In Casting: How to Shine When it Counts

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Here at Backstage, we want to make sure our readers are always feeling like they’re pushing themselves forward. That’s why we created Level Up, a series for UK actors where we talk to pros who can help you take your career to the next level. Hear from the industry vets – from casting directors and managers to agents and acting coaches – about how to do it! This week, Laura Donnelly, casting director at the National Theatre of Scotland, takes time out of her busy schedule to shed light on what CDs are looking for when you’re in the room, and how to view your relationship with the industry.

How can actors make themselves memorable to casting directors?
It’s good to be able to stand out, of course, if you can. Be smart about it: make sure you do your research, that you find out everything about the role that you’re being seen for. You must find out who you’re meeting, any information about the production that’s going to help you inform your interpretation of the role, and any conversation you might have in the room so that you can sound informed, well-read, interested; and that ultimately, you’re somebody that they would want to work with.

Look after yourself as much as you can, because you want to present the best possible version of you when you go into that room. You can do all the preparation in the world, you can learn your lines, and know the text inside out, but they also want to meet the human being they are potentially going to be working with. So, make sure you’re in the best possible shape, physically and mentally. I’m a big fan of yoga and meditation, and I think for performers both things are really useful to help calm the mind and try and get rid of some of those nerves...so that what you present in the room is an informed, intelligent human being – somebody positive who whoever you are meeting is going to want to work with.

Looking after yourself helps to cultivate the positive energy because that is the first thing that you notice when somebody comes into a room – especially if you don’t know them. So, it’s always about energy. Do you bring bags of positive energy in with you? Are you happy, chatty, friendly and can actually have a conversation? That’s going to be well-received, as opposed to somebody who is very nervous or having a bad day. It’s about being able to leave that stuff at the door and bring the best you in with you.

What should actors do if they find themselves in a “dry spell?”
It’s not always going to be plain sailing. Try to apply the same rules, even when you’re not working: look after yourself, keeping positive energy, getting involved in things. Knowing what’s going on – anything you think you should be being seen for, and speaking to your agent, or writing to the casting director or director directly. Perhaps doing some workshops. Making your own work, if you’re in a position to be able to do that: getting involved with some friends and trying to create something that allows you to be creative and perhaps perform as well.

The worst thing that you can do is to do nothing and wait for the work to come to you. You must keep on practicing, like any skill or craft. If you end up being out of work for a while and you haven’t been doing those things and then an audition comes in, you won’t feel ready to go for it.

What advice do you have for young actors just beginning their careers?
Understand that it’s not a 9–5 job and it never will be. It’s a lifestyle choice. In order to really be successful, you must give more than 100% to it. It’s going to be tough, but with hard work, determination, perseverance and real belief in your own talent and skill, it is possible. It’s not an easy business. It is a viable career choice but there is a lot of competition out there. It requires an incredible amount of discipline in order to really get where you want to go.

Check out Backstage’s London audition listings!