Promotion, Awareness Among Leading Obstacles For Theater Casting Calls
While the theater is most certainly not dead, at least not in Jamestown, it does have its obstacles to overcome in regard to filling casting calls.
Two local theater groups that make use of both school-age and communitywide talent report that, while sometimes finding difficulty in filling production roles due to low turnout for auditions, one of the primary hurdles to finding younger participants is in the marketing and promotion of said productions.
This conclusion comes courtesy of the insight and experiences of Bob Schlick, coordinator of Jamestown Community College’s Scharmann Theatre, and Todd Pullan, a third-year artistic director with the Lucille Ball Little Theatre; both of whom cited lack of student-community awareness of upcoming productions as being a primary culprit for low audition turnout.
“It’s true that JCC has a student body upon which to draw talent, but that doesn’t automatically guarantee that students will audition,” Schlick said. “It really has more to do with whether or not they have heard auditions are taking place. Since we are usually holding our auditions at the beginning of each semester, it becomes imperative that I make sure the word gets out on campus in time for students to be aware of this and come in and try out. But usually I don’t have trouble finding talent, at least for the main roles.”
Pullan said the Little Theatre has a similar challenge to meet, adding that the theater has taken a more expanded approach to its marketing and promotion campaigns to drum up awareness and interest among community members who may be interested in performing.
“I’ve noticed it’s very difficult to cast a show because few people actually walk through the door,” Pullan said. “I speculate the reason being people are just too busy or not aware of the opportunity. The time commitment for a straight show is 4-6 weeks, and for a musical its 7-8 weeks. That’s a lot of time when someone is working two jobs or has several children. A director can only be so flexible with scheduling, especially as the show dates draw near.”
Taking a similar approach to Schlick and the Scharmann Theatre, Pullan said the Little Theatre has attempted to alleviate this issue by utilizing social media to post audition dates far in advance, as well as increase its database to allow for a more targeted mailing and media announcement for auditions and open crew positions.
“In casting a show I would guess that half of the roles casted are via people who walked in the door by audition, and the remaining casted by aggressive networking,” he said. “Personally, I believe that the right person for the roles are located but certainly not without challenge.”
Another focal point for the theater, Pullan said, is to try to entice graduating high school seniors into continuing their acting careers by establishing relationships with various area school music departments.
“I’m not aware of a black-and-white strategy to acquire actors from area high schools, but most of our directors have directed at area high schools and most of the local instrumental or vocal teachers have appeared on our stage; so there is a cross connection there,” he said.
Schlick said he will, more often than not, need to supplement his casting calls with community members, as he rarely will have enough JCC students turn up for auditions — especially in the instance of a musical calling for a 30-40-member ensemble.
“I wouldn’t say it has become any more difficult over the years to find a cast,” Schlick said. “Although there have been some casting concerns over the years, the bottom line is that people seem to enjoy doing JCC shows. So if I need to contact someone to supplement the cast, they are usually happy to help out if their schedule allows. The other thing to keep in mind is that if the title of the show is not well known, I do a lot of pre-promoting to generate enthusiasm. Knowing who to contact is the key to success in this regard.”
Schlick added that the Scharmann Theatre is also predisposed to the unique challenge of a talent pool that is in a state of constant flux, with JCC students typically only remaining on campus for two years before taking the next step in their college or career plans. Conversely, though, he said it is also refreshing from a directorial and spectator’s standpoint to see fresh faces every year.