School Musical 101: Auditions & Casting


Casting…. I love the idea and it is essential to putting on a palatable show, but in a school environment with parent and adolescents’ minds it is one of the few dramatic aspects of a high school musical that Glee has captured correctly.
As always,  I have the same approach that exists  with any other show – you want to cast a  performer who will best encapsulate your vision of the character in a performance. Just remember the flack and criticism you receive at the time of casting will be based on speculation,
while the flack and criticism you get when the show is on is based on your hard work…..and some speculation. It is normal before you have auditions to speculate about what students could play certain roles, it is a necessity. I mean, in a school you have such limited casting choices that you will have selected the show based on whether or not you can fill the cast in the first place. But it is essential that you maintain the integrity of the process and keep all roles completely open for everyone. Every show I have directed has ended up with a completely different cast compared to what I estimated before auditions.

Who gets to cast it?

It is important you’re clear with your production team what the process of casting will be and who gets a say. Generally you have the director, choreographer, musical director and potentially a producer sitting in on auditions. In a school environment you may have to have the principal involved, but it is important that it remains consistent and the same people are present for auditions. It is then up to the director how the show is cast, some people prefer to have a voting system amongst the production team, I recommend that it should always be up to the director, however they must make their decision based on the other production team’s respective specialties and therefore be able to justify their decision with reference to these specialties. Either way, just make sure it’s decided before the audition process begins.

Assessment Over Audition

Now onto the actual auditions themselves; Firstly, everyone gets into the show, there’s always room in the ensemble – this is good not only for morale but also your ticket sales. For a school production it is best to not think of the audition process as a matter of who gets in or out, but more of assessment of their skills and how you can use them in the show. Also, logistically it is much quicker if you only audition the lead roles.

So the process I’ve used is that they:

Prepare 30 seconds of a song in the same musical style of the show, which can show off their voice. Provide them with the character scripts you may ask them to read. They’re not guaranteed to get a reading though.

This mentality of “assessment over audition” is something I generally apply to any casting. You’re not looking for the person who is the best at auditioning; you’re looking for the person who will be best fill that role. It is for this reason “cold reads” don’t work.  I mean, you really shouldn’t be auditioning people on their ability to read anyway, when they perform they’re going to know the script, so why not provide them with the scripts for the audition and see whether other of not you can direct them once they know the dialogue?


I’m not really a fan of call backs, because realistically for students it adds more stress and disappointment and a greater chance for students to protest casting issues. Also, I do believe that an audience only has a certain amount of time to make up their mind about a performer so often I find all callbacks do is affirm the casting choices you’ve already made.

If you do get the stage where you feel you need a second look (which I have done before), make sure the process is different to the auditions. I normally run it like a rehearsal/workshop; pick a scene call everyone who you’re interested in and block a scene and learn some singing. Doing this creates a much more supportive environment as everyone is put in an environment where they have to work together (production team included)

What about dancing?

Totally depends on the show. If it is a dancing show do a cattle-call audition where your choreographer teaches a routine and again, the choreographer assesses their dancing and keep it in mind when you’re casting.

Double casting?
Double casting is the process of casting two people in the one role but alternate performances so that more people get a go and have plenty of rest.
Don’t do it. 
It’s never worth it. Generally, it promotes an unnecessary sense of competition within the cast and conflict in regards to whom gets opening/closing night. If you are concerned about how tired the students may get I recommend casting a an understudy and give the understudy only a few performances. If you do this though, be clear from the beginning how many performances each student will get.


Announcing the Cast

The quicker this whole process is the better, don’t get caught up in the drama and tension it creates within the school, you’re not Mr G.  When you’ve picked your brilliant cast your first move is to offer the principal roles to those who were successful. Don’t announce yet, because if someone declines the offer you must fill that role with someone who was next in line. Offer your most important roles first and work your way down and make sure they keep it as secret as possible, hence why acting quickly is best.

Now, when you announce the cast it is always best to keep it positive. Announce who is IN the cast not who isn’t in the cast. Because everyone gets into the show, remember?  Keep the tone of the process positive and congratulate everyone on how good the auditions were and how great the overall show will be with the whole cast – everyone is an essential part to the overall production.

So that’s it! Simple right? There may be controversy, but so long as you can justify everything with evidence, you’ll be fine. Now on to the best part! The first rehearsal! Woot!!


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