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Behind-the-Scenes: Casting

This morning I wrote 100 rejection emails. It wasn't fun.

The nature of casting for theatre productions is cut-throat, overwhelming, competitive and time-consuming. And that's just if you're the one offering a job. Here at Insane Root we don't have the infrastructure to employ casting directors or agencies just yet, so all submissions from applicants (and/or their agents) - for better or worse - are seen by me. It is thrilling to see the number of people who are so genuinely excited by the work we do, and I really wish we could meet them all in person and offer everyone a job! But we do have to be selective, and I thought it would be interesting to share a bit more about the process.

Open Casting Call?

Before we even write the casting call/breakdown and send it out, we consider the actors and agents we know and trust. In my experience, working with actors over multiple projects helps deepen the quality and level of work you can achieve together - and this is why many directors employ the same actors again and again. But even under these circumstances, it is rare for us to just offer a job - there will usually be an audition of some kind, although people we know will usually go straight to recall as they've generally done the first round before.

After this, we post a call out - across local and national casting websites (like the iconic 'Spotlight'). This generally yields A LOT of interest. For example, for The Tempest we have received around 300 applications for two female roles.

I'll let that sink in.

I firmly believe that if someone has taken the time and effort to apply, they deserve a response of some kind, so we do our best to acknowledge every email or application we receive - at every stage of the process.

Some applicants just aren't right. They may be based too far away without the resources to relocate to Bristol. They may not have the right skills. They may not have much experience. They may not be trained (although this is not a pre-requisite). Sometimes it's just really obvious they haven't read the casting call properly. Showreels are an absolute joy because they give you a sense of the energy of a person.

But, assuming we think they'd be right for the job, we then invite them to the first stage.


Self-taping has become much more fashionable these days, as technology has vastly improved. We like it because it allows people time and space to put their audition together, without costing them travel or time away from work. The way we have used self-tape so far is to assess singing. 'Orpheus' and 'Tempest' are inherently musical productions, with tight multi-part harmony acapella singing. To be assessed for this style of production we have invited applicants to record themselves singing the funeral song we used in our production of 'Macbeth' - which gives us a sense of tone, ability and storytelling.

So far we have received and assessed around fifty of these recordings. And we're roughly half way through.

The Audition

Assuming they pass the singing stage, we invite applicants to meet us in person - generally myself, Justin and Ellie; although sometimes we have actors to read or sing in with the auditionee. And by this point we're so excited to actually be in the room with them! Our auditions have consisted of one-to-ones and group auditions, depending on the project, but regardless of the format we aim to make everyone feel welcome and that they are able to give their best. There is nothing worse than walking out of an audition feeling like you weren't given the chance to do what you believe you can do.

And that's the big secret: we want you to do well. We want actors to be brilliant and be part of our team. We also want to have fun in the room with you - our ensemble ethos extends to our casting process as much as is possible and appropriate.


Recalls are when it gets properly exciting - when we start to really build the company and put people together: trying out scenes, singing new songs, sometimes even devising short pieces of movement. It really depends on the particular project. On the whole we have tended to keep recalls to one day only, so we can see as many people together as possible, but sometimes they have to be more drawn out if people's availability is tricky.

The Offer

Deliberating and making final casting choices can take hours. Sometimes days. It's simultaneously one of my favourite parts of the process, and the worst. Once our decision has been made, the offer goes out - usually a phone call to an agent or performer if they're self-represented. Then we have the agonising wait to hear if they accept and can get the contract ball rolling. There is nothing more gutting than to hear an actor turn you down. But when they say yes it's absolutely brilliant!


As I've mentioned before, no matter what the outcome is, I believe that everyone who applies should have some kind of answer. So at every stage of this process there is a whole lot of admin and emailing back and forth to be done. Where possible we give feedback (if it's requested), and we are genuine when we ask actors to tell us about the work they have coming up. We want to see it!

Making Life Easier

We could make life a lot easier for ourselves by not doing open castings, or only restricting ourselves to Bristol-based performers. Perhaps in the future, when we have more resources, we will be able to make use of casting directors to take the load. But as a company we are committed to making our work and our opportunities as accessible as we can, and as much as this process is arduous and heart-breaking, it is still so exciting.

We are grateful to everyone who applies to work with us. And we hope we exist a long time and that we can meet (and work with) as many of you as possible.

Better get back to the emails....


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