So You Think You Can Produce, Part 2

Before we took our detour into producing specifically for festivals, I wrote about the ground work to do before mounting a show. At this point, if you followed my sage advice (and of course you did), you’ve got a budget, a venue, and an all-star production team. Hopefully you also have rehearsal space and you’ve thought about what you want to see and hear from your actors at auditions. Are you with me? Do you have a place to hold your auditions? Then let’s get the word out!


Auditioning for the Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival. (Photo: David Lassman / The Post-Standard)

Auditioning for the Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival. (Photo: David Lassman / The Post-Standard)

In order to have people show up to your auditions, you’ll need to publicize that you are, in fact, having auditions. Luckily for you, there are many places you can post.

If you’re at a loss, ask an actor where they look for audition listings in your city. There will probably be some version of in your area, and it’s worth looking into whether your city has a League of Theatres or similar arts advocacy group, because often they provide a centralized place for listing auditions.

Be clear about time frames, preparation and materials, and definitely about whether or not there is pay in your listing. There’s no heartbreak like the heartbreak of casting the perfect Cinderella only to find she expects more than you have to pay, or that she’s out of town for the first week of performances.

Scheduling auditions can be a pain, so my best recommendation is to be as organized as possible. Create a spreadsheet with all the possible audition times on it and fill in the slots as you assign them. From a communication standpoint, it’s helpful to create an audition form email that has all relevant information into which you can type the individual’s customized time slot.

If at all possible, build in some breaks for food—you think you’ll have downtime, but people will be early or late and soon you’ll be starving and stir-crazy.

On the day-of, arrive early to set the scene. This is the first impression of your company that actors will be getting, and if you set expectations for professionalism now, you’ll be much less likely to have to fight for good behavior later.

My company finds it helpful to create an audition form that asks for name, vocal range, part they are looking for, whether they would accept an ensemble role, and some fun question to gauge personality a little bit. This is also where you’ll have your auditioners write down any scheduling conflicts they already know of.

Set up your accompanist (if you have one), get out your notebooks, and get ready to find your cast!

Note: Please let all of your auditioners know when they can expect to hear from you about callbacks, and then stick to it. Also, it’s better to hear “no” than to hear nothing—compose a gracious rejection email for the people who don’t fit your project and let them know for certain.


Just like Karen Cartwright.

Just like Karen Cartwright.

You’ve had your first round of auditions, so you know who can carry a tune and convey a character. Now it’s time to see how quickly your actors can learn, what working with them is like, whether or not they can dance, and what kind of chemistry they have with each other.

My company does two blocks of callbacks, one for men and one for women, that overlap in the middle for scene readings. You’re free to do whatever you want, but think about what you want to see and how long it will take to learn whatever dance or songs or scenes you’ll be looking for.

You can have a separate dance call or make it a part of the callback block; if you’re doing something more minimal you can forgo the dance call or have a short movement exercise.

What you’re looking for here is who makes bold choices, which actors work well together, who can learn a new song and give it personality, and who can move the way you’ll need your actors to move. Once they’ve shown their stuff, give them a reasonable sense of when they will hear about results, but remember that it’s better to give yourself more time to decide than less.

After callbacks, batten down the hatches, because it’s decision time.

I highly recommend coming up with at least first and second choices for each part. As enthusiastic as the actors seemed about this particular play, you have no way of knowing what else they’ve gone out for and may choose over your project. To this end, consider making offers to your leads first and asking for confirmation within a given time span. That way if someone declines, you don’t have to make your next candidate feel like a second choice.

When your leads confirm, send offers to the secondary characters, then the ensemble. You might find that you need to have special auditions for a particular role at this point in the game—do whatever you need to do. Sometimes tailored auditions with specific descriptions of what you’re looking for will catch the eye of relevant actors more than a general call would.

Hopefully now you have your cast! Don’t forget to let the other callback attendees know that you did not choose them for this particular show but that you appreciate their time and energy and hope that they will keep your company in mind in the future.

A quick check:
-Have you got an appropriate actor for each role?
-Do these actors not have conflicts with any vital dates for your show?
-Are you sure they don’t have conflicts with any vital dates?
-Did you ask them one more time about conflicts?

It’s almost time to get started with rehearsals—but first you’re going to need a rehearsal schedule. I don’t envy you, my friends. Let’s dive into that process next time.

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