Our next casting challenge is the exact opposite of our last post. What happens when you have fewer actors than named parts in the script? This can be a great acting challenge for students, as it will entail some of them taking on multiple roles in the same show. But it can get quite busy and complicated trying to keep their various character tracks and costume changes straight!
Here are some suggestions for casting a show with fewer actors than named roles:
- Search for creative doubling opportunities. See what characters could logically be played by one person.
- Look for characters who only appear in Act One vs. Act Two.
- Look for characters that only appear in one scene and then don’t come back.
- Combine a group of similar roles into one role. For example, if your show has a big group of servants, all the servant roles become one single “Servant.”
- Reassign lines to other characters, if it can be done and still make sense. For example, I directed a show where we had three “bad guys” and one of the three actors dropped out of the show two weeks before the show opened. We weren’t able to get a replacement, so we took that actor’s lines and dispersed them between the two remaining “bad guys.” (Don’t forget–you must always get permission from the playwright before making changes to the script!)
- Creative quick-changes. Can students change costumes to become another character? Oftentimes a hat or jacket can make a big difference. But even without a costume change, this is a great chance for students to focus on really changing physicalities, voices, and mannerisms between characters! Two examples of this are the musical The Toxic Avenger and the play The 39 Steps, where casts of five and four actors (respectively) play a huge multitude of parts, often in the same scene! In The Toxic Avenger, there is even a song where one actress who plays two different roles sings a duet between those two characters–at the same time!
- Consider cross-gender casting. Nine times out of ten you will have more girls than boys auditioning for shows. If you have an overabundance of girls, can a female actor play any of the roles? (Be sure to decide whether or not the girl will be playing a boy role as a boy, or if the character will be changed into a female– i.e. Simon becomes Simone, etc.)
The following exercise challenges students to cast a show using their classmates, and then forces students to figure out how to recast the show when their classmates are taken away! Have each student complete this exercise individually.
- 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.) If possible, select a play or musical with approximately the same number of named roles as there are students in the class.
- Individually, students will cast the play using the dramatis personae (character list) in the script. They will also use their knowledge of the play itself and their classmates’ skills and dramatic ability. Students should include themselves on their cast list.
- Once students have completed their lists, the teacher will put each student’s name on a slip of paper, and put the slips into a hat. The teacher will then draw out 25% of the slips of paper. For example, for a class of 20 students, five names will be drawn. These students now cannot be cast in the show.
- Students must go back to their lists and create a second list, recasting their show without those five students in the mix. How will they reassign roles?
- Students will note the reasons for their recasting choices below their second list. For example: “Jamie will now play the roles of both Ms. Carling and Miss Jones, because Ms. Carling only appears in Act 1 and Miss Jones only appears in Act 2.”
- Then, after students have recast their show with one quarter fewer actors, the teacher will draw out 25% more names (going back to our first example, in the class of 20, now only ten names will be remaining). Now these students also cannot be cast in the show.
- Students will go back to their second list and create a third list, recasting the show with only half the number of actors they originally had. Again, they must note the reasons for the recasting below their third list.
- Students can get as creative as they wish for doubling and ensuring all the roles are covered. Depending on which students’ names get pulled out of the hat, you may end up with too many students of one gender–perhaps “Lord Smythe” becomes “Lady Smythe,” or perhaps a girl just ends up playing a male role. Maybe one student has a scene where he performs all the characters by himself, or perhaps another student plays every single “one-off” role themselves, with a multitude of quick-changes! The students’ intended casting will end up very different than what they originally intended. But as they say, “the show must go on!”
- Once students have completed all three lists (including creative solutions for casting challenges), they will complete a reflection and submit all four pieces for evaluation.
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer, and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. Explore her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.