Brigid sneaks a peek into top secret Casting Meetings to find out what Directors really want….

As a performer, I know that I always read audition briefs very thoroughly and I consider what an audition panel might be looking for really carefully before I select my material for the audition. If possible, I might even get in touch with other performers and ask “what’s it like working with Mister “X” or how does Miss “Y”’ interpret a role / tune” etc…
As a performer, so far, I can only draw on previous ‘performing’ experience but why don’t we hear from some Directors as to what they look for, what they consider and how they might select talent for their next production.
Aaron Joyner, the founder of Magnormos and AustralianMusicals.com; is a Producer, Director, Writer and a leading advocate for original Australian Musical Theatre. During the past five years Aaron’s numerous credits for Magnormos include directing Australian premiers of Broadway’s [title of show], Flora the Red Menace (Kander & Ebb’s Broadway debut), Archy & Mehitabel (Mel Brooks’ Broadway debut), Saturday Night (Sondheim’s first professional musical), and The Thing About Men (Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts), as well as Australian musicals The Beauty Spot (Pratt Prize finalist),  A Bunch of Ratbags (the 1966 Pinne & Battye classic Australian musical) and Nick Enright and David Kings landmark musical Mary Bryant.Aaron is a graduate of Monash University (Bachelor of Performing Arts) and graduated with specialist diploma and certificate qualifications in Small Companies and Community Theatre (NMIT) and Small Business Management (RMIT).
TP: Before running auditions, do you ‘approach/talk to’ experienced performers to audition or do you just wait and see who rolls up?
AJ: It can be a mixture.  If there’s someone who I think is really suitable for the role, then I would generally approach them directly and ask them to audition.
 TP: Do you ‘encourage’ experienced performers to audition for your productions?
AJ:  Yes

TP: Do you prefer to give ‘new comers’ an opportunity?
AJ: Both.  It depends on the scale of the project and the particular part, but we have given many performers their first professional experience and it is a huge part of what Magnormos does.  I am always looking for the ‘right’ person for the role.

TP: What do you look for in an audition?
AJ: Someone who can demonstrate their vocal abilities, their personalities, and their connection to a text in the one go – And also the suitability for the particular roles being cast.  
TP:  Have you decided what you are looking for before auditions or are you ‘open’ to new ideas?
AJ: Absolutely, some of my greatest casting choices have been a surprise innovation while at the auditions.
TP: If you don’t get the perfect fit for the roles in your production, do you ‘take it on the chin’ and just cast from whoever has auditioned OR do you put out a call for more people to audition?
AJ: Generally keep auditioning.

TP: If you are ‘stuck’ for a suitable person for a particular role, do you contact experienced performers to fill the gap? 
AJ: Yes I have done so.
TP: Do you believe that anybody really ‘pre-casts’ these days?
Do you mean anybody or everybody in that sentence? I think a lot of people do, and sometimes that’s necessary to expedite the process.  I generally have a policy with Magnormos that we must audition for at least a major percentage of the roles, but key people can be invited in.  I’ve met some of my favourite artists through a cold audition so I believe very heavily in them and even if I’ve worked with someone quite a few times, most of the times I still require them to audition as it allows the creative team to all assess together (important to me) and in the matrix of all the other auditionees at the time. 

 
Karen Milkins-Hendry is currently Acting Principal at Newhaven College, an Independent school on Phillip Island. She has been at the school for 20 years and was given the opportunity to be Head of Drama for four years. This experience moved her out of a passion for acting and into the world of production – predominantly directing. Karen has written and directed 6 musicals for Newhaven College as well as directing plays, excerpts and ensemble pieces for the Wonthaggi Theatrical Group including “Noises off” and “ The Importance of Being Earnest”. During the past five years Karen has directed the musicals “Little Shop of Horrors”, Singin’ in the Rain”, “Les Miserables”, “West Side Story” and this year “Oliver!”.
TP: Before running auditions, do you ‘approach/talk to’ experienced performers to audition or do you just wait and see who rolls up?
KMH: I do not approach people to audition but certainly talk about the production to lots of different people and try to assist in generating an interest in the show. I will freely discuss what the roles are about to anyone who wants to listen! We are always talking about the next show to the current cast of the present show.
TP: Do you ‘encourage’ experienced performers to audition for your productions? Or do you prefer to give ‘new comers’ an opportunity?
KMH: We encourage everybody! Musicals are a marvellous way to grow your company. We try to choose our shows so that the casting is different each year which will attract new performers to our company. Ultimately you want a blend of experience and newcomers so that the there are enough people to mentor others whilst building your company.
TP: What do you look for in an audition?
KMH: Preparation. I like to see that someone cares about their audition and is valuing the opportunity. During the audition process I look for someone who will respond to comments with an open attitude and if requested to vary something (either in reading or singing) that there is a willingness to take the direction. Confidence and talent are obviously important but sometimes you don’t have the time to explore that fully until call-backs so the approach to audition and the response in audition can ‘take you to the next step’.
TP: Have you decided what you are looking for before auditions or are you ‘open’ to new ideas?
KMH: There are some roles from classic shows that you realise require a certain physicality or a certain range in voice that cannot be compromised. At the end of the day, however, we are a non-professional company drawing from our small community and there needs to be flexibility wherever possible. I know what I am looking for from the company as a whole in terms of the nature, style of the show – the dynamic. I then hope to find people who will work collaboratively to make that happen.
TP: If you don’t get the perfect fit for the roles in your production, do you ‘take it on the chin’ and just cast from whoever has auditioned OR do you put out a call for more people to audition?
KMH: I have done both. With some roles we have taken considerable risks (which have actually paid off due to an amazing Musical Director and Choreographer), however, if the production team was fairly inexperienced then I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that risk-taking
TP: If you are ‘stuck’ for a suitable person for a particular role, do you contact experienced performers to fill the gap?
KMH: We haven’t had to do that so far. I would try contacting people in our own community who hadn’t auditioned before trying anyone else. Our company does not pay anybody involved in any level of production, it is all completely voluntary, so we would never considering paying a person to fill a role just to get a show off the ground. If there were problems mid-show (illness) or we needed to fill an important position in the band for one night during the season etc then we would consider bringing in an experienced performer.
TP: Do you believe that anybody really ‘pre-casts’ these days?
KMH: I definitely don’t pre-cast as I have been surprised so many times now that I know the audition process will ‘throw me a curve-ball’ somewhere! I think sometimes that people within the company do some pre-casting themselves and then you may only have a few people audition for a role because they feel that there is an experienced person just right for the role going for it and they don’t put themselves out there. Certainly before choosing a show I try to think if there are ample people around who could fill the roles so that you are not putting the company in a position where the show can’t be cast.
 
There you have it – a varied view from different directors to go along with the plethora of performers’ opinions. 
So, in your next audition – Break a leg!

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