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Richard Jordan: It’s easier now to apply for roles, but is that causing problems for producers?

Toby Lee, David Flynn and Selma Hansen in School Of Rock at the New London Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton School of Rock at the New London Theatre recently held open auditions for its young cast. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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We all know how competitive the theatre profession is. “How many actors does it take to change a light bulb?” I heard a colleague recently joke, “One, and 10 others to say it should have been me!”

In the past, one of the biggest challenges actors had to contend with was the long line at the open audition for a production advertised in The Stage.

That’s assuming that neither they, nor their agent, had been able to secure a closed audition. Then there was sending out endless CVs and the weekly visits to the library to scan the pages of PCR for any castings. Getting an audition took some effort, and a lot of headshots, paper clips, envelopes and stamps.

Today, making a submission has never been easier. Anyone can upload a CV with a photo of themselves taken on a smartphone, and send it with a quick click of a mouse. That’s regardless of whether the actor has actually studied the casting brief. But, as a result, there are major challenges for the actor, the theatre and the producer.

Because of the volume of CVs they now receive, many theatres and producers have stopped advertising open auditions or even announce castings.  At one leading US theatre, its casting department recently told me how for one casting call pre-email era they’d have received about 200 applications in the post; today, they receive more than 2,000 by email.

At the risk of upsetting conservationists, there is an advantage in considering a return to the old-school method of sending a letter; whether that’s for a casting or employment enquiry, a submission of a play, an invitation to a reading or production, or simply just to get some advice.

With the volume of daily emails, the more speculative emails move down the list and can easily get forgotten. In contrast, a letter often sits on the person’s desk nagging them into a reply.

It will certainly stand out from those lost in the email inbox and, by marking the envelope to the recipient “Private and Confidential”, it should at least have a better chance of getting into the right person’s hands.

The hope is always that talent will out, but today’s growth in numbers entering the entertainment industry – particularly from sectors such as reality television – is not being matched by the same swell of growth in the industry. With the closure of theatres and funding cuts, a career in the arts has possibly never been more challenging.

Some years ago, casting a production would often be undertaken by its director with only larger producing theatres or organisations having a casting director. Today, the casting director is an expected and essential member of most production teams. In every way they are a creative artist in their own right.

But there is an interesting development that has happened over the past few years that could lead to issues down the line, as various casting directors in theatre and film have also become represented by agents.

Like any other creative artist, the casting director deserves representation. But, if that agent represents actors as well, that would seem to be a distinct advantage to that agency in any possible castings.

Almost all casting directors are highly professional and would look beyond an agency that represented their own client rostra.

Nevertheless, it is still a clever move by a leading agency because, by adding casting directors to their books, they could get a potential head-start knowing about any upcoming casting and production opportunities often far ahead of any rivals.

Predominantly, this model of casting director representation has been developed by the larger agencies. My concern is that longer term, if this trend grows, there is a risk it could change the balance of opportunities in the industry.

This would need to be addressed, especially for other agents and their clients who are without a leading casting director on their books. At the very worst, it could also exacerbate any accusation of the arts as being a closed shop.

For the producer who wants a star name for their production or film, there may be a distinct advantage in engaging the casting director who is represented by the same agency. That also provides the agent with a healthy in-house commission through both hirings.

An acting graduate entering the industry today will also need to consider this carefully in their choice of representation. Understandably, they may feel drawn to an agency because of the fact they also represent a leading casting director, even if another agency may actually be the better fit for them.

Independent career adviser John Colclough, formerly of the actor directory Spotlight, advises: “Don’t give your career to someone else. It’s your company and business – don’t give it away. Actors shouldn’t give their careers to an agent – it’s a partnership of equals with the same goal.”

That is sage advice. However, actors should consider the troubling fact that while the web has offered them a greater profile and the chance to put themselves up for more roles than ever, at the same time opportunities within the industry may actually be shrinking.

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