Having a large number of students auditioning for your school show can be a good problem to have:
- You have more actors to choose from.
- A bigger group means more potential learning opportunities and friendships.
- And lots of actors means lots of family members and friends who’ll want to see the show–a much better chance for sold-out performances!
But what happens when your school or administration states that you MUST accept every student who wants to participate in the production? Yikes! You can end up with a massive cast, and massive casts come with challenges. Huge casts can be noisy and difficult to manage. There will be more actors than named roles to go around. Some students might not feel important or useful. Other students might even feel forgotten, especially if they don’t have a named character or any lines, or if they are “just in the ensemble.” And huge cast just demands more in general–more costumes, rehearsal time, space. More everything!
If you have a large number of students who want to perform in your production, here are some ideas to consider for casting and staging your show:
- Choose a musical. Musicals tend to be expandable and more flexible than plays, which don’t usually have 20+ speaking roles.
- Remove suggested doubling. Many shows suggest doubling of certain roles (where one actor plays more than one role). Separate them!
- Add an ensemble. Townspeople, schoolchildren, event-goers, servants, backup dancers, etc. Where can you add extra people?
- Within the ensemble, be sure to work with students to come up with creative characters and backstories for them. If the ensemble is a group of office workers, decide which students are secretaries, accountants, janitors, executives, and so on. If the ensemble is a group of townspeople, split groups up into families and/or by trade (seamstresses, bakers, blacksmiths, farmers, etc.). This way, students feel like they’re not just part of a giant crowd.
- Make sure every ensemble member has a character name.
- One interesting concept I’ve seen recently for adding extra actors to a scene was “living props/scenery.” In productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and The Addams Family, students appeared onstage as garden statues. In a production of The Little Mermaid, students held pieces of treasure in Ariel’s grotto.
- Split up roles. Get creative and split up the lines. If a character has a best friend, could the lines be shared between two best friends? If there is a police officer, can you add a couple of deputies? What about an evil stepmother–can she have some stepdaughters? If the show is a musical, could some verses or choruses be sung by different people for more solos/features? (Remember–you must always get permission from the playwright before making changes to the script!)
- Consider double-casting some roles or assigning understudies. Double-casting involves casting two actors in the same role and having them perform on alternate nights (look for an upcoming post about this topic). Be sure to be clear as to when each student will perform the role, and whether or not understudies are guaranteed to go on as that role. Also be sure to figure out what the alternate actor will do when they don’t go on as the role. Will they perform another character track or not appear at all during those performances?
In an ideal world, directors have exactly the same number of actors as they have roles in the show. However, that doesn’t often happen in the real world. The following group exercise gives students the opportunity to explore this common casting challenge, then come up with ideas and creative solutions for working with a large cast.
1. Select a play or musical that the class will use for the basis of this exercise. (If you are already studying a particular production in class, so much the better.) Have students form groups of four. In their small groups, have them brainstorm answers to the following topics:
- List 5 advantages of having a large cast for your show.
- List 5 disadvantages of having a large cast for your show.
- For this particular play, list three creative solutions for including more actors than just the named roles in the play. Note the act(s) and scene(s) and describe in detail how you’d use your actors. (See the examples above, as a starting point.)
2. Once the small groups have come up with their answers, each group will have the opportunity to present their ideas to the class. Appoint one student to be note-taker and amass a list of suggestions and creative solutions. Be sure to note when groups suggest the same idea–it might be one worth pursuing as a future class challenge project.
3. Encourage students to write down ideas that they think are particularly interesting or creative (this will help them with their reflections).
4. After the class discussion, each student will complete an individual reflection.
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer, and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.
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