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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Saturday (3/5/16) 5:31pm - ... wherein Peter lists some notes about how he ran auditions for Fiasco.

Sushant Sethi is gearing up to direct Happy Fun Time for the Institution Theater, and has asked me if I had any pointers to pass on, since I'd just finished running auditions for Fiasco.  So I figured I'd write up a post of pointers I want to leave for future!Peter in case I wind up running auditions again.


* Bring on your production staff ASAP.  Words cannot do justice to how helpful Kevin (the assistant director) and Joy (the stage manager) were in putting together auditions.  Joy took care of setting up all the audition groups, including all the last-minute "oh now I can't make it at 7pm" schedule-shuffling.  Kevin took care of running all the audition logistics -- setting up exercises, giving the end-of-audition spiel, and so on.  This meant that I could focus on (1) sorting out what I wanted to cover in auditions and (2) taking notes. And that was well enough to keep me busy.

* Use a task-management system to keep track of all the to-do lists for the production.  For auditions, we had a lot of little fidly tasks to take care of, so we used an asana project to manage it all.  It's a great way to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks, and everything gets done on time.

* Well ahead of auditions, try to get out and see some newbie- and student-heavy improv shows, especially if they feature folks trying out for your production.  There really is no substitute for seeing improvisors putting on a real show.

* At least a week ahead of auditions, write and post exactly what you want out of the show, as well as you know it.  I did this for Fiasco, and I'm convinced it *reduced* the number of people who tried out -- and THIS WAS A GOOD THING.  It was a great preliminary filter: everybody who looked at the 'vision statement' for the show and thought 'meh' didn't bother showing up.  The people who remained were, for the most part, really excited about the show I was putting together.  And the last thing you want is for a cast member to be surprised and disappointed by the show that you're putting on -- half the time, they'll keep pressing to do *their* version of your show, which muddles the show's direction and leads to conflict.  (I have both been that performer and been in shows with that performer; it sucks.)

* On your application form, ask what other theater/improv projects applicants had going on.  IMHO, a show can handle one or two people who handling a billion other shows/troupes simultaneously, but by and large you need folks willing to put some focus on your project.

* Figure out what skills you want your cast members to have, and tailor your audition exercises to test for those.  Note some pitfalls you might see, and some good habits you'll keep an eye out for.

* Make good use of your auditioners' time.  There are plenty of horror stories of how somebody shows up to audition for a show, gets to play "sound ball" for two minutes, and then that's it.  That's bullshit, and you want to avoid it.  Your auditioners want a chance to show what they're capable of, and you want to be able to see what they can do.  I took a lot of measures to make sure that each improvisor's half-hour slot would let them shine:

1. I had them warm up in a separate space before their audition.  (Joy oversaw this part.)  This meant we didn't burn any audition time on warm-ups or on awkward "coming in cold" scenework.
2. I didn't give a long, wheezy "here's what the show is" speech (because I'd already written a post about that -- see above).
3. I created as many all-play opportunities as possible.  Whenever I could have everybody onstage performing at once, I did that.  I wanted to maximize each auditioner's stage time.

* Schedule a half-hour break roughly halfway through the auditions.  Ideally, have food delivered to the theater during this break.  This will give you and your AD time to touch base -- but mainly, managing one audition after another after another is fucking grueling and you'll be well served to decompress, so that you can pay proper attention during all the later slots.

* Video the auditions.  I didn't end up going back to this in the casting discussion, but I've found it incredibly useful for giving people audition feedback.

* Print up name tags for the auditions.  This meant I could clearly tell who everybody was -- and I didn't have to worry about (say) somebody writing an illegible scribble in yellow marker and affixing the tag to their butt or something dumb like that.  And even better, I printed up a page of name tags for each audition slot, which meant that the name tags also served as a sign-in sheet.

* Print a second copy of the "name tags" document onto cardstock.  During Fiasco auditions, Joy cut up those sheets and gave us a deck of cards, each with an auditioner's name.  Having cards we could shuffle, move around, and stack became incredibly handy for the casting discussion.  Even better, Joy wrote each person's rehearsal/performance conflict tally (if any) on their cards, so we immediately knew if we were casting anybody who might be (say) missing a ton of rehearsals.

* If anybody complains about your casting, reply with this xkcd link.


That's about all I can think of for now.  Keep in mind that other directors, I'm sure, run things differently -- obviously, I tend to be hyper-organized and heavy on planning, but hopefully some of these ideas can be generally useful for folks who aren't me.  Best of luck!

Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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