I’m the director of Phoenix Theatre Company’s production of Into the Woods and the person who pre-cast the role of the Witch. Who would have guessed that such a simple and honest disclosure in the audition notice would result in such a passionate discussion on TP Talk? I was initially amused by it all, but as some of the comments grew more heated I felt the need to respond in my own words.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who understood and appreciated my intention, which was to be completely transparent about the audition process and to respect potential auditionees by not wasting their time letting them audition for a role that wasn’t available. I hoped people would see it as a positive, in that, by saying the role of the witch had been cast, I was also confirming that the other sixteen roles were open.

A couple of the comments on the TP Talk thread (Pre cast witch?) which were against pre-casting made the assumption that if a company hadn’t disclosed any pre-casting decisions then all roles must be available. A few other comments took the view that pre-casting simply wasn’t fair.
Here’s a reality check. Some production teams pre-cast some roles for legitimate reasons and, unfortunately, some don’t tell you before the auditions. Many of the reasons for pre-casting are succinctly stated on the TP Talk thread already and don’t need rehashing by me. What I would like to share with you, however, is my reason.
Last year I directed Godspell for Phoenix Theatre Company. Katie Packer was MD and Renée Maloney was Choreographer. We had such a fabulous time that we decided to find another show to work on together. At least a dozen ideas were bantered about. When I suggested Into the Woods Katie told me that the witch was one of her dream roles. I immediately knew she would be perfect. She had the look, the voice and the acting ability for the part. I told her and Renée that we’d have to find another musical director because if we were going to do Into the Woods, I wanted Katie to play the witch. And so it was. This happened a year ago and I’ve been planning for the show ever since.
Katie Packer is not only a fabulous actress and singer (2009 & 2010 Lyrebird award nominee for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical) she has musically directed or performed in the last twelve Phoenix shows. Yes, you heard right, twelve shows in a row with Phoenix Theatre Company.
For the younger performers reading this, something you may not know is that up until relatively recently, actors were very loyal to the theatre companies they belonged to, and in return, companies were loyal to them. For the most case, this seems to be a thing of the past, and unfortunately what’s died with it is a respect for the theatre companies that are putting up the funds and resources for us to do what we love doing. For more on this subject read the brilliantly written editorial by Michael Butler called Put down your egos and step up to save our companies published last year on this site.
Loyalty is becoming a rarity in the amateur theatre community. How does that affect production teams you may ask? Shouldn’t a director be happy to have a much wider pool of talent to choose from?
Well let’s look at the flip side. What about when a production team spends days in auditions choosing the most suitable talent, matching up actors to find the perfect look, announcing the cast on Theatre People, letting down the people who didn’t get in, preparing for rehearsals, and then one of the leads drops out because another company offered them a better role? Not only is the look of the cast potentially thrown out of balance, the production team’s second and third choices may no longer be available.
So you see, life’s not fair for any of us. Get used to it. If actors want a theatre community where they have the pick of all the shows that are on offer (brilliant, I want that too) then they also have to accept that, in turn, the theatre companies don’t owe them anything. Most are having enough trouble just staying afloat.
I want to end by telling you that Phoenix Theatre Company is community theatre at its finest. They give newcomers a chance who may not have the experience to get into the larger companies. They give many people, including me and Katie, their first break to direct, choreograph, or MD. Many well-known performers on the Melbourne amateur theatre scene got their first lead role with Phoenix. They are also loyal to those who are loyal to them, believing that their members form the backbone of the company. I’m rapt to be beginning my third production with Phoenix and even more rapt to have a pre-cast witch! I have cast Katie Packer for a host of reasons that no other actor in Melbourne could begin to match, but most of all because she’ll be fabulous!