Why I Love Casting, by Jack Bowman
On Wednesday, the gang started something enormously exciting: casting for Wireless Theatre’s next live project – A Very Grimm Christmas to be performed at the Roundhouse in early December. It’s a massive project – our biggest yet, and quite rightly so as we should Always Be Bigger And Better – which will see six shows recorded over three nights, one of which I have the honour of adapting and directing. As we speak, drafts are flying back and forth, notes are being sent from all sources, all opinions are gratefully received, and thus begins the process of casting. For me, it’s the most exciting part of any production. So, come, faithful reader, let me tell you why…
I started out as an actor in 62BC or thereabouts, naturally attending many auditions for many different things; some jobs I got, others I didn’t. Some auditons were great experiences and brilliant fun; others… not so. Yet I was always learning about the process and myself. Mental notes were (and are) always made – to this day I still take notes from good and bad auditions when I get a rare call-up.
Roll on several centuries and, as floppy drives began to die out, I found myself writing and, for the first time, involved in a casting process from ‘the other side’. We were looking for a young actress for FROZEN, which meant seeing a variety of experienced and inexperienced performers. Remembering how nervous I’d been in my first few years, I was determined to make it as relaxed as possible for them all. And we had a great day – literally everyone gave us a great audition, we had fun, saw so much potential and talent and still, to this day, Peter Davis never asked why someone walked in, pointed at him and stated, “he doesn’t have an eye-patch”.
And, I know that hearing you’ve not got the job is a hard thing, it’s worth remembering it’s just as hard for the casting team. The worst part of that day – the pain for the pleasure, as if it were – was sitting through that list, knowing we had ten brilliant options and only one could get the role. For the first time in our lives, there were nine calls to make, all saying “sorry”, despite the brilliance of everyone.
Rolling on into the era of touch-screen thingies and an Equity requirement to change my stage name, the Wireless Theatre Company has taken me into directing and producing, which means seeing more scripts than You Can Possibly Imagine and taking on several productions with the hope of Making This Audio Stuff Sound Good. The best part for me is still the casting – finding the actors with right stuff that will adhere to the golden rule: Serve The Story. You read the script and think the vital questions – Who could play this? Would this actor do that? Are they free? Can we get them? And, so far, I’ve been enormously spoilt and flattered in that virtually, nearly everyone I’ve asked to be part of a company directed or produced by me for Wireless or beyond, whether auditioned, work-shopped or just asked out-right, has said “yes, I’d love to” – something of a blessed relief on the first Springheel serial, which will use 37 actors by the time it’s finished and released. Yes, we were that insane and, yes, we knew we were that insane at the time! Yet, there’s honestly nothing more satisfying when your instincts for choosing an actor work and things click into place – it’s a feeling only surpassed when an actor you know well surprises you with something so left-field. It only serves to enrich your experience and knowledge of the people your work with.
However, the best of the best, the one thing I love above all – like the auditions we had yesterday, which serves the Wireless mission of new talent – is meeting new actors. Brand new people to see, read with and get to know. Mariele should be justly proud of the fact that Wireless has already used over 160 actors across 100 productions, always making sure that we never remain insular in anyway. Of course, we invite actors back, because so far they’ve all been sweet-hearts and we want to work with them again, yet we always strive, quite rightly, to bring new acting talent to the mix of each production. I adore the opportunity to put someone new in front of Mariele, watching them do their thing on the mic, and wait for her to lean in and say, “they’re really good you know.”
The first set of auditions this week for the Roundhouse were a joy – so many new faces, so many familiar friends doing their thing and surprising you, to see the confidence of old pros and the charm of nervous young actors recently graduated. Yet more than all this, to see so many people take the audition sides, take Stuart’s words and offer Wireless and the Roundhouse so many worlds of possibility – when someone reads those words and elevates them. It’s an alchemy where the speech is no longer just black ink on white paper; genuine magic occurs that turns the words into something living, breathing, beautiful, engaging and hypnotic. And with casting like this, you never know when it will happen. There is nothing that compares for me in the pre-production process than having a moment of witchcraft like that. And for that reason, I’d like to say to everyone who’s been, and everyone who’s coming, thank you. You keep the magic alive.