all of us to surround ourselves with people who can help us think through tough experiences.”
– Helenna Santos
It’s important for parents of theater students to understand how auditions and casting work. Casting a show is not unlike a game of dominoes: as each role is cast, the remaining auditionees are bumped into other possible roles. Each casting decision affects all others. Often, casting decisions are debated and discussed by a production team, with the director having final say. Furthermore, a director’s vision for a production affects casting decisions in ways the auditionees might not anticipate. Perhaps the director wants to assign more dance responsibilities to a role that usually doesn’t require solid dance skills. Or perhaps the director is looking for a certain “type” that isn’t the norm for a particular role. Auditionees cannot anticipate these special considerations.
Furthermore, casting results can be determined by what auditionees CANNOT do as much as what they can. Say an auditionee is a good fit for three different roles. However, (s)he is the only accomplished ballet dancer and one of the roles requires ballet training. While (s)he is capable of success in any of the three roles, (s)he is likely to be cast in the ballet role.
Understanding what happens in the audition room when casting decisions are made helps prepare you for the results. There are many possibilities, so always expect the unexpected.
Discussing Casting with Your Child
When discussing casting results with your child, DON’T:
⊘ Treat failure like a bad thing.
While many pursuits teach children that failure is bad, theater should teach them to learn from their choices, shortcomings and mistakes. If your child is not cast in a show or in a role (s)he wanted, it doesn’t mean it’s time to quit theater. This is an opportunity for reflection. Was I too nervous to perform at my best? Could I have prepared better? Is there training I can seek to better myself for the next audition?
⊘ Express disappointment in your child’s casting.
It is a common misperception that the size of one’s role determines the value of a theatrical experience for the performer. However, this is demonstrably untrue. A performer can play a lead role with substantial stage time and responsibilities in a production that is disorganized, frustrating and ill-conceived. Conversely, a performer could be an ensemble member in a production that is well run, challenging and uplifting. A theatrical experience can be worthwhile no matter what role a performer is playing.
A good production staff will reinforce how VITAL every cast member is to the story, regardless of role. A good director will only cast an auditionee IF (s)he can contribute something that is essential to the story. This is an important idea to reinforce for a disappointed child.
⊘ Assume your child gave a poor audition.
Casting decisions are often made as a result of factors that are beyond an auditionee’s control. Such factors include:
- chemistry with another potential casting choice
- vocal range
- abilities and experience of fellow auditionees
If your child isn’t cast, or doesn’t get a particular role, it does not always mean the audition didn’t go well.
⊘ Compare your child to the other auditionees.
Some parents may compare their child’s progress or casting placement to other auditionees. Encourage your child to focus instead on his/her own accomplishments. Each performer is running a different leg of the race in developing his/her theatrical skills.
⊘ Make assumptions about your child’s contributions based on his/her role.
Avoid making assumptions about roles based on the original production or other previous knowledge of the show. In every production, there are many specialized tasks that need to be completed. These are usually filled by cast members listed as “ensemble” and are not specified on the casting notice. Furthermore, a director may choose to expand the duties of a role beyond those from the original production.
However, DO the following:
★ Revisit expectations for the next audition.
Disappointment is an understandable reaction when an expectation has not been met. Therefore, encourage your child to audition WITHOUT any specific casting expectation. The goal of an audition is to give the best performance possible and have fun doing it. This is usually when the best results occur.
★ Create a plan for achieving a different result.
Most successes are achieved by starting with the end in mind. Make a list with your child of the variables (s)he can control in an audition, such as nerves, preparation and approach. Then, create a plan to help improve for the next audition. Your plan might include some special training, an audition prep coaching or workshop, and seeing other shows to gather ideas and inspiration. Seek feedback (respectfully) from the director on how your child might improve his/her audition techniques.
★ Encourage them to celebrate the successes of others.
Being a member of a theatrical community means supporting and caring for each other. Encourage your child to celebrate the successes of his/her peers. When your child is cast in a show, remind him/her that every cast member is capable of making a production an overwhelming success.
Building a Theater Reputation
Auditionees who seek feedback for improvement, take steps to further their training and experience, and participate in any given role to the best of their abilities are likely to be cast in future productions and have their responsibilities grow. There’s nothing more satisfying for good production staffs than to see an auditionee return better prepared and more confident the next time around. Production teams actively root for these individuals because it demonstrates their resiliency and fearlessness, two qualities that are highly sought in performers. Teach your child to audition without fear or expectations and (s)he is likely to become an invaluable member of the theater community.
Instructor, Show How Studio
Steve Kovacs has amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience in his 15+ years as an arts educator in public schools, theatrical productions and private teaching. He is an honors graduate of The Miami University (Ohio), an adjudicator and workshop provider for the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, as well as co-author and composer / lyricist of We Like It Where?, an original musical that premiered at Northern Sky Theater in Door County in 2019.
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