When one looks back at the high school drama experience, one common theme continues to rear its ugly head - favoritism. From TV shows to your local high school, you hear all about how favoritism is rampant… But what if I told you it does and SHOULD take more than talent to get a role at the educational level? Blasphemous, right? What else could possibly go into the process?
For those of you who have had to pick shows for either a high school or other groups (community theatre companies, professional companies, etc.) there has to be a fundamental understanding of the community/talent you have access to. If I live in rural Alabama with 1% of the population being Black/African American, I’m sure as heck not going to be Hairspray or Ragtime (though that does not stop people, smh). If I have a huge amount of men who show up to auditions consistently, I probably wouldn’t do Little Women or 9 to 5. You get the point! You have to have some sort of idea of who you could potentially casting so that your company/school has a successful production. However, I will be clear that this is NOT the same as precasting - just because one is aware of the people who could be auditioning and picks shows that suit those strengths is not the same as handing someone a role regardless of the audition. Picking shows without your school in mind is a mistake.
Now, obviously, auditions can be scary! Nerves can happen, and in some cases, they can be super hard to overcome. Something that I have learned over the time I’ve spent auditioning is that instead of looking outwards and blaming others for me not getting what I would have wanted… Let’s examine how I actually did in the room. How did I sound? Was my song/monologue appropriate? Were my beats/intentions clear? There are SO many things that go into your performance/audition, and while obviously we all try our best in the room, sometimes our talent is not showcased to the best of our abilities. While blaming others is a very comfortable thing to do, without looking at what you could have done better you’re limiting your opportunities to grow.
Someone else’s audition:
Sometimes, regardless of the subjectivity of talent, someone has just a better audition than you. It happens! They came in and had a really good day, they sang a better song, they showed their gifts off better than you did in this instance. There’s nothing to be done in a case like this except do the best you can each time you walk into the room. Hell, there are people who I have seen who are just SUCH great auditioners… And that work then doesn’t translate quite as well when they go to perform. Auditioning well is such a valuable skill, and sometimes someone else just comes in and kills it.
What the director values/is looking for:
There are so many interpretations of theatre, which is one of its best qualities. We can agree or disagree, however when it comes to the director's vision at the end of the day that is what will shape the casting process. What if you’re a better singer than actress but the director wants a better actress than singer? Or vice versa? It’s all subjective, but at the end of the day if you don’t fit the director's vision you have to go about changing their mind. That may not happen in 16-32 bars, a cold read, a dance call, and a callback (if you get all of that!). While I did say previously we do need to be introspective about how we do in room, remember that the creative process is still more than just you!
High School Drama, the EXTRAcurricular:
For one, being involved in your school’s shows is not a right but a privilege. Being a student of the school, things like behavior/grades will absolutely be something that is reflected upon. Whether it be in the classroom of the teacher or around the school, being a good citizen absolutely is something that is kept in mind. Being involved with drama (the non-performative sort) or being a disruptive force during the creative process will not bode you well. Regardless of how well you sing or anything of the like, educators don’t reward those (usually) who don’t deserve it. Unreliable students should not, and in many cases do not get what they want in drama departments. While people being a teacher's pet/etc should NOT be the thing that gets people parts, it is absolutely a point in your favor - do your best to be the best you can be… it will more than likely be noticed.
How “talented” you are:
In an attempt to say this as nicely as possible - there are a lot of people in the world who have a slightly (or majorly) inflated sense of self. While someone may think they are the next *insert Broadway star*, the reality of it is that not only is there always someone better… But we may not be good as we think we are (or alternatively, we may not have done as well as we think we did). This is a weird bullet to swallow, but at the end of the day this absolutely can be someone’s Achilles heel.
All of this to say, there is SO MUCH that goes into the picking of shows/casting/the creative process. While obviously there are PLENTY of schools/instances that really go above and beyond anything I’ve just talked about, we do have to continue to keep in mind the multidimensional aspect of casting and season selection. For those of you who find yourself stuck in either a school or community where you deeply/truly believe that the favoritism is so rampant do not hesitate to find greener pastures or other opportunities. It’s absolutely unfair at times that things like these can ruin an experience, however all I am asking for is for people to be honest with themselves and open about the potential “why” of a situation.
Next article I’ll hopefully be talking the conversation of creating your own art! As someone who has recently started his own theatre company, I’ve spent the last year developing a nonprofit. If you have any questions you want me address in the next article comment below!