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What does the industry want from musical theatre graduates?

ArtsEd musical theatre students performing in Curtains. Photo: Robin Savage
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Talent and technique are must-haves for anyone pursuing a musical theatre career, but what else do you need to succeed in auditions? Casting directors, producers and agents tell Samantha Marsden what they are looking for…

Someone to become part of the family

Danielle Tarento, producer and casting director: “I’m looking for a strong, solid, trained voice and truthful, honest acting through song. But, equally as important as talent and ability, I’m looking for a person I want to work with. Kindness, integrity, passion and a good sense of humour are what makes a family – and a family makes a show what it is.”

Danielle Tarento is a freelance producer and casting director. She won best producer at the Off West End Awards 2012 and her credits include Titanic the Musical, Ragtime and Grey Gardens.

Team Players

Jamie Wilson, producer: “We look for people who are passionate, professional and, most importantly, team players. During auditions, it’s sometimes obvious to us which theatre school the artist has trained at. This is normally based on how they conduct themselves in and outside the room and their attention to detail in presentation.”

Jamie Wilson has produced more than 50 productions in the UK and internationally. In 2019, he is lead producer on three musicals in London: On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, Nativity! The Musical and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.


Tom Gribby, head agent at Northbridge Talent: “The Northbridge Talent team and I look for proactiveness, fire, ambition and drive in our graduate selections. As a boutique agency, we pride ourselves on excellent communication with all our clients, and a personable approach in an industry where building good relationships and rapport are essential. It is nice to hear of graduates who are constantly working on their own personal development (through workshops, singing lessons and dance classes) and also a keen awareness of what is happening in the industry.”

Tom Gribby has worked as a performer in theatre, TV and film. Credits include A Chorus Line and 42nd Street, and work for Channel 4. He has also worked as a creative and concept designer on several theatrical residencies, UK tours, and corporate events worldwide.


Pippa Ailion, casting director: “A new musical graduate needs an infectious energy, hunger and passion – and to be so well prepared for their audition that they establish an immediate confidence in the team. I want them to be able to listen, take direction, not talk too much, and above all believe in themselves. I want to know I would like to work with this actor and that they would fit into a company. I want them to display confidence, connect with the team, connect with the reader, own the space while they are in the room and thank the pianist.”

Pippa Ailion has been a casting director since 1987. West End credits include Billy Elliot, The Lion King, We Will Rock You, Acorn Antiques, Simply Heavenly and Follow My Leader.

Performers who can take direction

David Hutchinson, producer and director: “I look for someone who takes direction well, and has the willingness to learn, grow and develop. Alongside their talent, I’m looking for a kind-natured person who is hardworking and positive – contributing to the company both on and off-stage is absolutely key.”

David Hutchinson is the chief executive and founder of Selladoor Worldwide and is also managing director of I AM Marketing and Prime Pantomimes. Producing credits include: 9 to 5 the Musical, Fame, Madagascar the Musical, Jersey Boys, Flashdance the Musical, Big Fish the Musical, Little Shop of Horrors and Avenue Q.

Artists who take risks

Nikolai Foster, artistic director of Curve, Leicester: “It is clear there is an abundance of technically gifted young artists graduating from drama schools. However, it would be good to see more young actors who are prepared to take greater risks in the audition room: the singing and dancing aspect of the process is imperative, but we are increasingly interested in folk with an active imagination and graduates who have a unique and compelling view of the world we live in. We need actors to be brave, vulnerable and excited by taking artistic risks. The brutal nature of auditions (especially for musicals) forces artists to be polished and proficient, but when given the opportunity to reveal something of themselves and imaginatively relate the material to our society, they often find it challenging. The high-stakes, make-or-break audition process dulls the senses and we need actors who are able to quickly demonstrate a sense of inner truth and confidence in dealing with complex ideas and emotional states. It can be electrifying when you find graduates who can combine technical expertise with flair, imagination and emotional intelligence.”

Nikolai Foster is artistic director of Curve in Leicester. His credits as a director include Grease, An Officer and a Gentleman, Legally Blonde, Annie, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, The Hired Man and Calamity Jane.

How to choose a musical theatre course

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