Here's how it works:
1. Every day or two (or three), I'll post a seasonal song and ask a trivia question about it.
2. Everyone who comments and answers correctly gets one entry in the giveaway to be held at the end of the contest. Googling answers is entirely acceptable. You may leave a comment on this post as well--it starts now.
3. You may answer any of the questions as long as the contest is going.
4. You can get an extra entry for tweeting or sharing on Facebook. Just leave that in your comment. One entry for each day you do that.
5. The contest ends whenever I say it ends. Probably January 1st. But we'll see.
6. At the end of the contest, I will do a drawing.
7. The winner of the drawing gets to pick their prize from the following list. The runner-up gets to pick their prize from the remaining list. And the second-runner up then picks from the remaining items. And so on. We'll give away as much stuff as we have, so there will be multiple winners.
There might be more prizes, so stay tuned. Because I hang with authors, most of the prizes are book. As of now, here are some of the books that wonderful people have donated (click on the title for more information about each book):
1. Mark of the Thief by Jennifer Nielsen
2. Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage
3. A Midwinter Ball by Heidi Ashworth, Annette Lyon, and Michele Paige Holmes (A collection of Regency-era romantic novellas--e-book version).
4. A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen
5. Ebook copies of The Kindling, Penumbras, or Luminescence by Braden Bell.
6. Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff
I had an experience yesterday that has me doing a lot of thinking. I should note that it happened in my role as a teacher, but I think it's equally applicable to parenting.
To explain, I need to provide some context. For the past few years I have been assigning students to listen to various songs. They are eclectic--some of them have significance in music history (for example, a Gregorian chant). Some have historical or cultural significance (for example, in January, we listen to songs of the Civil Rights movement). Some are assigned simply because I think they are good songs that an educated person should hear. Essentially, though, I'm hoping to broaden the musical horizons of my students, and I am constantly telling them to be open, to not focus on if they like it, but on why someone else might like it.
The second part of this assignment is that they have to respond to the song, usually by answering four or five questions. The questions focus on helping them understand and appreciate the song (as opposed to "liking" it), and also on learning to articulate a thought, then supporting it with evidence. They can't say, "I didn't like it." Instead, they have to say, "The vocal style is not something I enjoy. It's too loud and strong."
Well, yesterday, I heard some students talking about Justin Bieber. I rolled my eyes and said something snarky. These students immediately jumped on my comments. They were very respectful, but reminded me what I've said all these years. They used my words about being open to new musical styles, to trying to understand why someone else might like a song, and so on.
It hit me really hard. Part of me felt a lot of humility, realizing I had been rather hypocritical. Part of me felt incredibly proud of them, both that they could articulate a logical argument in a respectful way, and because they have clearly listened to what I said.
So, I agreed to go home, listen to a song of their choice and answer five questions (using complete sentences). I listened to a song from Justin Bieber's new album and was surprised by the depth and meaning I heard in the lyrics. Answering five questions ended up yielding some very poignant reflections that have given me much to think about in my roles as a husband, father, and teacher. It also got me thinking about my walk with God.
I next listened and responded to a song by Ed Sheeran, that got me thinking a lot about how I'm doing as a husband, and how I can improve.
I learned a lot about my students. It is easy to see the younger generation as not being as [whatever] as we were--diligent, focused, engaged, etc. etc. etc. But I have to say that I was impressed. These songs have some depth to them, and the fact that my students like them tells me something important about the depth inside of them. I understand these students better, I think, which means I can better see their potential and try to help them achieve that.
One of my favorite writers wrote these words: "It's a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught."
That statement is truer than I ever would have guessed before becoming a teacher. I learned something yesterday, something important and profound from thirteen year olds. Most of all, I was reminded to listen. It's important for people who do a lot of talking, such as parents and teachers, to listen.
My students taught me something. And I'm just a little different--and, I think, better--today.
This is Part 2 in a lengthy post about some of the challenges involved in casting a play. In Part 1, I talked about some of the factors that go into casting, and how it does not usually come down to favoritism. In this post, I'll address some of the other questions and concerns that often come up. This is basically a FAQs section, responding to questions that I (and a lot of other directors get asked).
After almost every play, or every cast list is posted, I get a few people who say, "Have you ever thought of doing [insert idea here]." I don't mind constructive feedback, and sometimes the suggestions are very well-meant. At the same time, most of these suggestions are generally an effort to make a change because someone doesn't like the result and want to change the program. It is essentially putting the cart before the horse, and it's not a good way to run a theatre program. It's important to keep that in mind. Sometimes what works in business or other artistic endeavors programs doesn't work in theatre. Or, it's just not the way it's done. Theatre has a set of practices that is pretty consistent. Different programs and people might tweak or adjust, but generally, there is a general way of doing things that is consistent. Those practices evolved for a reason. That being said, not every theatre program is the same in terms of objectives, resources, and parameters, so what worked in one place may not work in another. I'll address this below.
FAQ 1: "Why not have a committee of people vote for the best person?"
I see the appeal of this. And in an era of "American Idol," "The Voice," and other shows, it seems logical. In my own auditions, I almost always have people I trust there to give me feedback--a musical director, often a choreographer, and an experienced assistant, former students, sometimes more. But it's not a committee or a vote, and it can't be.
There are two reasons why we don't do this. First of all, because that's not how theatre works. I'm serious about that; I'm not being glib. In longstanding theatre tradition, an artistic director is uniquely responsible for the entire production.
In professional theatre, there might be producers, investors, music directors, choreographers, designers, and other skilled people. In schools, there might be a musical director, assistant director, choreographer or someone else as well. But there always has to be a final word on every decision, and there needs to be a unified artistic vision. The artistic director is the person on whom this falls. Casting is an artistic choice. Like all else, it has to be subject to the artistic director's vision. That's not ego anymore than it's ego for a CEO to define the company's vision, the HR director to set hiring policies, or the coach to decide how to allot playing time. That is his or her job.
The other reason this doesn't work terribly well is human nature. When people suggest this committee approach, it is usually because they either don't trust the director, or are trying to remove subjectivity from the process. First of all, art is subjective, and theatre especially so. There is no way around that. And if you don't trust the director, then a committee really won't fix that.
If the director is subject to human error, so is everyone on the committee. However, they may not always have the training and experience to overcome that bias. In other words, the committee can make every error that people accuse the director of making! Possibly moreso because they may not have the same experience (which usually comes by making mistakes early on).
For example, in a musical, do you know that the audience will generally forgive a weak singer sooner than a weak actor? And they'll definitely forgive a weak dancer more quickly than a weak singer. Ideally, you can get all the skills you want. But when you have to choose, as one often does in an educational program, the fact that most plays require more acting than singing means you go with acting. A musical director, choreographer, or community volunteer might not realize that.
What if the committee disagree on the outcomes? What if one member likes Person A and another member likes Person B? Ultimately, someone is going to have make the decision. And it will be the director--and we're right back where we started again. And if you think there was drama before....
An experienced director knows what to look for in an audition. They know what kinds of things can be coached and taught, and what can't be, and therefore which person would be the safest bet to cast. It's a risk every time you cast someone. There are never any guarantees, even if you know that actor. But directors learn over the years to recognize certain things to minimize the risk.
In the first play I directed at my current school, I cast a student as the Wicked Witch of the West. She was very quiet and reserved in class and everyone was very surprised. Frankly, people thought I was crazy. I didn't know her, so they couldn't accuse me of favoritism, but they really thought I had blown it.
But I had seen something in her during the call-backs, a little spark of life that convinced me she was a fine character actress: a hunch of the shoulders and a flaring of the eyes when she read. She became the witch; she just needed practice to project her voice and get in the habit of being loud. That's very possible to fix. So we worked on it--and she was wonderful. Stole the show and really surprised people. This didn't happen because I have mystical powers. It's because I spent five hours in call-backs carefully evaluating everyone in the actual context of the lines and songs and scenes from the play.
I said this in my last post, but it bears repeating: parents are subject to everything directors are sometimes accused of: favoritism, subjectivity, etc. However, the parents generally don't have all the same information, focus on the big picture, or professional experience that the director has to offset these human traits.
A good theatre program is going to have unequal outcomes. It just is. And, if you are lucky, it will garner enough interest that there will be more people who want to be in the plays than can be given leading roles. There is simply no way to make it so that every child who wants a lead or featured role is going to get one.
The best any director can do is try to give everyone a fair shot and make a space for as many people as humanly possible. Hopefully, he or she also tries to be kind about it. A good director also tries to find shows that will showcase different talents: different voice types, and different kinds of acting skills. But even then, one cannot predict how roles will fall.
More than once in my early years, I felt sorry for a student who had payed their dues, so to speak, and never had a big part. So, I chose a play I thought would provide the perfect platform for that student's talents.
Well, that student would come to auditions or call-backs and absolutely fall flat. Another student I never thought of shows up and nails it. It's a mystery, and it's one of the reasons theatre is exciting. We would do well not to try to quash that by having overly programmed outcomes.
"Have you ever thought about doing [more musicals/less musicals/a variety show/a three act play/a night of one-acts]." Beside the fact that outcome-based planning is not a good way to run a theatre program, there is another problem with this. Most schools or other organizations run their program the way they do for a reason. It's neither accidental or capricious. It is the result of time, experimentation, and the school's mission, as well as the director's best judgment and experience.
Reasonable people might disagree with those reasons, but that doesn't make them invalid. But beyond that, there are trade-offs in every decision.
For example, a three-act play might have more big speaking roles than a standard musical. But most have almost no room for any kind of ensemble. So, the fifteen kids who get a part have more to do--but the other 40 who want to be in it are out of luck. Beyond that, someone is inevitably going to be a better dramatic actress than someone else, and she's going to get all the leads. That kid with comic timing is going to get more big parts. People will say the director should do more comedies. Or more dramas. Or....whatever. On that note, comedy is incredibly difficult to pull off, even for professional actors. People assume it's easy, but it's not. It's much harder than drama. And a three-act comedy with students can fall flat very quickly.
In theatre, as in life, there are always trade-offs. Plays are not the same. What if you find a play that has great roles for the ensemble, lots of songs and fun numbers--but fewer speaking parts? Whom should you prioritize? Should you do a play that has lots of speaking parts--but virtually no ensemble? What if you have a lot of really solid boys one year (a rarity), or a couple of really amazing almost-professional girls? How do you balance that? What do you prioritize?
Well, you do the best you can. And it will never be enough for some people. And, it will most certainly never be equal in terms of outcome.
A night of one-acts might sound great. But the students will be spread between many plays. The wonderful sense of community and esprit d'corps you get in a big show might not happen. The audience may not be as large. Beyond that, the director's efforts might be diluted between several different plays. A night of one-acts requires an immense amount of work. The solution is: have the students direct! Sure, but who will oversee the students? Directing is not as easy as it might look. You don't just turn it over to students without guiding them. And who will mediate the inevitable power-struggles and disagreements between peers?
Some people love melodramas; other's don't. Or Shakespeare. On and on....
All of these are viable options that fit with different programs, and the specific objectives and constraints of different institutions. But the fact that they fit at one school doesn't mean they will work everywhere. There is no ideal solution out there that solves every problem or allows everyone to have everything they want.
People who do theatre because they want specific outcomes will be frustrated a lot.
Theatre is art, the must human of arts. Because of that, it is subjective. One can take the subjectivity out of theatre like one can take algebra out of physics. It just doesn't work.
A director does the best he or she can in a highly-charged, highly-subjective field. By long tradition, their role has evolved to be what it is because it works the best that way. That doesn't mean he or she is infallible. But it's a director's responsibility to set the vision and organize all the artistic elements according to that vision.
FAQ 3: "What can I do to help my child get a lead?"
Learning to act, sing, and dance are always good. Lessons and workshops and camps and that sort of thing can help. But honestly, there is probably very little you or anyone can do. A lot of it comes down to factors beyond your control. Your child might be brilliantly talented--but too short. Or tall. Or any number of other things.
I wanted to be Captain Hook in a production of Peter Pan. But I was short and a bit dumpy. My voice hadn't changed yet. There was no way I was going to be Captain Hook; it wasn't a matter of talent.
In high school, I desperately wanted to be Skye Masterson in Guys and Dolls. Another guy was better looking and had a smooth voice that was perfect for the role. I just wasn't made for that part.
Years later, a local theatre did Dracula. A lot of people tried out. But I was tall, skinny, had severe features, dark hair, and pale skin. I got the part because it fit me.
It's important to realize that theatre isn't a ladder where you climb from larger role to larger role. The best thing you can teach your child is that we don't do theatre because we aspire to a lead. We do theatre because we like to do theatre. We do the play because we can't stand the thought of not doing it. If you have any other objective in mind, you are likely to be very disappointed.
What can you do? You might also teach your child that every time they come to a rehearsal, they are auditioning for the next play. If they goof off a lot, forget lines, miss cues, etc., then chances are that is being noticed. Likewise, if they work hard and do the best they can with what they are given, that is also being noticed.
Same with parents. You really can't do anything to get your child a lead. You can, unfortunately, do a lot of damage to your child's chances by being difficult or disrespectful, etc. I've heard that a lot from directors at many different levels and in many different programs.
Theatre is not fair in the sense of being equal. It is gloriously fair in the sense that it gives lots of people the chance to work on an exciting piece of art. More than any other art form, it allows the possibility of someone emerging from nowhere. More than any other art form, theatre allows large groups of people to come together and perform, or run tech, or change sets, or sew costumes. It integrates and brings together. It can build community and create a shared emotional experience.
I've been directing plays for elementary and middle school kids for almost thirty years now (twenty-eight, to be precise). Because of that, I frequently get questions or hear complaints from friends as well as people who find this blog and contact me. Often, the comments boil down to two complaints: One is that the directors choose age-inappropriate material (that is a whole different blog post). The second is that their casting is unfair. I have received this second complaint over the years myself; I'm not sure any director hasn't. That's sort of the way it goes as any casting choice is going to yield one happy person and several unhappy ones.
I just finished casting a big show and thought I would take some time to talk about this process as it is fresh on my mind. Since this blog gets a large amount of traffic from parents and theatre teachers across the country, I hope it might be helpful. Though my world is middle school, I think this is applicable to almost any non-professional theatre program.
Casting a play is one of the most important and challenging things any director does. First year directing students are often told, "Pick the right play, pick the right cast, and the play will direct itself."
Casting is uniquely challenging because it is cognitive, artistic, and emotional. Because it is a long process, it is usually physically tiring and taxing as well.
In addition, most directors have had some performing experience. Consequently, directors know how disappointing it can be not to get a desired role. And in many educational programs, the directors know and have some degree of affection for and investment in their students--making it all the more difficult to disappoint them.
Of all the decisions a director makes, casting choices are probably the most frequently questioned or misunderstood. That seems to be universal, and exists everywhere I've worked. It's something you hear about a lot when theatre teachers get together. In light of this, I think it is useful to explain a few things that happen behind the curtain, so to speak.
In fairness to people with questions, casting is the least public aspect of a performance. The decisions are made either by the director or a small group of people, based on information that is not generally available to the public. Consequently, it is easy for people to question or second-guess those decisions, then doubt the process, the director, or both. And when you realize that the process tends to be emotionally charged for parents and students, it is even more understandable. Unfortunately, when people don't understand, they generally assume that their must be a malign motive: most often favoritism, a grudge, etc.
However, I don't think favoritism happens as much as people assume. Any director is highly-aware that people will accuse him or her of playing favorites, and they won't put themselves in that position lightly. Every director I know makes absolutely sure that any casting decision is the right thing for the production--especially when someone has had a lead before, or if they are casting a family member, friend of the family, etc., in a lead.
A director cannot indulge in casting based on personal feelings; however, at the same time, a director cannot refrain from casting choices based on other people's personal feelings.
No one cares more about the production's ultimate success than the director. It is totally against the director's interest to cast anyone who is not suited to the part. Miscasting does serious, sometimes fatal, damage to a production. This is a lesson every director learns very quickly--usually by making a painful mistake early on. Consequently, directors are generally very clear-eyed and level-headed. Personal feelings enter the picture far less than one might think.
I think it is important for parents to remember that they are subject to everything directors are sometimes accused of: favoritism, subjectivity, etc. However, the parents generally don't have the same information or professional experience that the director has to offset these human traits.
Of course, one can make a mistake and miscast someone. Sometimes the director was wrong, and sometimes the performer maybe didn't quite invest all he or she might have--this happens occasionally even in Hollywood or on Broadway--but generally speaking, directors give extreme due diligence and cast the people they genuinely feel are best-suited for the role. Note: I did not say most talented. I said, best-suited. I'll talk about what that means later.
The director's greatest responsibility is to the entire production. He or she is engaged by an organization and has a fiduciary responsibility to deliver the best production possible. If he or she does anything else, then no one ends up having much fun and no one is happy. The best way for the cast to have fun is to have a good show.
The director also has a responsibility to make sure the cast looks good in front of the audience, and to position the cast to do their best work. Finally, there is an obligation to the audience that the play will be as good as possible, a fair exchange for the ticket money and time invested.
A parent's most fundamental job is to watch over their child. So, most parents, understandably, view the production through their child's experience, and tend to see things by how a particular decisions impacts their child. That is understandable; it is their job. But the director does not have that luxury. What feels like a very personal decision to a child or family is generally a very professional, clinical one for the director.
I had a friend once who assured me the director at her child's school showed gross favoritism because he never cast her daughter. But I heard the daughter sing; she had some serious pitch problems, and strained badly on her high notes. The mother didn't hear this; she just loved to hear her daughter sing. And the girl was a wonderful daughter and an incredible young lady in every way. But she couldn't sing well. And a director has to pay attention to things like that.
Some people do get lots of lead roles and this is true from Broadway down to your local elementary school (just as some people always start on sports teams, or win chess tournaments or art contests). Sometimes it is as simple as the fact that someone is talented, works hard, has a great attitude and is easy to teach and direct. Being a lead is not as simple as it may look, requiring a skill-set that goes well beyond the obvious dramatic talent. It requires a myriad of unseen and intangible skills: commitment, hard work, ability to hold up under extreme pressure, reliability, ability to take direction--on and on.
There is one other thing to consider. Human beings often develop very warm and close relationships with people they work with extensively and in a challenging setting. This is human nature. It's equally true in theatre. Sometimes people see the warm relationship between a director and a lead and assume that the director put his or her favorite person in that role because of the relationship. In reality, it is often reverse: the warm relationship came because the actor and director worked together closely.
The reality is that there are any number of dedicated, talented, hard-working, conscientious kids who don't get big parts. I was one of them. One of my children was one of them. There are any number of reasons for this, but ultimately, this apparent inequity is the nature of life; it is certainly the nature of theatre: outcomes are not, and cannot be made to be, equal.
However, the good news is that the size of a role does not diminish the opportunity for someone else to have a good experience. I know that from first-hand experience, and I've seen it confirmed over and over.
Still, the fact that people get repeated leads while others get none is difficult, especially for a school group, where the mission is clearly educational. Coaches face a similar dilemma. Do you play to win, or do you play to build experience and give everyone a chance? Ideally, you can do both. But in the real world, in the moment, sometimes you have to make judgment calls and try to balance competing imperatives. Human nature being what it is, it is always easier to second-guess these decisions in retrospect than it is to make them in the moment.
It's great to say that one should rotate lots of people through the leading roles. That's an idea few would disagree with. The problem, though, is that if you do this, and the quality of the plays goes down, then fewer people will want to be part of it. Ultimately, the experience is not as good for the entire cast, not to mention the student who has been set up for a public lack of success.
You also run into potential problems. What if one person gets two rotations, and another person only gets one? Or two and three?
Directors often hear things like, "But she's just so disappointed," or, "But he wanted it so badly," or, "I'm afraid she's going to give up hope." It is natural for a parent to be focused on that. But a director cannot take that into account. First of all, if someone is going to give up theatre because of disappointment, it is probably best that it happen quickly. Theatre is disappointing. No one ever gets all the parts they want. If that is too much for someone to handle, then theatre is a terrible hobby.
Secondly, if someone wants the director to consider this for their child, then it must be a consideration for everyone. Follow the logic of that thinking. What if there are five children who want the part equally badly? What if they will all be bitterly disappointed. How can a director possibly discern who will be most disappointed in a fair or accurate way? If you think the existing audition process is subjective, imagine trying to gauge the emotional state of a particular child and how badly they want something, or how disappointed they will be. It is unrealistic and unfair for a parent or a child to try to make the director responsible for their disappointment.
Another thing that I have heard over the years is something like, "If she just had a chance, I know she would shine." Or, "he's so funny at home--you should hear him imitate movies, or sing along in the car." These children are blessed to have parents who love their child's talents.
But directors can't cast on the potential a parent sees, nor can they can't cast on what a child does at home. A play, after all, does not happen in a living room or car: it takes place in front of a large audience, with many other actors, and there is a great deal of pressure on leads.
A lot of people see a lead or big part as a fun thing, some kind of validation, or a reward. And they can be rewarding. But, leading roles are hard. Hard, hard, hard work. They carry a tremendous deal of pressure, and also a great responsibility. The pressure can crush someone who is not ready.
I'm including a picture of a list created by the actress who played Mary in Mary Poppins. In addition to the on-stage demands of carrying a large show (singing, dancing, acting, etc.) she had so many props to keep track of that she had to draw up a list to help her remember scene-by-scene. This is in addition to remembering when her quick changes were, when to go get her flying harness on and off, when to go get hooked up to the flying lines, on and on. She even had to schedule time to drink water and use the restroom. For 2.5 hours every night, she had all kinds of pressure on her--after months and months of taxing, demanding work. Leading parts are like that: huge, huge amounts of work and pressure. Not everyone is ready for that--and that's okay.
A lead is also automatically a leader. His or her actions and attitude, good or bad, will shape the attitudes and work ethic of those around them.
There are a number of other factors to consider in casting. Generally, a director has information and knowledge about the cast that most people don't have. For example, it may be that a child is very talented, but does not work very hard. It may be that the child is very talented, but that there are family circumstances that would prohibit the child from being able to fulfill the commitment.
Years ago, I had a costumer beg me not to cast a particular child in a lead because the parent was so incredibly difficult to work with (I still did, incidentally, because the kid was by far the best person for the role. But I would never give this child another role. The parent just made life too difficult for too many people). More than one parent has totally sabotaged their child's chances by causing difficulty and stirring up drama. A play is stressful under the best of circumstances. No director will willingly inflict additional problems and drama on the production. This is true at every level of theatre, and anyone who wants to participate in plays ought to learn this early on.
Here are a few other situations:
Some time ago, I had a fairly talented student who got deeply offended when given even very mild correction, such as, "I need you to be louder." This attitude made it so she could not get another lead. It was simply impossible because she was unteachable.
Another time I had a very talented student who simply did not focus at rehearsal; a nice kid, but a total goof-off and very absent-minded, and not inclined to try very hard to counteract that tendency. There was no way this student could be counted on. One does not get a big role and then demonstrate reliability; one demonstrates reliability first. Another student was wonderful on-stage but could not remember when to come on-stage and missed entrances routinely.
Another talented student had serious anxiety. I did not know about the anxiety, and cast the student in a substantial role. Driven in part by the anxiety, the student struggled in rehearsals. Even the most routine direction was interpreted as personal criticism and served to get the student even more nervous. The child then made frequent mistakes. But trying to help the student correct the errors created even more stress. It was a vicious cycle, and one that I could simply not fix. After considerable thought, I decided I could not give the student another large role. Beyond the problems for the play, it seemed a cruel thing to do to that child. People thought I was being unkind or playing favorites. Of course, I could not say anything in any of these cases.
Another factor that people don't understand is difficult to explain, but has to do with "fit." Talent is neither interchangeable nor uniform. Someone can be very talented and still not fit a particular part. Not everyone who can sing well can sing the same things well. Not everyone with talent is good at everything.
The example I use with my students is Will Smith and Will Ferrell: two professionals who are very talented and successful. But you wouldn't consider them interchangeable and consider Will F. to play a part for Will S. Think about Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth in Wicked--both brilliantly talented women, but you'd not switch their roles. Talent is not interchangeable.
Once a mother was frustrated because her daughter was called-back for Cinderella, but did not get the part and was assigned to the ensemble. The mother thought that the daughter should have been given the role of step-mother or step-sister as a sort of consolation prize. I had to explain that the daughter was called back for Cinderella because of the way she projected a gentle, vulnerable heart. Those exact qualities made her totally unsuited for the over-the-top malice of the stepsisters.
People often think that any talented kid should be able to have a lead. I understand this, but it's much more complex than that. Vocal range, vocal quality, and personality are just three factors that differ vastly different from student to student and are not easily predictable.
Physical resemblance to the character, or the ability to meet certain physical demands are other important, often overlooked factors. The Scarecrow cannot move stiffly; Dorothy cannot be taller than the Wicked Witch. She just can't be. And there is only so much one can do with heels and creative staging. Imagine a production where Maria looks up at the Von Trapp children (or down at the Captain). It just doesn't work. Now, that being said, a director's job is to put on the best show he or she can. So, if an amazing actress tries out for the witch and an amazing actress tries out for Dorothy and they are close in height, there might be something to be done with the set, the way things are staged, and the costume. But still, you get the idea. There are limitations that the director can't change).
Two students might be very talented, but one is great at comic timing; the other is better at dramatic roles. If the show has a smaller part that calls for wonderful comic timing, then the first student is going to get that part. Indeed, it would be a disservice to do otherwise. Sadly, the student may feel that he or she was overlooked. But more often than not, casting is positive, not negative--students don't "not" get a part. Rather, they are cast for the part best suited to their talents. I once had a student who was a very good dramatic actress. A key moment in the play called for her talents. The whole play had built to this point, and only she could pull it off. It was a smaller role, but critical to the play.
Chemistry between actors in other roles is also critical. Sometimes, a very talented person does a great job in an individual audition, then they read a scene with someone and fall a bit flat. Then a different person does the same scene and the air crackles. We've all seen movies where the acting was fine, but there was no chemistry between the actors. And those are professionals. It's hard to define or articulate, and you can't create it artificially, but it's very real.
The point of auditions and call-backs is to help align a student's unique talents with the particular demands of a play. Sometimes talents and plays will align multiple times. Or not at all. That is the reality of theatre and any attempt to change that will distort the experience into something other than theatre.
As this is quite long already, I'll divide this post in half and stop for now. In the next post, I'll consider other questions that sometimes come up: casting by committee as well as the trade-offs inherent in changing a program to achieve different outcomes, and a few other things.
Part 2 is here.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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