This week I sat in on an open casting call for Happy Days the musical. As well as seeing enough kicks, cartwheels, jazz hands and wide-eyed enthusiasm to last a lifetime (and all of that was just from the director Andrew Wright) I came away contemplating open auditions in general.They aren’t hugely common in the theatre industry – they used to be much more so. But recently we have started to see them return. Last year, for example, there were open auditions for A Chorus Line, and now Happy Days has followed suit.
It made me wonder whether television could take a leaf out of theatre’s book, and hold more open auditions for parts in dramas and seriesAccording to the producer of Happy Days, Amy Anzel, she wanted to hold open auditions to give “everyone the opportunity to be seen” -people who might not normally be called, whether that is because they don’t have the best agent, don’t have an agent yet, or they have just left drama school.
It’s a lovely sentiment. And a great idea – even though open calls are time-consuming and labour intensive. I’m told 700 people applied to be seen for the open call of Happy Days, and a whole day was put aside to see the 400 or so who got their applications in first. That’s a lot of work. But, as Amy and Andrew point out, if they end up finding one person from the process it will be worth it. On top of that, it gives those auditioning a taste of the real world.
It made me wonder whether television could take a leaf out of theatre’s book, and hold more open auditions for parts in dramas and series.
So, with that in mind, below are just a few lessons I believe television could learn from theatre, starting with open auditions
- Open calls. Yes, there are usually open calls for reality shows such as The X Factor (they rely on them to find the oddballs) but could dramas and series also benefit from holding open calls? If they did this, perhaps they might well unearth some interesting talent – and perhaps we might see more unfamiliar faces on screen, rather than the usual suspects. This is something that is often complained about. E4 series Skins has done it before, but more series could give it a go. Okay, I know open calls mean more expense, and more time, but TV isn’t particularly poor. And if theatre can manage it, TV can too.
- Longer rehearsals – or just any kind of rehearsal at all. Often, when interviewing TV actors, I hear that there is no time for rehearsals. It’s a case of doing your homework before you get on set. But what about building a rapport with your fellow cast members? Exploring your character? Experimenting with a role? Getting to know the director? I know budgets are tight, but one week or two wouldn’t break the bank, would it? And think of the benefits.
- Keep the creators/writers involved. I hear, quite often, complaints that writers and others involved in creating a TV drama series are often sidelined when production of the show begins. Bolshie directors or executive producers, possibly threatened by the writer’s inclusion, exclude them from the production once a script is handed in. I am not saying this doesn’t happen in theatre, but it seems to me it’s a much more supportive environment, generally – and I know, for example, the Happy Days team are planning on working very closely with the show’s creators.
- Speak up, I can’t hear what you’re saying! You may have read about complaints recently that some viewers have not been able to hear what some actors on television are saying. This, perhaps, has to do with the desire on the part of the actors concerned to sound true to life. But if no one can hear what you’re saying, you’re not being true to anything. On the stage, clarity is paramount. I am not suggesting TV actors start shouting, just that a little diction may not go astray.
- Lighten up and have a laugh. One of the things I love about the theatre industry is the community feel it has – even among rival productions. Actors (generally) seem to really root for each other – and come together when they need to for a good cause. Such as the casts of Les Mis and Phantom coming together to play football for charity,or the West End Eurovision event. On top of that, the Olivier Awards (when you’re actually there watching it) seem to have such a laid-back, cheerful vibe. The BAFTAs, by contrast, is a little more stuffy, more serious. I guess what I’m saying is – theatre knows how to have a bit more fun. But I may be wrong. In which case, tell me…