The Casting Department at the Royal Shakespeare Company
Not many theatres can boast a whole department devoted to casting – but the complex programme that the Royal Shakespeare Company runs requires a level of expertise and professionalism that is illustrated by Hannah Miller.
HM: My job title is ‘Head of Casting’. So I’m the casting director on certain projects as well as the managerial ‘Head of Department’ within the organisation, which means I am involved in the artistic planning and programming for the company.
Very occasionally something will come with an actor attached, or we will try to get an actor attached before we commit to producing it. But the majority of the time we put together a season of work and I will be involved in a budgetary sense, by estimating how many actors I think we could do that set of plays with…
Obviously, you want the best possible people for your productions, you want to get high profile people but it’s not about tipping into celebrity. You want people to come, to respond to the shows, and you want to broaden audiences. So you want to work with people who may attract people to the theatre who might not otherwise come.
My most important relationship is always with the individual directors, but I’m also working within a team.
At the moment (June 2011) I’m working on a project that goes into rehearsals in August and a symposium which will act as a preparation for a project that’s happening in July – but is also preparation for rehearsals next April – and a west end transfer of Matilda which goes into rehearsal at the end of August. The most RSC specific thing is a cycle of three plays where all the cast has to be in all three – so that’s a typical cross-casting core piece of programming for the Stratford season in the main space – the director and I have been considering our leads for about nine months…
Q: So where you’ve got three shows to cross cast what does that mean?
HM When the idea of the project came together, the first stage was to budget it. I was asked if it was possible to cast those three plays – including understudies – with a certain number of actors. We’re probably going to have about eighteen actors and I need to work out which roles each of those eighteen actors will play in each of the three plays. I have to consider that actors would be interested in a nice variety of parts – not necessarily all leads, because that might be too heavy a workload as they all rehearse simultaeneously,. I want to ensure that the actor feels they are being stretched and used in a versatile way across the three productions – and also make sure that everyone gets a nice part at some point.
Q: How do you talk to each director?
HM: It’s unusual on this one, because it’s one director who’s come up with the idea and he is leading the project. He is seeing it as cycle, not three separate productions, with a through-line between the three productions. We begin by talking about the ideas behind the production – is there something extraordinary which will really change the way I approach the making up list? The list will be made up of people who the director suggests, actors they’ve never worked with but they’ve always wanted to, actors they’ve worked with before and really loved working with, actors they’ve heard about, actors I’ve put into the mix and then of course, actors that agents put into the mix and actors who suggest themselves.
With three directors – each of the three directors will suggest actors that they want the other directors to meet. So it’s duplicating the conversation with three people and then seeing where the connections lie, because quite often there will be consistency across those conversations. Michael Boyd once described me as the ‘ring-leader’.
I’m trying to serve each individual director and their production, and make sure I do the best job for them. I’m serving the whole ensemble and group of actors and making sure they’ve each got an interesting journey and I’m serving the RSC and making sure that those productions represent the RSC, the community of actors, agents and colleagues across the whole organisation and industry.
Q: And is there any collaboration between directors?
HM: Yes. Recently we’ve been able to do more auditions with a team of directors, auditioning all in the same room at the same time. From an actor’s perspective that can be great because if you do well, you know that everyone has seen you.
Q: What do you ask the actors to do?
HM: The majority of the time, we ask them to read from the scripts rather than do pieces. And in a case when there’s two, three plays being discussed, I will often just ask them to prepare for two because to prepare three is too much – two’s quite hard, but at least it gives contrast. And then perhaps, if a director still wants to see them do something specific from their play, then we’ll do that as a recall, but we’re trying to use everyones time most effectively.
And as with any casting process you’re trying to ensure that the actors do themselves justice and the directors can find out everything they need to find out. If that’s a workshop audition, great, lovely, if a director doesn’t feel comfortable auditioning with other directors in the room then we won’t do that. Whether it’s a twenty minute, thirty minute or hour long meeting – we will tailor the process to however the directors feel they can best do their job.
Excerpt from The Casting Handbook: For Film and Theatre Makers by Suzy Catliff and Jennifer Granville © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.