Top casting directors deny theatre is a ‘closed shop’

The Threepenny Opera at the National Theatre, directed by Rufus Norris. Photo: Tristram Kenton The Threepenny Opera at the National Theatre, directed by Rufus Norris. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Leading casting directors including Anne Vosser and Pippa Ailion have denied that theatre is a “closed shop” that only favours actors with existing connections.

It follows remarks made by National Theatre director Rufus Norris, who admitted he likes to give nearly half the parts in his shows to people he knows or has worked with before – and suggested other directors may do the same.

After his comments, a poll by The Stage suggested that nine out of 10 readers believe casting is a closed shop.

Vosser told The Stage that, while directors do sometimes cast performers they have worked with before, there is “quite a high percentage that are really excited about seeing new people”.

She conceded: “Obviously I have my own favourites as well. There’s [a certain] number of people who’ve been in maybe three or four musicals I’ve cast. But I like to see new people.”

Vosser said casting the same people was more “prevalent with plays than it is with musicals perhaps”, because directors might feel safer using people that they know. She claimed one of the biggest problems in casting was the “sheer volume” of actors trying to get work. She revealed she received 4,000 submissions for the Guys and Dolls tour.

Ailion, who has cast shows including Wicked and The Lion King, said Norris’ casting practice was “very understandable”, but claimed he was wrong to suggest many other directors did the same.

“I don’t think that’s usual of most directors. I think most directors, and certainly the ones I’ve worked with, welcome and want new talent – and I see that as my job to find it,” she said.

Ailion said she did not see any problems with current casting practice, calling it “a very thorough process”.

She also suggested that the inability of some actors to see themselves in anything other than a leading role was holding them back.

“They’ve got to realise that if you’re a really wonderful supporting actor you could be working all the time, because those roles exist in every show,” she said.

Meanwhile, casting director Stephen Moore, who cast The Boys in the Band, said the sector was “no more of a ‘closed shop’ now than it has been in the past”.

He said that theatre required a longer commitment from those involved, so directors needed to feel confident the actors were on the same wavelength.

“It’s totally understandable when directors want to cast good actors who they know well and who they’ve worked with before,” he said.

But he added: “At the same time, in my experience, directors also love being introduced to actors whose work they don’t know. I find that directors are often energised by the prospect of working with someone exciting and unfamiliar.”