Planning and Running Auditions, Part II

June 12, 2010




How do you keep the kids and their parents from getting angry when you post the cast list? My librettist Matthew Boresi runs the musical theatre program at the Music Institute of Chicago, and he has developed an ingenious plan to minimize blowback. First, he sends home a letter to the parents about the right way to deal with the cast list. The parents are instructed to read this letter to their kids. The letter includes passages like the following:

  • Who is placed in what role often has as much to do with fit, not solely with ability.  It is not a case of the “best” person getting the biggest role and the “worst” person getting the smallest.  Theater isn’t a foot race with a first and last place – it is about telling a story!


  • The people watching auditions (i.e., the teachers) want everyone to do a great job!  We want our biggest problem to be how to give great roles to everyone, and we hope the students will make our task challenging by having strong auditions.  This isn’t like American Idol – we don’t hope you mess up – and we don’t ever make fun of you!


  • Unfortunately, we can’t learn everything about a student’s talent from one audition – and we make mistakes sometimes!   If someone doesn’t get the part they wanted, they may have had a bad day, or maybe we did!  One audition does not prove whether you are “good” or “bad,” and the show must go on…


Although it is rarely apparent to a disappointed young actor when casting is announced – no matter what their role, our productions are always a fun and exciting learning experience for everyone involved.  It is impossible to completely suppress one’s ego or desire for a specific role, but the more one thinks of this program as a weekly workshop that ends with a recital, the more they can get on with the business of learning and fun.


We hope that these notes help you discuss the audition process with your young performer.  Auditioning is a sometimes nerve-wracking but perpetually present element of Musical Theater, and we hope to help our students become as comfortable with it as possible!  As always, do not hesitate to contact us with questions at…

Then, (and here’s the diabolically clever part) he doesn’t post the cast list until he’s already rehearsed group numbers for three weeks. The kids are enjoying one another’s company and have already bonded and made friends before the drama of who is cast takes over. He has very few calls, and very few kids drop out of the show. This approach may not be possible in your situation, but what you do before the auditions can make the post-audition drama a little less maddening.

If parents do call, I like to remind them that rejection is a big part of being an actor, and that if their child wants to pursue a career in the theatre, dealing with rejection is absolutely essential. Sometimes this strategy works. Sometimes parents just can’t be placated. Cast as fairly as possible, and then sympathetically hold a firm line.


As you’re discussing who will be called back with the rest of your directorial staff, be thinking about what you’ll need to see as the vocal director. Is there a song selection which would show you what you need from all your male actors? Or 2 selections, one for tenors and one for basses? Try and pick something hard and short, and teach it to the kids you called back. Usually it’ll wind up as a pool. For example, if you’re casting Oklahoma, your pool for men will include Curlys and Will Parkers and Juds and Carneses. Your best singing actor who fits the part will probably be Curly. The rest of the guys who were up for Curly will probably be the pool for Will Parker and Jud. (Jud should be your best actor) A great side (a side is a portion of a monologue or song chosen for audition purposes) to teach the guys would be the section that has “I got a beautiful feelin’ everything’s goin’ my way”, which is a little tricky, and somewhat high. You don’t need to hear everyone sing everything they’re up for if you’re careful in your choices of sides. The director should be doing the same with dialogue from the show.

There may be a place in the show where two characters need to sing together and balance. You may want to sing couples together to find out if one of them blows the other one out of the water. But don’t waste everyone’s time. If you really only have one choice for a role, don’t keep everybody singing for no reason.


You should have a meeting scheduled after the callbacks, and it should certainly be in a place where none of the people who auditioned can hear you talk candidly. It is also very important that you remove people from the room who should not be helping you make decisions. Helpful parents shouldn’t be there unless they’re directing. Your costume designer does not need to be there; probably your rehearsal pianist shouldn’t be there either. Under no circumstances should students be in the casting room. Unless your school has some specific casting related policies and procedures that need to be followed, I don’t know if an administrator has a place in the room either. The meeting should have only the people who are most qualified to make the decisions, it should be as candid as possible, and as free of unhelpful input as possible. It should also be understood by everyone in the room that none of the discussion leaves the room.

Start with the casting of the most difficult parts; the leads. You’ll probably hit a ‘catch-22’ spot at some point, where casting the perfect X messes up your casting for Y. If that happens, ask the utilitarian question: “Does this show work without an interesting person playing role X?” “Does it work without a good actress playing Y?” Answer that question, and then go with it. Many times that question is about the protagonist and the antagonist. Some shows demand a good actor playing the protagonist. Carousel is an example of that. (please don’t do Carousel at a middle school) You must have a good Billy Bigelow. Jigger can be anybody. Oklahoma needs a good actor playing Jud, otherwise what’s the point of the show? Laurey doesn’t want to go to the social with Jud because he’s frightening, not because he’s a dead fish. But a lousy Will doesn’t sink the show.

You’re probably not going to get your way about every part, so go into that meeting knowing which hills you’re willing to die on, and concede other parts that aren’t so important to you. Don’t be afraid to advocate strongly for your position. And when you’ve worked your way down to the very small parts, that’s the time to look through your list for kids who have put in their time, but didn’t make the cut to be a lead, or kids who have potential, but aren’t ready for the big leagues yet. Don’t give kids roles they can’t handle just to be nice.


How strong is your stomach? If you can handle it, put the list up when you’re there to talk to kids. If you can’t handle the drama, (no pun intended) post the list on the internet or post it right before you leave for the day. Even if you think nobody will believe you, put a blurb on the sheet that thanks everyone for coming and tells people they did a good job. It’s a courtesy, but a good one.

Casting is 90% of the success of a show. Getting the right person in the right role is crucial. Take the time to do the planning and preparation to start with your best foot forward in the audition process.



  1. I’m curious, I’ve stumbled on this blog looking for putting on school plays with no auditions. See my daughter is new to the school this year and signed up for drama. She got a great part in her old school play the year before. This new school writes the play (which they’ve been doing since Sept.) and then performs the play. Today the cast list came out. Without auditions. She got a part with 5 lines. Had she known from the start they wouldn’t audition for parts and they just get assigned she wouldn’t have done it. It’s a private school and she’s the first new kid in the class. Ever. She’s in 6th grade. Had she tried out and gotten that part… ok. Although clearly with auditions they would have just done the same thing. However, I think this is a hill to die on- she’s already gotten it rubbed in her face she didn’t get a good part. They went so far as to have each kid write down who they think should get what part! Back to being curious… how do you feel about ‘blowback’ in this case?

    • Stacy-

      I don’t really know enough about your situation to make judgements on it, and I’ve only heard your side of the story, so what’s going on may well be more complicated than you or your daughter know. I will say that casting without auditions isn’t the way I would do it. It is common practice to ask someone auditioning which part they would like to be considered for, but not at all common (and I think probably inadvisable) to ask the students themselves who they thought should be cast. The situation where I could envision something like that working is when the entire school operates in that manner, as some progressive schools do. In that case, students would have lots of experience making decisions collectively. And then I think most importantly, as I tried to make clear in my post, all these procedures should be laid out very clearly in communication to parents at the beginning of the process, so that you aren’t surprised by the procedures at the end.

      I’m afraid the other kids being mean about casting is almost ubiquitous and nearly impossible to police. For my own children, who also audition for shows and sometimes aren’t cast, I try to manage their expectations about other kids and make clear that for our family, kindness is a must, and we treat others, (even the ones who rub things in other people’s faces) respectfully. As you navigate this difficulty, keep in mind that the teachers are almost certainly trying to do the very best they can for all the students, and that they have many parents and students to interact with, probably all of whom would have cast the production differently. Best of luck!

      • Thanks! I’m also a high school teacher, so I do understand the difficulties of teaching. I just was shocked that there were no auditions. Had we known this was going to be based on some completely unknown process- I highly doubt my daughter would have rolled the dice on the off chance she might possibly get a part. Part of me wishes they just held fake auditions and gave kids the parts they wanted to give anyway- that way the conversation about being disappointed would be very different rather than a conversation about her wanting to not take the part as a protest to the lack auditions. She’s 11 and righteous. If she had gotten a better part, would she still be thinking this way? I’m not sure, and perhaps that’s the lesson. Your response at least makes me feel like I’m not crazy in thinking no auditions and no transparency is odd. Thank you for responding. Oh and mean girls??? Yeah that’s just an on going conversation and at this age, I agree it is more of a reflection on parenting rather than the child.

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