Good casting is an important step in the process of bringing new work to screen and stage, but we don’t often hear about the role of a casting director, or the skills involved in seeking a career as one.
The recently launched Casting Guild of Australia (CGA) has joined the industry with the aim of recognising the work that casting director’s do, monitoring practices and working to make sure actors aren’t exploited.
Australian Stage talks with Melbourne Theatre Company Casting Director, Janine Snape, about the job, some crucial tips for actors, and being a member of the CGA.
How long have you worked as a casting director? What got you into this line of work?
I’ve worked in casting for over 15 years. No casting director seems to follow the same path into this field. I see it as a kind of apprenticeship. The great thing about casting is you’re constantly learning and expanding on your knowledge.
I danced and studied music as a youngster, then writing and literature with some drama studies thrown in. I worked for a freelance arts publicist in Melbourne, then with a theatre producer and was roped in to assist some American casting directors who were in Melbourne casting a musical.
Something just clicked. I discovered many years ago that I’d prefer to be near the spotlight but not in it and behind the camera, not in front of it.
You’re currently the casting director for the Melbourne Theatre Company. Have you always worked in casting theatre? Or have you also worked across film and TV?
I moved to London and worked with a few agents, then the RSC was looking for someone to help out in their casting office on a short term contract and an agent recommended me.
I’ve also worked in freelance casting for TV, film and commercials as well as freelance theatre.
Is there are difference to casting for the different mediums?
Many of the skills required of a casting director remain the same such as negotiating deals, budgeting, liaising with agents and actors, producers and directors and keeping your finger on the pulse to find new talent and of ensuring a director has the best possible actor for a role subject to availability.
In my opinion, a great performance always comes from the same place; it must be truthful, and this applies to all casting.
In theatre, I look for vocal strength and clarity, diction, physicality (how a performer moves around a room or on stage and whether they physically inhabit a character). I also look for emotional and physical connection to the language and the ability to engage an audience.
Most of these criteria also apply to screen casting. Casting involves building a cohesive company in collaboration with the director and taking into consideration who will work well together. In theatre, this includes thinking about how well a cast will gel in a rehearsal room over a length of time, as well as how they will fit together within the context of the production.
In theatre, an actor requires the vocal stamina to rehearse full-time and then to sustain eight shows a week once they are in performance. In screen, the camera magnifies everything right down to the blink of an eye, it’s very detailed and an actor needs to be able to adjust the size and volume of their performance vocally and physically to suit the medium.
And it’s true that the camera loves some actors. I’ve seen actors absolutely transform on screen as well as on stage. It’s really exciting when it happens.
You’re a member of the new Casting Guild of Australia (CGA), tell us how the guild came about?
The idea of forming a Guild has been discussed on and off in the past. Mel Mackintosh, one of our committee members, raised some on-going industry issues via email and things progressed from there.
Other casting directors saw the importance and value of creating a Guild and committed to making it happen and here we are, nearly one year later.
Why now? What was the catalyst for finally coming together in 2013?
Casting directors currently working in the industry seem to be more open to discussing issues and providing support to each other.
It’s a growing industry and casting can be a very pressurised and unpredictable job at times, so having a Guild to refer back for advice, and also having support from others who share a common goal and approach to their work, is fantastic.
The Guild also allows individual casting directors a chance to engage with key industry bodies and to air any concerns as a united voice to SPAA or MEAA or to state funding bodies.
What are some of the long-term goals of the guild?
The Guild is still very young and there are many issues still being discussed. We are still finding our common voice. We hope to raise the profile of our profession by insisting on appropriate casting credits and working towards awards for casting in stage and screen.
We also aim to build stronger relationships with key industry stakeholders and create a set of standards and guidelines for members.
How will this benefit actors within the Australia Industry?
All members of the Guild share a common goal and commit to following a code of conduct.
Actors will benefit as the Guild establishes a recognised standard of professionalism in the industry.
Members of the Guild will take steps to distance ourselves from any bad business practises in the industry and work ethically to prevent exploitation of actors.
Finally, what tips would you give actors heading it to an audition with a Casting Director, to give them the best possible shot at the role(s)?
• Be prepared, research the director, writer, the play, the company etc. Ensure you know the format of the audition (ie. if it’s a movement call or physical workshop, take the right shoes and wear appropriate clothing). If you are given the entire play or script, read it all, not just the scenes you have been asked to prepare.
• Don’t be late, but don’t arrive an hour early! Plan your journey ahead of time.
• Be polite, be yourself.
• Engage with everyone in the room. I’ve been auditions when an actor has failed to engage or make eye contact with a director. This doesn’t bode well for working together.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you’re not clear on something.
• If you're asked to do something on the spot and need a few moments to mentally prepare, ask for the time rather than rushing in.
• Adjust your performance to suit the size of the space.
• Respond to the director’s instructions, and be open to taking direction.
• Think posture – this will help with your breath control when reading. Take your time and remember to breathe. Nerves can make you rush through things.
• Remember you're there because we believe you can get the job.