How to Assemble a Diverse Cast in a Small Market

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Photo Source: Unsplash courtesy Virgyl Sowah

So you’re casting a project but you don’t live in a coastal production hub, don’t worry! There are plenty of resources for you to find your diverse and talented dream cast. Yes, it might take a little extra elbow grease on your end, but the old saying holds true: you’ll get out of it what you put into it. With some ingenuity in your search, you’ll find the faces you imagine and learn a lot about who’s out there on the way. Whether you’re wondering how to start your search or where else you can look, follow these tips to learn what it takes to find actors for your small-market project, whatever it may be.

Where to promote your casting notice to attract a broad and diverse response.

Familiarize yourself with all the actors in your market and how acting in that market works.
Some actors have aspirations (and one foot out the door) to bigger markets, but not all of them. Plus, those that have potential to work in a bigger market will often wait until they can work steadily in that new city. Know that you can find talent you’re looking for within your market or the surrounding areas if you look for it. More and more often, there are bigger roles compelling actors to stay, according to CD JoEdna Boldin, who works out of New Mexico.

Boldin continues, actors in smaller markets are less likely to have managers, and agents are much more willing for their clients to go in and audition for almost any role of any size. People are willing to say yes, to the audition and the offer, without much discussion, keep that in mind.

Plus, she notes, you should get to know your local actors—there aren’t as many so you can become more familiar with an actor, their work, and their background. You can watch them grow throughout the years. If you’re casting with an out of town team, you can leverage that knowledge to recommend actors for a project. If you’re an out of town team working with a local CD, use their knowledge.

You don’t have to live in NYC or L.A. to have a successful career.

Manage your expectations.
Boldin notes, smaller market CDs generally cast smaller roles in a smaller talent pool. Expect to have to work with or coach an actor in the room. You might not have as many options to be able to say “next” so quickly; put in the work for lack of alternatives and get the performance you’re looking for. You can groom talent to prepare them for bigger roles this way, as well.

Use your resources.
Every region with production has a local film commission, so talk to people there. They’ve dealt with both people on the production side and actors, and if they don’t have an answer to your question, they can lead you to someone who does. A lot of people have been at this a long time, even in a place that isn’t inundated with projects all the time, tap that knowledge base to find talent that might not show up in a more general search. Ditto goes for producers and filmmakers in the area, use their experience to enrich yours, even if you’re not working with them
suggests actor and educator David Patrick Green.

Social media is free and easily searchable. Don’t underutilize this resource that is literally full of people that you can get in touch with and is made for sharing so if someone sees your notice, they’ll pass it to someone perfect for the project. Backstage’s casting experts agree!

Here are ways to take advantage of your local market.

Get creative with your search.
Be innovative, says Green. If you’ve scoured lists of actors and you can’t seem to find what you want, set out on your own. What do you think agents and managers do when they see someone compelling? They try to sign them! Just because someone isn’t trying to be an actor full time doesn’t mean they might not be perfect for your project, especially in a non-major market where acting is a side gig for some people. All casting directors will tell you about people they’ve chased down at malls and airports and concerts and beyond, that could be you! Find where actors assemble, get to know people and ask around! Being where the people are, whether it’s an acting class or actors supporting their friends at a show, will make it that much easier to find someone who is right or who can connect you with someone who could be perfect.

Go to shows! Just because you don’t have Broadway in your backyard doesn’t mean there aren’t productions of different kinds going on all over your region. Community theater, Church productions, local comedy clubs, and more are great places to look for people you haven’t seen before. Take it from Catherine La Moreaux, who is constantly casting with an eye towards diversity out of New Jersey.

Green also suggests you find out who’s new in town. Ask around, do your due diligence, check in with agents to see if there are any new clients and keep an ear to the ground, maybe someone new has moved to the region from a bigger market.

Think about people who you can ask about actors. Sure, agents, CDs, and acting teachers will know of names to suggest, but so will makeup artists and photographers who take headshots, notes Aaron Marcus. They can also be a great resource! Think about talking to film students who cast outside of their student body (or within it, depending on what you need) and other officials at institutions like creative directors at theaters and art directors at agencies and companies that advertise through in-house creative teams.

How to break into film from a small market.

Don’t limit your talent pool.
In La Moreaux’s experience, actors might be focusing on other things or not acting at all anymore, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to come out of “retirement” for your project, especially if it’s not too much of a time commitment. Also, check for classes in acting and improv; you never know what hobbyists would jump at the chance to get an acting credit, even if it’s just for fun.

Also, don’t rely too much on the resume, especially if you’re looking for something specific. You’re not always going to have a big group of people with a long list of credits. Give talent the benefit of the doubt. Invite someone in if they have the right look or experience or could otherwise be an interesting addition to the cast. That means you might have to provide sides to actors who aren’t regularly auditioning, but, again, don’t let that count anyone out!

CD and artistic director of the Ensemble Theater in Cincinnati holds open calls. She says you never know who might show up. You should also study the faces in the background of projects that filmed in the same region. They might not have lines in those cases, but you’ll know they’ve spent at least a few hours on a set.

Don’t be afraid to ask—waitresses, movie ticket takers, anyone! Keep an eye out when you travel within your region. Someone might be able to make the trip to appear in your project. If you need a lawyer or a secretary, sometimes the role is suitable for someone who really does that job.

On the acting side, Backstage expert and acting coach Cathryn Hartt, notes that there are a ton of resources for actors. On the casting side, you can use those to your advantage even if you’re not the one looking for an acting job.

Find talent for your project right now!

Take advantage of your neighbors.
Hartt also says you can check out nearby cities—just because you’re not the biggest production hub in your region doesn’t mean there aren’t people close by. Check in to the scene in a place with more going on and see who is willing to travel for your project. Or maybe a nearby town or city has a renowned theater program and not much else. That’s a great networking opportunity if nothing else.

On a bigger scale, Hartt notes Self-tapes and technology make it easy to see people from all over, which is a huge advantage for actors, but also those looking for talent. Put out a call for self-tapes from people willing to travel, you never know who might have a place to stay where your project is filming and who is willing to pay to travel for the experience. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Hold auditions in places with bigger pools of actors, but make sure the details of your project are clear so nobody is blindsided by the change in location. People might make themselves available for an audition if they don’t have to travel while being willing to make the trip if they book the gig.

Post your breakdown on Backstage!
Backstage’s database of acting talent is a great place to look. Actors can upload their headshots and demo reels, and there are members all over the world. You can narrow your search by demographic information and experience, so while you’re taking all this advice, actors can be matching themselves with your project in the meantime. Happy casting!

Don’t wait, start finding talent for your project right now!