Casting Thoughts: Part One (of Three)

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Photo: not the best way to win work. Taken by Richard Davenport

Trying to get work in the current climate is really hard, and it can feel like you’re facing it alone. Today, we want to do something to try and help.

We’ve been meaning to give some insight into our casting process since we started. A lot of our team are actors, and we wanted to share our experiences. Maybe it’ll be useful to other people, and demystify the process a bit. Or maybe the way we do things is unique to us. Either way, we wanted to get it out there.

This three-part post is aimed at actors both with and without agents, and mostly covers what you can actually do to maximise your chances. All being well, Part Two will come out next Monday , (update: it’s out now), and Part Three the Monday after. Part One is here today!

But first, I want to give a disclaimer. Here it is:

A Disclaimer.

This is all personal opinion. This doesn’t represent what every casting director thinks; we’re just sharing some of our thoughts. Some of this doesn’t even necessarily reflect what everyone on our team thinks.

I hope it’s useful, but only read on if you’re willing to take it with a pinch of salt…




We get a LOT of applications when we put out a casting call. Seriously, the number we had for one particularly open call this year would make your eyes water. I imagine most other theatre companies get similar numbers, depending on the individual project. So by far the biggest hurdle is actually getting called in.

Some things that give you an advantage:

  • Having seen our work. Of course this is helpful, because in the room you’ll have a clearer idea of our style, and we can be confident you know what we do. If you’re interested in working with us, definitely come and see something, and try and say hi afterwards.
  • A good cover note, with a bit of personality. More about this in Part Two!
  • A clear, high quality headshot. Because that tells us you’re a professional.
  • Having written to us before. Or even better…
  • Us having seen you in something. Even if you’ve invited us and we’ve not been able to get there.
  • Your agent writing a really bespoke cover letters – or better still, taking the time to contact us separately.
  • Some kind of showreel. Not so we can judge your talent, but so we can get a sense of you.
  • Having Shakespeare on your CV. In principle we don’t mind if you don’t, but it’s riskier for us. Even amateur, fringe or student stuff is better, or having done extracts or a class in it.
  • Applying early. More on that next week.
  • Supporting your application with a quick email. I hesitate to write this here, since we get so many. In fact, remind me to hide this sentence when we’re actually casting*. But it does help. If nothing else, it means we’re more likely to see your name twice. More on this next week.
  • Luck and/or Perseverance. It’s sad but it’s true. Those aren’t great odds and every time., I’m sure, we miss someone great. But the more times you try, the higher your chances. More on this in Part Three.

Some things that will give you a disadvantage:

As above, a lot of this stuff is personal to us. Ignore what you don’t agree with!

  • Spelling our names wrong. Or getting the company name wrong.
  • Agents who submit six actors with the same “bespoke” cover letter.
  • Only having screen work on the CV. We try to be open, but it’s risky.
  • Out of date CVs, or CVs that contradict your cover letter.
  • Unexplained gaps on your CV
  • Disingenuous cover letters. A stock cover note is okay. If it is, don’t try and pretend it’s not.
  • Applying for the wrong part. We’re open minded and often consider all actors for all suitable parts but if we have asked for something specific, make sure you fit the brief. If we’re looking for a black Othello, don’t apply if you’re white. (True fact: we’ve had four male actors ask for auditions this year.)
  • Headshots that look cheap, or like they were taken in your bedroom on a mobile. We don’t want to judge by appearances, but it’s the first thing we see. And when you’re trying to figure out who to call in from a sea of faces, a photo that looks unprofessional doesn’t fill us with confidence.
  • Headshots that look so different that we don’t recognise you when you come in. We’re not casting people based on their beauty, so it won’t give you an advantage. It will just confuse us.
  • Headshots with obvious fake highlights in the eyes. Okay, I confess, this one is personal opinion, but they scare me a little bit. In fact a lot. It makes it look like you’re a robot or something. Freaky.
  • Agents who were obstructive, or didn’t forward on the full information by email, or wouldn’t share contact details of the people we’re auditioning . This was, to be fair, a tiny minority. But it hindered the process we’d set up, and was proper annoying.

There have been exceptions to absolutely all of those points. For example, I can think of two people we almost didn’t call in because they had shocking headshots, but ended up casting them. And eventually gently suggesting they get new ones.

An honest, personal cover letter will often help. Even actors who we know there isn’t a place for, it’s harder to discount them when they’ve done that. It’s especially helpful if you’ve not worked recently, or to explain how certain things on your CV might be relevant.

More on the cover letter next week.


End of Part One

That’s all for now. In the next post, I’ll talk in a bit more detail about timings, cover letters, and agents. (Update: you can read it now, here).

Questions? Don’t agree? Feel free to add any thoughts in the comments below. Or come and see us after a show! Othello is touring now and gets to London in a couple of weeks.

Othello---now-bookingAnd I’d love to hear some views from other casting directors!

*Bonus points if you actually do.

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  • Avatar
    Margaret Tully

    Thank you for these hints and tips. I saw Othello and you are one of my preferred companies. I will put everything into making sure I get to meet you and audition one day. I am particularly grateful to learn that you like to meet your audience after a show. I felt unsure about this. The next time I see your work I will make sure I say hi. In the meantime I will be sending you my details and keeping my eyes peels for your next castings. Thank you Margaret Tully

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Roderigo (Hannah Morley) and Brabantio (Terri Reddin) in Smooth Faced Gents' Othello. Photo: Richard Davenport.