Directing

How Do You Cast School Plays?

cast school plays
Written by Craig Mason

In our travels to various conferences we’ve heard of a lot of different ways to cast school plays. Here are a few of the casting techniques we have encountered:

“Traditional” auditions

Set up similarly to a professional audition. Students come in one by one with prepared material (monologue and/or song) and the director casts based on the merits of their preparation and abilities. This is how auditions worked in my high school and I never really considered that there would be any other way.

Pros: You learn how committed students are by how much effort they put into their audition piece. Everyone is given an equal opportunity to shine.

Cons: Some great actors are terrible at monologue auditions, and vice versa. You have to hold a round of callbacks in order to see how the students interact with each other. Newbies can be very intimidated by having to do a monologue.

Group readings from the script

Everyone interested in the play gets together and reads from the script. The director mixes and matches actors in order to find the optimal casting.

Pros: Everybody gets an equal shot. Less intimidating for newbies. The whole play can be cast in one session.

Cons: Can be time-intensive if a lot of people are interested. Students who have worked together before will probably read better together putting newbies at a disadvantage.

Self Casting

I can’t believe this one actually works, but yes, I’ve talked to directors who give the script to the students and let them cast the play on their own!

Pros: Works best if the cast size equals the number of people interested in the play. Students will have a stronger ownership of the show if they’re this involved in putting it together.

Cons: It would be tough for a newcomer to break in. Casting could be based on popularity instead of merit.

Don’t have auditions at all

Some directors don’t have auditions. They choose the cast based on students they know from their classes.

Pros: Much easier and less time-intensive for the director.

Cons: Students are removed from the casting process, making the whole scenario opaque. Auditioning is part of the total experience of putting on a play.

What about you? What casting technique works best for you and why?

About the author

Craig Mason

3 Comments

  • I am a middle school drama teacher.  My goal is for students to have fun with auditions while still showcasing their abilities.  When I cast a show I have students audition in small groups–usually 5 or 6 at a time.  I feel like this helps with nervousness.  No one is alone and 6th graders can learn from older students.  We do a character walk–where I ask students to move through the playing space in different ways–slow motion, as royalty, as if they are lost, feeling sick, as though they are nervous, being sneaky, in love, worried, etc.  What I ask of them depends on the show we are doing and the kinds of characters and emotions needed for the roles.  Then I have them read a scene with someone else in the group.  I give them 2-3 minutes to look over the scene and then they do it.  If I am casting a musical, I will have students sing Happy Birthday as a group and then they can sing a song of their choice individually if they would like. 

  • I always do cold readings – noting that these day fewer and fewer will prepare a monologue. And for callbacks – I have the same scenes. I note who are not good at cold readings and coach and help. I also notice that if young actors not good at cold readings and still put themselves on the line – out of their element and away from their safe place if they are willing to do that – imagine how hard they will work for you in a production. 

  • At my school, every 5th grader must do a semester class which is a musical. So, we sit in a circle together and read the whole play a few times with students playing different parts each time. I then ask them to tell me the top three/four parts they would like to play. I warn them that if they only choose the biggest parts the competition will be fierce, so to include other parts. Then, I take that list home and think about what I know about the students and what I heard from each student’s delivery. Then, I manage to give everyone one of the parts they asked for. All the kids are then happy with who they are as they feel part of the process in determining who they will portray.