Open Forum

That dreaded discussion

  • 1.  That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-20-2019 08:18
    Good morning colleagues,

    I thought I'd post a question and see how others deal with a situation I'm sure we have all faced.

    We all have worked with talented young adults with our programs. Some of them, like any other aspiring professional, take dance, have vocal training and even may have an acting coach. Some have all of these, a portion of these and some have none. Even with training/no training, it comes down to talent. I have had several students that have all the training and still are not right for roles. I have had others with no training that just have the "it" factor.

    Then you have the parents, who like any parent, think that there kids are the most talented, and cause angst and drama every time there is a casting for a show. Sometimes it is blatant with social media. Other times it is more passive aggressive. In some cases the kids will act similarly.

    So to my question, how do you approach such situations?

    Crit Fisher
    Lighting/Sound Designer
    New Albany High School

  • 2.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-20-2019 10:59
    I ALWAYS preface my auditions with the fact that I am looking for the overall "best" cast/ensemble for this particular production. Sometimes this means that very talented actors aren't cast. They may not be "right" for the particular roles available or they may be wonderful in the role but not with the way the rest of the cast comes together. It's not about the individual actor (unless they've shown they can't be a part of the production until they earn trust back from past choices that negatively affected a production). It's about the production and the ensemble that is being created.

    I also encourage the students come and speak to me with any questions after auditions. I give them a week to come ask why they were cast where they were (or weren't) and sometimes the answer is that they did a great job at auditions but just didn't quite fit into the rest of the cast this particular time. I give specific notes (that's why it's only a week - after that I get rid of the notes from the auditions) so they can reflect and make any adjustments for future auditions. I also base my choices on what happens in the actual auditions and, since I've been at my school for so many years, it's established that this is what happens. It has led to very talented students who don't have strong auditions not being cast in productions - even when I know they would be wonderful in the roles available; so the students know I mean this. Auditions matter and they can't ever walk in assuming a part is their's.

    I do not discuss this with the parents. They are not present in auditions and, since I work with high schoolers, I'm also trying to teach the students to step forward and ask questions. I think this is an important life lesson and a great teaching moment.

    I do recommend that anyone not cast try to be involved in the crew. This isn't always possible. Sometimes I run out of crew positions when there are still interested students. But I do let anyone not cast know how much they will improve next time they are on stage having learned another part of what makes theatre happen. Most of the time they have a great time on crew and come back to the next audition stronger.

    In terms of the social media and passive aggressive situations... I follow all school and district guidelines first. This may mean a referral is written for a student or communication in cut off with a parent without an advocate in the room. I personally have not had to go that far with a parent, but I would. If it's not too bad I'll discuss the issue and acknowledge the feelings of disappointment that are being dealt with. I never discuss anyone's audition with anyone other than that specific individual.

    Shira Schwartz
    Chandler Unified School District
    Chandler AZ

  • 3.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-20-2019 15:43
    Thanks Shira. We function the same as you do but have had the passive aggressiveness on social media.

    Crit Fisher
    Lighting/Sound Designer
    New Albany High School

  • 4.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-21-2019 07:39
    We use a drama contract for our year and students sign an audition memorandum at the auditions where they also receive a production calendar and contract if needed.  Fortunately, I have not had to experience much of that sort of angst recently, but we did go through a pretty rough turn several years ago-- where I did not cast a student and have asked students to leave a production for similar behaviors to which you describe.

    Ultimately, I think one can just meet with students and parents, take the actions you see fit for your program; involve your administration in the loop; and state your case for the production making sure your vision for the program is articulated often.

    Hope all goes well

    Michael Johnson
    Trinity NC

  • 5.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-21-2019 09:40
    I always take a minute to thank everyone who participated in auditions and explain that I am trying to put together a very specific puzzle for the show.  Everyone is a great puzzle piece and may complete a puzzle just might not be the right piece for the puzzle I am working on putting together.  I emphasize that it doesn't mean the student isn't talented or isn't any good; it just means they aren't the right fit for that specific show.  I encourage them to please audition again in the future if they don't end up cast in the production.  It has helped both students and parents see the distinction.

    Amy MacCord
    Musical Theatre Teacher
    Hawthorne FL

  • 6.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-21-2019 09:45
    Boy, have I encountered this!  Early in my career, I developed an audition rubric.  I tweak it depending on the needs of the show.  It is sent out with the audition notice.  It includes a field for role desired, and if the actor will accept any other roles.  Then, in addition to myself, my music director, and choreographer I bring in a theatre person from outside the school.  All of the auditions are scored.  Then I place each composite score into the character (s) that they are being considered for and rank them by score.  I make these scores available to the administration, but NEVER directly to the parents.  If they have an issue with casting, they are free to request a conference with myself and the principal to discuss the scores.  I have only had this happen twice over the 20 years I have taught.  Once, the parent was shocked to discover how low her daughter scored from the Broadway veteran that was my guest judge.  

    Myndee Fleury Washington

    Music & Drama Teacher

    Union Park Charter Academy

    "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you EVERYWHERE"- Albert Einstein

  • 7.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-21-2019 12:05
    Edited by Douglas Rome 11-21-2019 12:07
    With the class and at pre-audition workshop, I ask the group to look around and cast "Little Red Riding Hood," and I take suggestions. Then I challenge them about whether to change their cast if a person they'd picked for Red reallllllllllly wanted to play the Wolf, or Grandma wanted to be Red, etc.  They can usually see that these requests make for an awkward fit.  But what if the "wrong Red" was super talented? What if they did the lead in the last show? What if (for musicals) they sang in the wrong range? What if they'd been to a professional drama camp or class? What if one of them was more senior than the other? This setup provides a risk-free opportunity to explain how you cast, what you're looking for, what "counts" and what doesn't.

    With the students, I ask how they thought their audition went, how prepared they felt, whether they'd read the play, attended the pre-audition workshop, etc.  I'll refer to my audition notes and share specifics if I'd written any down that help the conversation.  There's usually some insecurity about how it all went, and that helps move the conversation forward.  If they got a smaller role than they "deserved"/hoped for, I remind them how they are always auditioning, showing me their dedication, skill, ability to create a strong character and work well with others, so when, in the future, the role they wish for is also a perfect fit, I'll be delighted to cast them.  Dropping out tells me they are unreliable...why would I take that risk in the future?

    With the parents, I try to turn the conversation to one about resilience. This is an opportunity to help the child bounce back from disappointment. How great that it's happening while they are still at home, with that parental safety net to help catch them -- better than shielding them from all pain until they are alone at college.  I also ask the parent about their kid's preparation.

    One must NEVER retract casting (even if you've made a genuine mistake picking that person) -- there's no way to recover from that.

    Douglas "Chip" Rome
    Theatre Consultant
    Educational Stages
    Burke VA

  • 8.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-21-2019 16:13

    Hi Crit!

    If I'm understanding your question correctly, you're asking about approaching the parents who are creating drama related to casting? If so, I hope this helps:

    Several years ago with some drama surrounding our auditions for INTO THE WOODS, I developed a workshop specific to auditioning and rejection (AUDITIONS & REJECTION: PREPARING FOR BOTH). I've since presented that workshop at state and ITF the last few years. After attending the workshop, a teacher asked if I could develop a similar workshop aimed at the parents. She had me come to her school and I did the Audition/Rejection workshop for the students first where parents could observe what I told the students and then I presented a workshop geared specifically to the parents. It was very well received and parents commented how helpful it was to see a bigger picture.


    All that is to contextualize what I would recommend which is to deal with auditioning head on ahead of time explaining what actors CAN and CAN'T control in the process. We do this for all of our Drama classes every fall a few weeks before our first big production. We average 100 students per show auditioning so luckily the word gets around and it's created a culture of better understanding and an approach to auditioning that has eliminated a lot of the added drama (and stress). I'm happy to share my PowerPoints or see you at ITF if I'm teaching again next year! Happy to answer any specific questions on the process or feedback I've received over the years. Have a great week!


    Suzanne Maguire

    Glover M.S. CCLR

    Associate Director, Tiger Drama

    Assistant Coach, Speech & Debate


    Lewis & Clark High School


  • 9.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-22-2019 08:11

    When it comes to education, one of my favorite words is, "yet." You are not right for the role yet.  At this time you are not right for it.  This does not mean the role won't be right at another time.... just not now.  "Yet" gives a nod to potential, to possibility, to what may be as our students continue to create themselves. "Yet" gives students a path forward.

    For me that is the foundation.  With classes we would discuss casting when they put scenes together. "When you are in a group with your friends, how to you figure out who takes which role? What goes into that?" Most of the time they state that whomever wants the role the most takes it. From there we can discuss whether this approach would work or not with our shows at school or in professional theatre. When given the chance to think casting through from the more low stakes situation of a classroom assignment to higher stakes scenarios, students can and do appreciate what it means to select actors for roles. 

    This can be a completely different conversation with parents. As someone mentioned, many believe that their child is entitled to a role or that it is their job to bulldoze a path for their child.  I always clearly state audition criteria and rehearsal/performance responsibilities and make a blank audition rubric available in audition information. I would never make completed rubrics available, but students could discuss their auditions with me after casting if they wanted.  I would only speak with parents after I conferenced with students and the kids were clear on the decision-making process. If parents did come to me, they first had to let me know the reasoning that their child told them (to see if correct communication occurred), and we would work from there.  Overall, the conversation usually boiled down to parents wanting their child to succeed at all costs- and this is a very different conversation than "Why did you not cast my kid?"  The answer to the former question is that sometimes is it OK for someone to not get what they want- and why that, in and of itself, is a necessary skill for a student to have. 

    Suzanne Katz
    Washington DC

  • 10.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-22-2019 11:55
    This is such a great - and important - discussion. I, too, use the jigsaw puzzle analogy with my students in casting a show. I also teach a workshop at our state conference about dealing with parents called "After the List Goes Up." It is difficult for new teachers who must deal with students and parents used to casting being done differently by your predecessor. It is so important to build a culture of respect for a teacher's decisions. Also, administrative support is essential. Having a written Casting Policy helps avoid conflicts. There are many available online, especially from college theatre programs. As stated by many here, although the final decision is made by the director, students and parents must realize it's a decision made by input from the vocal director and choreographer. It's important that all three directors give a numeric evaluation to each students. Hard numbers can answer a lot of questions.


    Roger Paolini
    Buffalo NY

  • 11.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-22-2019 17:03
    Classic situation. I have been very fortunate in not really having to deal with the parental side of this much at all in my life, though I'm sure it's going to happen at some time. My philosophy is to try and nip that sort of thing in the bud as early as I possibly can. I love the response about the giving the kids the experience of having to take all the stuff into consideration that we do, I think that is going to be incredibly valuable to have them experience.

    My conversation with them is always weeks before each audition, day of auditions, and right after auditions. My casting choices are based solely on what I think it going to create the best ensemble as a whole. It doesn't mean I don't think you deserve the part, it doesn't mean that I hate you or think you stink, it doesn't mean that I don't want you involved in the show. It simply means that this is what I think the best combination of people and talents at this point of time is going to be based off of the auditions. I will never, ever stop you from feeling disappointed in not getting a part that you were hoping for. I have experienced that more than a few times myself and I completely understand what you're feeling. So absolutely, take the time to feel what you feel, but don't let it define you. When you come back, come back with the attitude of embracing the role you were given and finding how you are going to be able to use your part to make this show the best it possibly can be. I try to bring it back to the ensemble piece of things, and even for those not cast in the show, I am constantly reaching out to them and reminding them that I want them to be involved and see if we can find ways to include them.

    I hope this helps, and good luck!

    Kevin Goff
    Theatre Teacher
    Beaverton School District
    Beaverton OR

  • 12.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-23-2019 00:43
    Hello Kevin
    I want to thank you for having some compassion to the kids and trying to include them in some capacity. I found my way to this forum, because I am a mother whose daughter just received an email from the high school play director that "there was no place for her" in the play. For the record, I am not one of those parents who will contact the director and bulldoze her into the play. I will not question his decision. Also, I know that my daughter isn't the next Tony award winner.  Instead, she's an awkward 9th grader who isn't yet comfortable in her own skin.  She is self conscious. She has very few friends and wants to be in the play so she can try to find some friends in a school where she doesn't fit in. She didn't want a lead role. She would be happy to be in the ensemble and she would be at every rehearsal with bells on, She just wants to be part of something.
    I would just like to remind the rest of you, that have responded somewhat callously about cutting the kids with no talent. That you're casting high school plays. It isn't broadway. Please get over yourselves and be mindful of these kid's feelings. Try to include them. Be kind.

    Karen Bourneuf
    Kinnelon NJ

  • 13.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-25-2019 10:05
    As high school theater teachers we get to work with students of all talent levels and deal with parents of all types as well. Unfortunately, it is like that for all school activities and classes as well: "My kid should be quarterback", "Why isn't my kid getting an 'A' in your class?", "I should get to be the class president", etc. You just have to take it in stride and help them to feel included and understand why you make the decisions you do. I think at the high school level we should try to include as many as possible in some way (ensemble, back stage, painting sets, makeup/costumes, etc) and I personally try to choose shows with cast sizes that fit how many students I have that want to participate. If they audition they participate in some way with the show even if it is just an extra standing in the background. With that said, someone has to be the "lead" and inevitably someone will be disappointed that they are not cast in the role they want. Sometimes they will feel they are perfect for a role but we might see it differently. It doesn't mean that they aren't good or that we dislike them, it's just that we had a different vision in mind.

    I prepare them before auditions that I (or we when doing a musical and the choir and band teacher help cast) will try to create a cast that fits together and will be believable. It would be awkward and uncomfortable to have a very young freshman lead paired up with a very mature senior lead in a drama where they share a kiss. No matter how talented they are it would feel weird, possibly inappropriate, and not believable. That doesn't mean they aren't talented it just means that role is not a good fit at this time. I try to let them know that we will do lots of different types of shows and that possibly they will be the perfect fit at some point during their high school years. I also let them know that they may never get the role they want but they will always have a chance to be part of the production and the theater group. "Everyone belongs in my theater" is my motto.

    Last spring we did Grease and I had a very talented senior girl that thought she should be Sandy and she was very upset when she wasn't cast in that part. We felt that she would be a better Marty because she would do well with the sassy attitude and we needed that strong, tougher personality. I talked with her after parts were announced and I was able to help her see that Marty would fit her better than shy, quiet Sandy. After the performances she thanked me. She enjoyed playing Marty much more and was glad that we cast it the way we did. She had been so focused on being what is considered the lead female that she was blinded by her desire. I think we need to remind them that it isn't just about being the lead that makes them successful, it's about playing a role that fits who they are and what their talents will allow. We need to teach them to "Act well your part, there all the honor lies" no matter what the part might be and what they feel they deserve.

    Amy Williams
    District Librarian/Theater Teacher
    Thespian Troupe #8881
    Auburn High School
    Auburn, IL

  • 14.  RE: That dreaded discussion

    Posted 11-25-2019 12:50
    Learning to enjoy playing a supporting role instead of the lead is such an important lesson for our students to learn. I've often, in the heat of the post-casting list going up, had to beg kids NOT to quit the show because they didn't get the lead, and would regret it later. I had a boy we cast as Lazar Wolf in "Fiddler" who was very disappointed and had his father phone the musical director saying, "He's accepted in a college theatre program next year. Should he reconsider changing his major?"
       One of my favorite casting stories involves a girl was sure she deserved, and was going to get, Dolly Levi, and told everyone. First auditions are one-on-one with me and also with the vocal director. At the final auditions, everyone called back watches everyone else audition. When she saw the girl we ended up casting sing and act, she came out of the auditions crying, not because she knew she wasn't going to get the role, but she saw what she was up against and thought "What was I thinking!!?"