How to Direct a High School Play - What to Include in the Audition Form
The process of directing a high school play can be fun, challenging, and rewarding. Knowing which steps to take to get from your original idea to the standing ovation will make the process much less stressful and loads more fun. After you choose the play, I would argue that the most important step in the directing process is casting the show. To cast the show, you will need to hold auditions.
Once you have decided upon the show you wish to produce, set the show dates and audition dates. Auditions should be held anywhere from five to ten weeks before your production. (See my suggested timeline for different production genres.) You should allow three or four days for auditions, depending on the size of your potential cast, how many students you anticipate auditioning, and how well you know your students.
Before auditions begin, I generally will put out the audition forms, so that students have them completed when they arrive. I realized many years ago, that this step saves a lot of time on audition day. When I create an audition form, I always ask for the information that follows. Being armed with this information up front will make your casting job easier.
2. Contact information for both the student and their parent or guardian. I specify that students should list their home phone, cell phone, parent cell phone, etc. If someone falls off the stage and breaks a leg, I want all the possible contact phone numbers available!
3. Photo – Sometimes, I ask students to include a photo. Although I know my students well, they love coming up with bizarre and fun photos to attach to their audition forms. If you don’t know your students well, asking for a photo is essential. You may have a lot of students auditioning, and you will want a reminder to put a name to a face.
Alternatively, have a photographer taking photos of actors at auditions. Have students hold a number or name plate in the photograph. With digital pictures, taking photos on the day will give you an electronic photo gallery of all the auditioning actors.
4. Talent List – On every audition form, I ask students to list their talents. This is a good way to get to know the student. They will list everything from their musical talents to juggling, fire eating, and how many jellybeans they can fit in their mouth at one time. You may be able to pull on some of their talents for your show. At the very least, you will begin to see the wonderful, quirky side of the students you are about to work with.
Other articles in my series "How to Direct a High School Play"
5. Interest in the Current Production
I always ask students a few important questions about their interest in the production we are about to embark upon.
Do you wish to be onstage, or do you want to play a role behind the scenes?
There are some students who want to participate, but they have no interest in acting. You will need stage managers, light and sound technicians, scene movers, people to hand out programs, costume managers, prop managers, etc. There are a lot of jobs to do, so cherish those students who come out to auditions to take on those backstage roles.
What size role do you wish to play and commit to?
Knowing a student’s level of commitment is essential for success. There are some years where my most dedicated actors have stepped up to say they want a small role because they have too much on their plate to commit to the lead. I love that they are honest, and it makes my job easier in the long run.
If you know this play, which character would you most like to play?
Sometimes, every student wants to play the lead role. Sometimes, students don’t know the show and will tell you they don’t care. I ask this question because I want the production to run smoothly, and happy students will be a step towards ensuring that happens. If my most dedicated student wants to play a role that I didn’t think of for them, then this is the place for me to see their interest and consider their talents. Remember, you don’t have to cast students in the role they ask for. You are merely seeing where their interests lie. Use the information to help you make the best casting decisions.
Do you have any other important commitments that I should consider, such as sports practice or an afterschool job?
Remember that you are working with students. They often have busy schedules. I have found that piling a huge commitment on top of an already overtaxed student can lead to disaster. I ask this question so that I can advise students who may be taking on too much. Sometimes, those students continue with the production, and sometimes they don’t. When they do, I can flag them as a student who I need to cast in a small onstage role or small back stage job. I can also put them on my “watch” list. That is the list of students who I make an effort to check in with in order to make sure they are keeping up with their academic obligations.
6. Conflict Calendar
I always attach a blank calendar that covers the dates of the production. On the calendar, I note the most important dates, including the show dates and technical rehearsal dates. I also note the general times for rehearsals. I shade all the important, inflexible dates in gray. I note on the bottom of the calendar that all dates shaded in gray are mandatory, and that students must be able to attend. Before auditions, I ask students to fill in the conflict calendar with dates that they may not be able to rehearse. They may list items such as dentist appointments, their weekly piano lesson, or the day each week they are mandated to stay to get extra help in math. Having this information up front will help you create rehearsal schedules, and it will help you know who already has a loaded schedule. You may not want to give the lead to a student who can only rehearse one day a week.
I write the following statement and ask the student and their parent to sign the audition form.
I am auditioning for this production because I want to participate and commit to this project. I will accept any role offered to me.
Asking students to sign this statement will send them the message that you are not looking for a diva. It is important that students understand that a high school drama production is a collaborative effort, a “team sport” if you will.
Arming yourself with the information outlined above will give you the tools you need to begin the casting process. Next, you will certainly wish to begin auditions. Stay tuned for the next hub in this series, which will outline what to do during auditions.
Written by Donna Hilbrandt.