Another article I wrote was just featured in the newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). This article focuses on the pros and cons of cutting students in the audition process. If you’re looking for more theatrical tips and tricks, subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service’s newsletter.
The full text of the article is below:
By Mike Steele
April 22, 2014
Recently, I attended a middle school production of a popular musical with one of the largest casts I’ve ever seen. When the show began, over 150 students flooded the small auditorium stage. The show was fantastic, but a quick chat afterwards with the director revealed that she had been particularly overwhelmed by the number of students in the show. She asked me whether or not I cast every student who auditions for my school plays as she was beginning to rethink her long-standing no-cut policy.
To cut or not to cut? It’s one of the hardest decisions we have to make as school play directors, especially at the middle school level.
On one hand, we don’t want to hurt our students’ feelings. After all, we know it takes courage to put yourself out there and audition. It’s never fun to face rejection, and we don’t want our students to be discouraged from auditioning for an upcoming production just because they weren’t cast last time around.
On the other hand, if we cast each student who auditions, are we setting low performance standards and a sense of entitlement? Professional actors are rejected at the majority of the auditions they attend, and adopting a no-cut policy will not provide our students with real-world expectations. Not to mention, the more students we have in the cast, the more difficult it will be to manage the group.
So, should you cast every student who auditions for your school plays? I encourage you to make the decision based on your own goals as a director and whether or not a no-cut policy will help you reach those goals.
Consider cutting students if your goal is…
…To provide an intimate learning experience for your students. There’s no doubt that one of the most effective ways to learn about the performing arts is to actively participate in a production. While you may want to provide this learning experience to as many students as possible, keep in mind that regardless of how large you expand your cast size, there is still only one director. The smaller the cast, the less you will need to focus on crowd control, and the more individual attention you can give to each performer.
…To showcase your performers who exhibit the top level of talent. As school play directors, we see a gamut of abilities at auditions – from the student we’re sure will give a Meryl Streep-like performance to the student who makes us internally cringe as he delivers all of his lines to the upstage curtain. Keep in mind that as much as you may want to cast everyone who has the guts to audition, mediocre actors will distract from those with impeccable stage presence. Students who are tripping over their feet as they dance will pull attention from the graceful ballerinas, and singers with poor pitch will make the entire ensemble sound flat.
…To keep performance costs to a minimum. School plays work on tight budgets, and sometimes it’s not financially feasible to feature a large group of students. Every performer is going to need at least one costume (if not multiple) as well as makeup, accessories and individual props. The cost of including unnecessary cast members in a production will add up. You may want to feature everyone who auditions, but there just might not be enough money for other areas of the production if you do so.
Consider not cutting students if your goal is…
…To provide a performance experience for as many students as possible. Some schools only put on one play every year with dozens of students eager to participate in these infrequent productions. As much as you may want to feature an elite set of talent, if there are few extra-curricular performing opportunities available to your students, consider giving every student who’s interested the chance to experience the thrill of being a part of the school play.
…To grow a larger performing arts program. If you find that student interest in your program is waning or if you’re simply looking to increase awareness throughout the school community, it’s a good idea to feature as many performers as possible in your productions. While it may be easier to manage a small cast, students will be less intimidated to audition if they know that their talents won’t lead to rejection. Be sure to spread the word about your no-cut policy well before the audition dates to encourage as many students as possible to attend.
…To raise money. The bulk of a school play audience is made up of families and friends of the cast. Keeping the cast small may be appealing in terms of quality, but a puny cast size translates into puny ticket sales and not much, if any, profit. The more students you feature, the more tickets you will sell. Think of all the extra mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, teachers and hairdressers who will attend the production if you don’t cut any students.
Do you have goals that aren’t listed? Jot them down, and then think about how cutting and not cutting students who audition will affect your ability to reach those goals.