People get incredibly excited about casting announcements, but very rarely do they trace things back to the people who put these casts together. The tide now may (finally) be turning, however, as several awards ceremonies now have added prizes for casting – such as BAFTA in both its film and television awards (Shayna Markowitz winning for Joker, and Des Hamilton winning for Top Boy). Theatre’s most high profile awards – the Oliviers – has yet to follow suit.
Once I started attending the theatre on pretty much a daily basis, and especially when I was seeing a variety of shows rather than the same one, I started to feel more confident in some of my casting predictions and hopes; I’m still very proud of ‘casting’ Marc Antolin as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Emma Rice’s Twelfth Night, and get in the right ball park for some of The Show Must Go Online’s Hamlet cast. However, there’s far more to casting than instinctively picking one or two names out of your memory banks!
I’ve really admired the work of Sydney Aldridge throughout the course of TSMGO, so who better to talk to about casting and her experiences with this innovative Zoom theatre project?
What is your casting process for TSMGO?
It’s a peculiar one! People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to sign up to a mailing list which enables them to receive weekly emails detailing which Shakespeare is coming up next week.
If they would like to apply for that week, then they fill in a simple sign up sheet which asks them which role they would like to be considered for. I then get a list of everyone that has applied and will spend a LONG time going through the applications and fitting people into appropriate roles regardless of gender.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I don’t really care about how Shakespeare intended the roles regarding gender! This is one of the reasons why I tend not to take much note of the roles that people submit themselves for. “Oh, you identify as a woman and you want to play Ophelia? WHY NOT HAMLET?!”
So I build a cast, then I send it to Rob to look over and we shuffle things around until we are both happy. We are on such a similar wavelength it’s kind of scary, so we often have the same opinions on who should go where. It makes for a super smooth process!
Has it changed much since you first joined the project?
It’s definitely got harder to pin people down. I’m getting more people responding saying “thank you so much, but I’ve got work lined up.” We are asking for a big commitment from them for 3 days of their week so it never bothers me when they tell me they have work – if anything, I’m thrilled for them!
But it has meant that now we are trying to cast two weeks in advance, so that hopefully people can work it around their schedules. But in terms of the quality of productions, actors and number of submissions, it hasn’t changed much since the start.
How does casting Shakespeare compare to productions by other writers?
It’s so different! I’m working on a couple of films at the moment and the directors for those projects have such a clear vision of what they want the characters to be in terms of gender, race and ability.
With Shakespeare, I have conversations with directors saying “Hey, you know Henry V? Let’s make them a woman! Why? Because they are the best actor for the job.” We at The Show Must Go Online are very proud of our 50/50 gender split and diverse casting. It’s refreshing from working on other projects where I can only dream of having a 50/50 gender split.
What has been your favourite casting playlist tune so far?
For people that don’t know, I send a tweet each week with a new song for my playlist that in some way echoes the play that I am casting that week. It’s called ‘Sydney’s Shakespeare Playlist.’
I would say that one of the songs that I got bang on was for Romeo & Juliet week. I chose Paris by The Chainsmokers, and the reason was because of the lyric “If we go down then we go down together.” The name of the song is also the name of one of the characters!
Is there any piece of casting in this TSMGO series that you’re particularly proud of?
There’s been so many! But if I have to pick out a few favourites it would be the following (in order of appearance):
Obviously there have been so many awesome performances, but those ones felt super special to me. I’m sure there will be some more to add to this list when we reach the end of the canon!
I will just give a little shout out to the entire cast of Richard III. I finished watching that production and burst into tears because everyone absolutely nailed it. I felt like we genuinely got everything right with that one.
It’s a question I get asked a lot. I trained as an actor originally and I remember that when I was at drama school, a casting director came in to talk to us. And I found that I was more interested in hearing about how the casting process worked than how I could get a job as an actor. It was a little further down the line that I got the opportunity to work in a casting office and haven’t looked back since.
I have to thank my first boss, Brendan McNamara, for teaching me everything I know today. I wouldn’t be where I am now without his constant support. Thanks, Boss!
My favourite part of working in casting is meeting fresh, exciting talent. I have a few people on my list who I gave their first job and I know they are going to be huge one day. And I can’t wait to see it.
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