Pearson Casting Goes International—Here’s How to Audition for Them

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Photo Source: Raquel Aparicio

Pearson Casting was doing just fine as it was. Run by husband-and-wife team James and Rosie Pearson, both former performers-turned–casting directors, they had a long list of work to their name, especially in the London theater world, with shows like smash hit “Six” as well as live performance experiences and film and television work. Their profession took them around the globe and had them casting in the U.S. enough that they felt they needed to open an office across the pond. They ultimately connected with Ian Subsara, a New York–based casting director who they felt shared their interests and audition-room ethos. Together, the three CDs spoke with Backstage about expanding Pearson Casting and how COVID-19 affected their operation.

“We all had to reprogram our brains around Zoom auditions.... You have to adapt; you have to keep moving forward and working with what you have.”

Rosie Pearson

What changed for you when COVID-19 hit?
Rosie Pearson: Everything just ground to a complete halt for us. We’ve been lucky to cast some feature films through lockdown, which was done mostly by self-tape. We won a grant that we applied for, and we were able to start a free training platform for the industry. We managed to connect with so many incredible people across the industry that we just haven’t worked with, and we met actors we didn’t know. We all had to reprogram our brains around Zoom auditions. Singing auditions on Zoom are very tricky, with sound issues and lagging and all kinds of stuff. It’s been a real process for everyone in theater to pivot their mindset around that. You have to adapt; you have to keep moving forward and working with what you have. Now, we can see so many more people without forcing them to travel across huge chunks of countries. Those processes will become more streamlined as we all work together to forge new ways of casting. I don’t think online [casting] is going anywhere.

What changes will stick going forward?
James Pearson: I think self-tapes are here for a while. In a normal audition process, we can see maybe 100 people in the first round. Now, we can have 200 people tape in their own time. The whole Zoom thing, I think, is great so we can meet people. I think it’s a really great way to be able to see lots of people who only need a smartphone in order to audition; and most people have one of those. 

What can actors expect from auditioning for you?
Ian Subsara: Performers can always expect me to be kind to them. An audition setting is a vulnerable place for an actor; and having been a performer myself, it’s essential that actors can feel safe and comfortable in order for them to be at their best and most successful. I also want to think that my audition process is extremely organized. I have learned from some of the best in the industry. My passion for casting has led me to a process that I believe is as efficient, clear, and warm as possible.

JP: Unless we’re running crazy behind, we will hear the material that we send to you. We’re always very respectful of trying to give people time—not just in the room, but to prepare as well. There’s a big culture of sending material out the night before and asking people to prepare, like, 15 pages of sides. We’re trying to manage that as much as possible. Where possible, we’ll get feedback on auditions. You will always hear from us, whether we’re taking you for the project or not. That should be a standard expectation of coming into our audition room. 

What makes you remember an actor in an audition?
RP: Talent is 70% of what we’re looking for. The other 30% is someone you would want to work with. They’re the people who are always on time and super prepared. They take direction in the room; they listen. People think that being prepared means coming in and knowing all of your lines. It’s actually being able to free yourself from the text and take direction and work with the team. That flexibility and creativity, as well as talent, will stay in a casting director’s mind. 

IS: Offstage behavior is so important. It gets around when you’re not a nice person to work with. It’s mostly talent and being a good person that you want to work with.

Where do you look for new talent?
IS: College showcases, being a guest artist at a college, open calls, and being able to creatively think outside the box. I’m a stickler for going through every submission I get and taking notes on the person for the future. It’s also important for us to see theater or virtual theater, film, television, and many other forms of entertainment, because our definition of theater and entertainment is constantly changing. So, seeing theater, binge-watching TV shows, watching TikTok musicals, and following Broadway belters on Instagram. 

JP: Social media is a really great place to go and just find people who haven’t gone down the traditional path of training. We try to do general meetings. We’ll put it out on our social media. When possible, we’ll have general meetings for specific skill sets. There are lots of ways to work outside of the box to find exceptional talent. I think, as casting directors, we have a responsibility to do that. 

What differences do you notice between casting in the U.S. versus the U.K.?
IS: Performers in London definitely get more time in the room than in America; we just have so many people over here. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough time in a day to give so much time to each performer. Other than that, I feel like auditions typically run the same way, with just minor differences, like lingo—they say “CV” for résumé or “recall” for callback. Also, the majority of U.K. performers are typically represented by talent agents—most of them. Over here, I feel like people can have a very successful career, particularly in the nonunion world, without ever having to be represented.

RP: 90% of talent is represented by an agent, but we have a very open-door policy at Pearson Casting. We really want to be inclusive in all of our casting. The artists that aren’t represented or perhaps haven’t been through a traditional training route and aren’t on certain databases are very encouraged to write to us and to put themselves forward for projects. We try and do as many open calls as possible. 

“Now, we can see so many more people without forcing them to travel across huge chunks of countries. Those processes will just become more streamlined as we all work together to forge new ways of casting. I don’t think online [casting] is going anywhere.”

Rosie Pearson

What advice do you have for actors?
IS: Don’t stop honing your craft. If you can, take voice lessons and dance classes, get coached on callback material and the initial material that you use a lot of the time, and take acting classes. If you can’t afford these—and many people can’t—rehearse in front of a friend that you trust. It gives you a different perspective. Auditioning is an art in and of itself. Practice makes perfect, so just keep auditioning. Dance auditions are a free opportunity to try out new choreography and to observe your fellow dancers’ successes, and potentially even make a positive connection with a choreographer who will either cast you that day or remember you and cast you down the line.

RP: Lots of resources that are online at the moment are free or lower-cost coming out of the pandemic. Be open to different types of work. It’s great to have your career path, but you will limit yourself. There are incredible opportunities out there that involve great pay and travel and experience. Keep your mindset open to different opportunities, because if you narrow it down to one genre, or one specific area of the industry, you’re going to be out of work for longer. If you’re happy with that, that’s fine, but there are so many opportunities now, and you never know what might come out the other side.

What do you want people to know about how you work?
RP: When you come into the audition room, we’re all nervous. The only reason you’re there is because we think you can book the job. We have spent literally hours looking through your résumé, listening to show reels, or maybe looking you up on YouTube or social media. We have brought you into that room. 

JP: Audition nerves, for some people, never go away. When you come in, come in knowing that we’re we’ve got your back. No one ever wants you to come into the audition room to fail. Once you do that, you start taking pressure off yourself and understanding that the casting director is sitting there thinking, Please be right. You’re in a very safe space in the audition room. We will give you time, and we know that we’re going to get the best out of you by working with you and allowing you to relax and have that moment to work those nerves out. We really want you to be right.

IS: We’re very administrative people. There are a lot of moving parts in casting, especially when you’re juggling multiple projects. We don’t let things slip through the cracks. I would like people to know that we are organized and we will respond to you and we will respond to your agents. 

What don’t people know about what you do?
RP: I don’t think people realize how much of our job is administrative. A project recently that we put a breakdown out for James had 4,000 submissions for, and we literally sit and read every single résumé and watch every single show reel. There’s a real care and attention to detail that’s involved in the job that we do. Being in the audition room is, like, 5% of what we do. The audition process is just a tiny, tiny part.

This story originally appeared in the Sept. 9 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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