How the Theater Casting Process Works for Child Actors

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Photo Source: Matthew Murphy

What do shows like “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Waitress,” “Frozen,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” and “The Lion King” all have in common? They’re all running on Broadway and employ child actors. 

There are many roles for children and teens on and Off-Broadway, as well as in regional theater. While good actors make acting look easy, getting cast in a live theater production is no easy feat. It takes hard work, discipline, and persistence. It also requires an understanding of the audition process.

Here are five things you need to know. 

There are two types of auditions held in theater: the agent appointments and the open calls. For an agent appointment, the child will usually receive audition material ahead of time and only has to make an appearance for their specified time slot (a time slot scheduled by their agent or manager). For an open call, performers audition on a first-come, first-serve basis without an appointment. 

In theater, most productions are union productions, which means that the actors’ union, Actors’ Equity Association, helps to control the audition process. Equity productions are required to hold Equity Principal Auditions (EPAs), meaning auditions that prioritize union actors over nonunion. Nonunion actors can still attend EPAs. They will generally audition after the union actors have auditioned. There are not many children in the Actors’ Equity Association, so it’s likely that a nonunion child who shows up at an EPA will be seen. There are also nonunion auditions, which provide opportunities only for nonunion performers. 

Deciding whether or not to have your son or daughter join the Actors’ Equity Association requires careful consideration. Membership may give them priority in EPA auditions, but it would prevent them from participating in any nonunion auditions for the same production. The critical thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter if your child is union or nonunion, going to an open call or going to an appointment. Everyone has an equal shot at getting the part. It all depends on what happens in the audition room, not on the union status of the child.

Theater auditions have several rounds of auditions, especially for musicals. The first will include singing a 1632 bar cut of a song and perhaps a request to dance. If a child or teen gets a callback, they will perform for a group of people from the production team, reading a scene from the show generally with another person. The other reader may be the casting director, casting assistant, or an actor hired to assist in auditions.

How to Manage Your Child Actor

Young actors often struggle with where to focus during these auditions. When singing, a child should gaze at an imaginary focal point directly above the casting director. When reading a scene, actors must engage with the person reading with them just like during a live performance.

Receiving a callback after a first audition is a cause for celebration! Whether or not your child is selected for a role, having additional auditions helps to create confidence. It also gives young actors exposure to casting directors and producers who will see their talent and, hopefully, remember them for future productions.

Casting Directors
In the entertainment world, the most talented actor doesn’t always get the part. The person selected for a role will be the one who is a good match for the material and who also fits sometimes unknown criteria. Maybe the child needs to be strong enough to help move a set piece or look a certain age next to the girl playing his sister. Either way, it won’t help to try to play to what you think casting directors want. Instead, concentrate on being authentic, unique, skilled, and focused during the audition process.   

Is it absolutely necessary to memorize lines for a theater audition? No. Or at least not as important as it would be for TV and film. But often, stumbling over their words and having their eyes glued to a page, prevents a kid from connecting with their reader. Memorization can help free them from the pages of a script.

Because it is impossible to predict exactly what the casting director will ask for during auditions, it’s essential to stay on your toes. A few years ago, I was coaching a student for the touring production of “Annie.” The girls reading for the title role were given 12 pages to memorize before final callbacks. When they finally got to the audition, with that long script memorized, pumped up, and ready to go, the casting director asked them to read for the role of the Warden. Why? To make sure they could improvise and adapt, rather than being stuck in a single mindset. Make sure when your child memorizes their lines, they’re learning the words, not the emotion behind the words.

Now that you understand more about the casting process for live theater, you’ll be able to guide your child to navigate the process with professionalism and enthusiasm. Remind your child to have fun and enjoy the process!

Ready to get cast? Check out Backstage’s kids auditions!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Denise Simon
Denise Simon is a New York-based acting coach and career consultant who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 30 years as an actor, teacher, director, casting director and personal talent manager.
See full bio and articles here!

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