Casting ‘Staying Alive’ & other shows

We’ve got an open casting policy at Blackshaw, which is massively important to our ethos – we love to build networks of new artists, meet new people and ensure everything is fair.

When I was casting ‘Staying Alive’ by Kat Roberts, last weekend, the process we used is tried and tested over the 5 years we’ve been staging shows.

1. We list the job(s) on casting website ‘casting call pro’, and we do our best to let everyone know about the opportunity, by shouting about it all over the internet (our twitter, facebook, website, and newsletter).

2. When the ad closes, I sit with another Blackshaw team member (often casting call pro-pro, Vikki Weston) and shortlist the applications.  This is a pretty long process, but it’s important that we look at every single application, and we do it in stages –

a) The quick once over – this is a cursory glance through each group of applicants to rule out people who look totally wrong for the role (this might be because they’re the wrong age, or have the wrong ‘look’ for any roles which are specific on character’s appearance). We eliminate quite a few applicants in this way.

b) The cover letter check – yes, we read those. If an applicant has tailored their cover letter to the project/role, that really does go in your favour (and yes, we can tell when you’ve copied and pasted a universally-applicable blurb).

c) The CV check – we look at all sorts of things here; previous work, training, showreel, headshot gallery, and role-specific talents (in the past we’ve had roles which need various skills/attributes: a northern accent; circus skills; violin playing, etc).

d) The comparison – once we’ve eliminated people based on role requirements, we compare the shortlisted applicants, and narrow it down to a manageable amount to audition (we usually aim for 5-10 people per role).

3. Organising Auditions – with the experience I’ve gained here, I think I’d make a pretty excellent events planner, PA, Programmer…pretty much any role that involves organising…anything.  This is the stage where we wrangle actors (and their busy lives) into audition slots.  We try to arrange auditionees into groups, as I find you can tell a lot from seeing actors read with other actors – usually more so than seeing them solo.

4. The auditions – Each group has a 15 minutes slot, which is usually 5 mins performance, 5 mins for me to give some direction (I might ask them to switch roles, read the character differently, or something else), and 5 mins for me to gather my thoughts and make notes.  I like to have one or two people on the panel with me – usually an Assistant Director, the writer, or a Blackshaw team member – it’s useful to have a sounding board!

5. The decision – I’ll have a pretty clear idea from the first few minutes of an audition, and will review my notes.  Once you have a shortlist, it’s then a case of working out which combinations of people will work – an actor could be fantastic, but if there’s not another actor which will work as their romantic interest, or teacher, or father (or whatever character relationship we need), it won’t work.  When it comes down to the very final decision making (when you’re looking at a bunch of super talented actors), a lot of it is based on cast chemistry and combination options.

I’m always happy to offer feedback to actors I see audition, and am keen to keep the process as open as possible – we always meet tons of brilliant people at auditions, and I’m so pleased we get people coming back time and time again, whether they’ve been successful previously or not. I like to think it’s because we make the process so darn straightforward.


Ellie, Managing & Artistic Director

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