The first instalment in the blogs from the StoneCrab Gobstoppers can be read here
The second
 instalment in the blogs from the StoneCrab Gobstoppers can be read here
The third instalment in the blogs from the StoneCrab Gobstoppers can be read here

By Chloe France.

‘Casting’. A word that strikes fear into the heart of most actors. Images of portly, cigar smoking gentlemen beckoning young starlets onto the infamous ‘couch’ are a thing of the past. Now it’s the withering look from a sartorial, quick witted casting director that keeps one up at night. The Gobstoppers collective, however, are no jaded, world weary, cut throat ‘casters’. I guarantee 100% that we are all as scared as those on the other side of the table. Over the last seven days we have been given a true baptism of fire in how to – and how not to! – organise castings.

The first muddy puddle encountered on the casting assault course is writing the breakdown. After an incredibly enlightening session with Roseberry Management about the dos and don’ts of putting a breakdown into the ether we were all keen to avoid some common pitfalls. The importance of specificity in the breakdown was stressed to us- relating to the look, acting style, special skills and crucially rehearsal availability you need from your actors. Providing those reading the breakdown – both actors submitting themselves and agencies submitting clients – with as much information as possible will reduce the number of submissions you get, and force you to articulate clearly and concisely who the characters in the show actually are. The point at which you have to stop fuzzily imaging actors as blurry outlines, waving scripts around in a black box and start to conceive of them delivering a portrayal of a character in front of a paying audience is a crucial one; stomach turning and elating in equal measure.

Having downed a whisky and let the breakdown go live all we had to do was sit and wait. We didn’t have to wait long, however, before we were inundated with a smorgasbord of talented individuals looking to audition for our shows. And then the really hard part. The cold, wet, 0.5m spaced monkey bars section of the course; how to cut? Some amongst us heard from over 1500 actors. We had been warned it would be overwhelming but wow, we were not ready for this. I think nearly every one of us has cried, woken up in a cold sweat, pulled an all-nighter, procrastinated to the point of darning our tights and broken any and every New Year’s resolution pertaining to ‘I will stop smoking, drinking or eating sugar’ in order to climb ‘The Submissions’ mountain.

The primary fear is – are we cutting an undiscovered gem from the pile here simply because we haven’t honed our casting radars with years of practice? The answer is maybe, but probably not. I think sooner or later we realised that the solution was to go back to our original breakdowns, think hard about why we painstakingly wrote our oh so specific criteria and mentally loop a playlist of ‘I am prioritising whether an actor has movement skills/ has the type of look I envisage/ has worked with text similar to the one in my show/ has worked with companies or directors I admire/ has written me a convincing cover note about why they are drawn to the project/ can spell my name’ (delete as appropriate). And once we’d cut as many as we could bear, tea was imbibed and we’d go again. Until we’d whittled down the selection to roughly 10% of the original submission number.

Then finally the glorious, gut busting, guns blazing sprint finish that was running the auditions. Both here and at the submission stage following our instincts has been key. I cannot stress enough though how helpful it was to have another person whose artistic opinion we valued and respected sitting in to help us see sense, and act as a sounding board. Especially when running workshop auditions or seeing pairs/ individuals in tight time slots without many breaks it was incredibly helpful to have someone play devil’s advocate and keep track of proceedings. Putting plenty of thought into how you structure the audition, what extracts you use and being prepared to be flexible about shifting plans/ directorial tacks were all things we’ve learnt are essential to get the best out of your actors. And at the end of the day finding those gems, the ‘yes, that’s it, it’s them!’ moments were worth all the blood, sweat and tears. Promise.

Chloe recently graduated from Cambridge where she studied History. She will be directing Red Cross by Sam Shepherd as part of the Gobstoppers Festival.

StoneCrab Gobstoppers Young Director’s Festival is Wed 18 February – Sat 21 February
To find out more go to the Gobstoppers’ website or The Albany’s website, or @gobstopper2015