Starting out as a director you probably dream about the perfect production, with a dream budget, West End actors who will take your direction as if being in the room with a guru and a residency at The National after opening night. In reality, panic starts to emerge as you realise how unsteady the ground really is, and that you have to take the leap and jump into a pair of shoes that seem way too big for you at this point.
What if you did something wrong in rehearsals and the actors decided never to work with you again? Being a young director you soon realise that actors actually audition you as much as you do them, so it’s really important to recognise early on that it’s a two-way street and that you have to be as professional and nice as you can.
Stonecrabs’ Young Directors have just cast their plays, and it’s been a fantastic experience but also slightly frightening planning the whole thing. The relationship with my computer has certainly reached a whole new level as I’ve spent most waking hours glued to the screen, gawking at how many talented and dedicated actors are out there, but also panicking about how to be fair with all of them and selecting those who will best serve the play and my vision as a director.
There have been many realisations along the way. Having to plan everything ourselves we’ve had to be extremely organised from the get-go. My advert was published on Spotlight and other websites, and I was overwhelmed by the number of applications which sent my email into a nervous breakdown. Which made me realise how important it is to have a casting director, and that if I can’t afford one, then I need to be very clear with my vision and which actors will help me get my play off the ground. Trying to get some sort of sense of what you are looking for is hard when you suddenly have access to thousands of amazing CVs, and you quickly realise you have to be specific but also flexible, know what you are looking for but be open to surprises. I had a very clear image in my mind of one of the characters, but when someone completely different applied it showed me a different perspective and then things suddenly fell into place.
I also realised I shouldn’t be scared of picking up the phone. My first call to an agent I sounded like a frightened squirrel, but the agents are lovely and keen for their artists to be seen, so just be friendly, professional and try not to linger on the phone too long – send a follow-up email and hopefully you would have made enough sense to get the actor to the audition.
Juggling a casting schedule around on my own seemed more daunting than filing my self-assessment, but people are busy and things come up, so even though it’s annoying when you suddenly have to change the time or date, they will really thank you for it if there’s a way to accommodate them. And I personally couldn’t help feeling slightly proud of myself making the whole puzzle come together after sweating for hours at my desk.
When all the computer work was done, we had to plan our auditions. And plan them well. We had to know what we wanted to see from the actors. Finding the best way of auditioning the actors with a very limited audition time seemed very confusing, but it’s amazing how things suddenly fall into place and then you are there, at the audition, seeing the characters come to life.
For me, sending the script at least a couple of days before so the actors had time to read the play turned out to be really valuable, as it gave them good time to prepare the scene and character. You feel so grateful when they’ve travelled to meet you and turn up extremely prepared, showing passion for your play and an interest in working with you.
In my auditions we started off with a chat. I think I was more nervous than the actors, but trying to make everyone feel at ease and just chatting about the play really calms the nerves. And as they will also judge whether or not they want to work with you, you have to make it as fun and pleasant as possible. Asking them what they thought of the play and character really opened up the wonderful world of the play, and when we then worked on the scene I had relaxed and felt I was there with them, exploring something special. After all, creating the world of the play with actors is what’s amazing about directing.
There are many different ways of casting – it really is about who you are as a director, what you want from the actors and how you want to work. All of us on the programme work in very different ways, so all I can say is try to be yourself at the audition. Casting is after all such an important process for actors and directors – it’s when we make new work relationships, some of which may last a lifetime. After this everything will hopefully fall into place.