Decorative image of piles of scripts


I get a lot of queries about how I cast my plays, and since I produce a variety of plays and scratch performances, it gets quite complicated. So here is a summary of how I do casting and what I look for.

The golden rule ...

This is going to be a long page by the time I've gone over everything, so before you get bogged down in little details, here is the most important rule. If there's one thing I want to tell everyone, it's this:

If you want to be in one of my plays, tell me!

I prefer to use open casting calls when I can, but in practice I often have to make plans around who I've got available. If I know you're interested, I might decide to produce a play that has a good part for you. If I don't know you're interested, I'm unlikely to choose that play and hope you come forward later. Similarly, I often encourage people to audition for a play who have previously expressed an interest of working with me, but if you're not one of those people, tell me or I'll never know.

And now that I've made this clear, I don't want anyone complaining that I never approached them about a play I'm doing. To adapt a famous phrase: "Do call me, I won't necessarily call you." Got that? Good.

How casting works

Exactly how casting works depends on what I'm doing, but in practice there's two different processes: casting for mainstream plays of Durham Dramatic Society, and everything else.

Mainstream Durham Dramatic Society plays

There is a highly formalised process for the mainstream plays of Durham Dramatic Society (that's the five full-length plays that appear in the annual programme, to give everybody a fair chance to get a part. The casting process generally occurs about six weeks before the start of rehearsals, and there are always two different stages: read-through and audition. This process applies to all DDS plays, and not just ones I do.

The read-through usually happens on a Tuesday evening. All members of the society can take part even if they don't intend to audition), but prospective auditionees do not have to be members (yet). The format is basically a read-through, where I allocate parts to people and re-allocate them at various points in the script. Normally male parts will only be allocated to men and female parts will only be allocated to women, but I don't normally do the same for ages, so you'll probably end up reading a part meant for a completely different age at some point. Although this is not the formal audition, I will be keeping an eye out for who's reading which parts well, so try to give the best impression you can. (I will try to give everyone a chance to read every part during the reading, so that everybody gets a fair chance to create a good first impression.)

If you can't make the read-through, don't worry - that won't stop you coming to the audition. If you want to read a script to decide if there's a part for you, contact me in advance and I'll lend you a copy. Same goes if you want to check out the script in advance of the reading.

The audition usually takes place a week later, although this has varied between three days and two weeks. This time, everyone will fill in forms in advance to say which part(s) they want to audition for. Passages will be selected from the play for each characters (usually a selection of passages to cover the main aspects of each character), and these will be read out - but, unlike the read-though, everyone auditioning for the same part will get the chance to read the same passage. This gives us a like-for-like comparison to see how different auditionees read the same script.

If you cannot make the advertised audition date, an alternative date can be arranged, but there is a rule that this must take place before the scheduled auditions. This is because it's not practical to make a fair decision when some people haven't auditioned yet. If you are in this situation, please let me know in plenty of time so that there's time to arrange this, and don't leave it until the last moment.

Once the audition is complete, I will give my recommendation to a casting committee, and the casting committee will then make a final decision, and inform everyone of the good news or bad news. In practice, the casting committee's decisions end up similar or identical to what I would have chosen myself. I will normally be quite particular if a decision is important, but allow leeway if there's two or three people who I'd be happy with doing a part.

A few other rules: if you were not a member when you auditioned, you will have to join and pay the membership dues when you start rehearsing. This rule sometimes gets waived for smaller productions, but on mainstream productions it's definitely not allowed. Unfortunately, you'll also need to pay £8.00 towards the cost of the script. Annoying, I know, but that's what happens when Samuel French charge ridiculous amounts for scripts as well as performance rights.

It's not essential to tell me you're interested in advance of the read-through and audition, but it helps. I have previously cast people who I'd never seen prior to the audition, but in general, the sooner I know you're a possibility, the sooner I can give you some serious consideration.

And finally, the big no-no: turning down a part because you didn't get the one you wanted. On the audition form, you will be asked if there's any parts you would be willing to do other than your preferred one(s). If you don't want to do it, that will not count against your chances for your preferred part. But if you say you would be willing to do it and subsequently turn it down, that gets looked on very dimly. So don't do it.

Everything else

I've produced a variety of things outside of the mainstream season, from full-length to short sketches, from fully rehearsed to script-in-hand performance, both inside and outside of Durham Dramatic Society. They need casts too.

There's no hard and fast rule for how choose a cast, but in practice I usually end up hand-picking them. This is because, whilst mainstream DDS production can be safely announced first and cast later, in smaller-scale productions there is no certainly I'll get a cast. Therefore, I can't make a decision to go ahead until I'm certain I've got a cast for it, and in order to be certain I've got a cast I have to approach people in advance of announcing the play.

So to go back to my original tip: you want to take in this, let me know. Don't wait for a casting call, because they're probably won't be one. Don't even wait for me to say I'm thinking of doing a play - I will probably be thinking about who I can cast long before I say anything to anybody.

I hope to move to a more open arrangement in the future, but that's a long way off. The more people I have to draw on, the more likely it is I'll be able to do that.

Who I choose

Other thing to be mindful of is that whilst I want to encourage people to come forward, I guess they'll want to know what their chances are of being cast. So here's a rough guide to what I'm after.

What matters

I consider several things when picking a cast, the most obvious one of which is acting ability. Obvious how you did in a DDS audition will be considered, but I will be more interested in is how good your acting has been previously. Impress me with how well you took to a part in a previous production, or workshops, or even a reading, and that will count heavily in your favour. (Also, I know some people act better than their read-in performance at an audition suggests. If you have anything that would hamper an audition such as dyslexia, please let me know so I can take this into account.)

I will consider how naturally people fit into different parts. If I need a character to be shy and retiring, I'm more likely to go for someone who shy and retiring in real life; similarly, an outgoing an boisterous character is more likely to go so someone really outgoing and boisterous. I know the best actors are versatile enough to play any character, but in general, the closer you are you to the character I'm after, the less work it is for me to get what I want on stage.

Age obviously matters is a character needs to look a certain age. Very occasionally I may also set a minimum age to cover my arse. Broadly speaking, if it's a sexualised part, I really don't want anyone under 18 doing it. (DDS does very few plays with children in - child protection policies are a nightmare.)

The most important thing I want, however, is reliability. Especially for productions I do off my own back. The bane of my life is people who drop out halfway through the rehearsal period, and I know from bitter experience that assurances that it won't happen don't count for much. Coming a close second are back-seat drivers - it's fine to have idea on how your own character should work, but it's not fine to shout down the whole play in front of the cast.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust. It's a slow thing to build up and a fast thing to squander. The more you demonstrate you're a reliable person to work with in the past, the more likely I am to offer you a part in the future. This applies just as much to other people's plays as mine - prove yourself reliable in someone else's play and I'm more likely to be interested and vice versa. (The opposite applies if you prove yourself unreliable.) Similarly, show you're reliable in a small part and I'll be more confident about offering you a big one.

Don't worry too much if you don't have any of these things to offer though. If you have no acting experience, no track record of reliability and you don't know what I'm looking for, I may still have something for you. I've cast people I've never heard of before and been amazed by how good they were.

What doesn't matter

And now, for the avoidance of doubt, a couple of things I disregard. Firstly, unlike some directors, I don't have any expectations that you have no involvement in other plays whilst you rehearse mine. As far as I'm concerned, you can have as many plays on the go as you like. The only rule I do set is that I expect you to have enough time for all their plays you're involved in, and you need to be the judge of that. But what you do you time outside of my rehearsals and performances is none of my business.

But the main thing I'm not that bothered about? Training and qualifications. I'd love you to come forwards if you're interested, but when I choose who's best for the part it will come down to what I see for myself, not what you have on a paper. If your training makes you the best for the part - great. If not, better luck next time, same as everyone else. Screening auditionees by training and qualifications might make sense when you've got hundreds of applicants, but as long as I've got the time to see everyone who's interested, it doesn't matter if you've got three years at RADA, a level 1 LAMDA certificate, or nothing at all.

And finally ...

Please remember that acting isn't the only thing I need help with. There's also all the backstage stuff, such as lighting, sound, set and props. Half the time I end up doing all of this myself, but the more help I can get with this, the more I can concentrate on producing a good play.

And besides, whilst I appreciate all the help I can get with the acting, the people who I have the most respect for are the people who tirelessly contribute behind the scenes without getting the glory. Remember, the thing I look for the most is reliability. Show me I can trust you with the sound or the props, and you'll have my trust to be on stage too.

Last updated 9th December 2014.