Encouraging young performers to audition again and again

An article I wrote was published on Wednesday 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 is about encouraging young performers to continue auditioning, even if they have faced rejection in the past. Be sure to subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service’s newsletter for great articles about working with student performers.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Working with Young Actors – Encouraging Young Performers to Audition Again and Again

By Mike Steele

January 21, 2015

After a long weekend of auditions for a community theatre play I’m directing, I sat with the rest of the production staff staring at a scattering of young performers’ headshots for my least favorite part of the casting process:  choosing which auditioners we’d offer roles to and which would receive the dreaded, “No, thank you.”  We saw dozens of performers we’d be happy to feature, but with nearly 80 children vying for 12 roles, we had no choice but to disappoint the majority of the talent.

So often in my experiences as a school play and community theatre director, I hear young performers chatting about previous rejections.  They say things like, “She didn’t cast me in last year’s play; she thinks I have no talent,” “That production company won’t even give me a chance,” or “I don’t bother auditioning for him anymore because he thinks I’m awful!”

And yet as a director, I sit through so many auditions thinking things like, “She gave such a good read, but she’s too tall to play a six year old,” “Wow!  What a voice!  Too bad I’m looking for dancers,” and “He’s a tremendous classical baritone, but this is a contemporary musical.  I hope he auditions for me in the future.”

What young actors rarely realize is that talent is only one factor in the casting process.  So often it comes down to issues that are out of everyone’s control.  Sometimes a great performer gives a poor audition.  Sometimes seven redheads come out for a show and you want a more visually balanced ensemble.  Sometimes you need a boy who can juggle while riding a unicycle.  Sometimes an auditioner performs the tightest monologue you’ve ever seen, but is the wrong age, has the wrong hairstyle, has too many scheduling conflicts, or you simply need to cast the kid whose parent can help sew costumes.  None of these factors would prevent you from casting the auditioner in the future, though.

So what can we do as directors to let young performers know that even if they don’t have much luck the first time around, we hope this setback won’t prevent them from auditioning for us again?

Encourage young performers before the auditions.

It’s common for schools and some community theatres to hold information meetings for potential performers prior to auditions.  This is the perfect time to address your casting policies.  Be open and honest that a variety of factors in addition to talent go into casting decisions, and you will need to cut many castable performers.  Let auditioners know that if they are not cast, you highly encourage them to come out for future productions.  Provide examples of past success stories.  Maybe a few years ago there was a terribly shy freshman you weren’t able to cast after her barely audible audition…but she never gave up, gained confidence through each audition, and by her senior year, she had a supporting role that stole the show.  Don’t have a casting story with quite the same dramatic flair?  Well, this is theatre — make something up!

Encourage young performers during the auditions.

The standard goodbye at an audition is a simple, “Thank you,” from the director.  Consider adding a bit more to your closing:  “Thank you for auditioning for us.  We’re seeing enough great talent to cast this show three times, so if we find we’re unable to use you in this production, we hope you’ll check out our website for future casting notices.”  The extra five seconds can make all the difference to a young performer.

Encourage young performers after the auditions — even with rejection.

Though some directors choose only to notify the performers they’re looking to cast, it’s always nice to inform those you can’t use, as well.  An email or snail mail rejection takes only a few minutes to draft.  To your stock letter of, “We were unable to cast everyone who auditioned…” add a personalized compliment for each auditioner.  Even the worst audition has some redeeming qualities, so gather up your audition notes and let each performer know his or her strengths.  One sentence that says, “You have a beautiful lower register, and we hope you’ll let us hear it again at a future audition,” validates that the performer is, in fact, castable.

Auditioners you’ve cut may not know the exact reasoning behind your casting decisions, but they will remember if you’ve made them feel castable in future productions.  Just remember, your next leading lady might be the girl you cut from the chorus two years ago, and a little encouragement can go a long way.

Pioneer Drama Service