An Afternoon of Castings
An Afternoon in the life of an Auditioning Family.
My children are both with an agency and, if I am employed to chaperone them, the agency acts on my behalf too. Between them, the children have now done some West End theatre, television drama for BBC and ITV, and radio. I realise now that we could not be doing this work without the support,contacts and expertise of the agents. They have worked in the field for a long time and they know all the casting directors that we get sent to. They also know what type of work we are looking for and only send us to those sorts of auditions. Sometimes we have a week's notice, sometimes it's the same day, but calls for auditions often seem to come in clusters and this is very convenient when it happens. Although it is very tiring to get to more than one audition in a day, it is more efficient and reduces the costs as we usually have to meet travel expenses ourselves. Things go quiet for a month or two, then there is a sudden flurry of activity. This is an example of one such, somewhat exceptional, very busy afternoon last year.
My oldest son (11) was called to a casting for a part in a historical drama for BBC Education and we were sent some pages of script in advance. I decided to drive, rather than go by train, because we had to visit three venues in one afternoon and, from experience, driving is the least tiring option for the children. I'd lived in London in the past and can find my way around by road pretty well, although my children's ability to read maps has improved massively since we have been doing auditions! The other benefit of travelling by car is that we can listen to story tapes together as well as have long, uninterrupted discussions and my children like to talk!
We had an early lunch at home. On the drive into London my son practised the script and we talked about what they might be looking for. I did wonder if I'd made a stupid mistake in taking the car when I realised that there was no parking to be found at White City, but eventually I convinced a security guard in a nearby building of our genuine need and he let us park there free for an hour. After a short wait at BBC reception, we were collected and led through the buildings, across car parks, round the back entrances to studios, being given a running commentary of our route by our companion who then left us in some offices to wait. There were a couple of other parents sitting there and, as soon as their child finished his audition, they all left. The director appeared, said hello and then took my son off for a discussion and to be filmed doing a read-through. My youngest son (9) and I sat and read together while we waited.
At the end, the director gave my child some lovely feedback and had a quick chat with me. We were left to ourselves to get out the building. It took some time to retrace our steps and we hurried back to the car to head up to North London. On the drive my son told me all about the BBC audition and he looked through the next script. We sat in traffic jams most of the way but got to the casting director's house in time. Some casting directors, like this particular one, work from home and conduct auditions there.
We waited for my oldest son in her kitchen and I was offered a very welcome cup of tea by her co-worker who looked quizzically at my 9-year-old and started asking him what acting work he had done. She said that she was about to start casting for an ITV drama and thought that he might fit one of the children's parts, so I gave her details of our agent and she said she'd be in touch. I could hear my oldest son and the casting director laughing loudly in the other room and, while I drank my tea and chatted, I wondered what on earth they were finding so funny. This part was for a new telly series and they were looking for a boy with my son's appearance to play the child of a well-known actor. They finished after half an hour or so. We all chatted some more, said goodbye and drove off to Covent Garden while I heard about how that audition had gone. He thought he had got on very well with the casting director, had really liked the director too and was feeling pretty hopeful about the part. They'd filmed him improvising and acting using the script.
We found a parking meter in Covent Garden fairly easily and I made a mental note to remember to pay the Congestion Charge for driving in central London. That is an added expense of auditions if we take the car. The children were really hungry so we found a cafe and bought some snacks that they ate as we walked to find the offices for the next audition. Usually I keep snacks in the boot for moments such as these but we had run out and I'd forgotten to replenish supplies. I tidied us all up - everyone was looking slightly dishevelled by now.
After some searching we found the place we were looking for, hidden down a little passageway that we thought ought to have been used as the entrance to Diagon Alley in a Harry Potter film. We pressed the entry phone, climbed a couple of flights of stairs and went into their small offices. It turned out that all these casting directors wanted to do was have a brief chat to my youngest son. They were making their first choice based on this and would be sending their selection of children on to audition with the Production Company the following week. The part was for a Christmas mini-series of a well-known sitcom. I sat with my 11-year-old in an adjoining waiting area.
When they had finished talking, they called my oldest son and me back into the room and talked with all of us some more. Although they had not called him for audition, they wanted to know more about my 11-year-old, if he was acting, what he had done and if he was with the same agency as his brother. They said that they would keep him in mind for future work too. It was all very friendly and a fairly relaxed ending to the day which, on the whole, had been sociable and pretty calm - not as chaotic and stressful as auditions involving large numbers of children seem to be. We met some lovely people and had some interesting conversations. Both the children had positive feedback and felt happy and quietly confident that something would come out of it. We were all very tired, especially me, and the drive out of London was truly horrible.
The outcomes were different to the ones we expected. One of the benefits of being with an agency who know the casting directors they deal with really well is that we can sometimes get feedback that would be difficult without those contacts. Unusually, we managed to hear the background to every single one of the decisions made about all the auditions from this particular day.
* The BBC director ended up needing to choose between two children for the part: one with a regional accent and my 11-year-old who has an 'RP' accent. He decided to go with the other child. but he said that he was sure he would use my son for other parts in the future because he really liked his voice.
* The North London audition also ended up being between two children: my 11-year-old (apparently the casting director's choice) and another boy (the choice of the director). The other boy got the part. The series is currently being broadcast it's been interesting seeing the script used for the audition being dramatised for real.
* I decided that I didn't want my 9-year-old to be considered for the ITV drama when they started casting that. (Having heard a bit about the content, I decided that it was not the sort of thing I would let him watch so I didn't want him appearing in it.) I asked our agent to explain this, if the follow up phone call happened.
* The Covent Garden conversations resulted in another trip up to London the following week for my youngest son to audition for the director and producer of the sitcom. He didn't get the part. It was given to a boy who was younger than all the other children. They really wanted a younger child and this boy fitted the bill exactly, as well as being a good actor. We saw the mini-series when it was broadcast and enjoyed it.
* The Covent Garden casting directors haven't called my oldest child for any auditions yet.
So that was that, no parts from that day, or so we thought. Then, out of the blue, several months later we got a call to ask if we could send a tape into the BBC. Someone was looking for a child for a radio play and was interested in hearing my oldest son's voice. They had heard about him from the man in BBC Education. We quickly made a recording and the agency sent it off. A few days later the offer of the part came through without an audition or a meeting, and that is how my 11-year-old got to do his first piece of radio drama. The first time he met anyone from this particular production was when he walked into the studios on the morning of the recording.
And this is how the business seems to function: masses of waiting, flurries of auditions, often not hearing the outcome, few offers of parts, long tiring days trying to help myself and my children in pacing our energy levels well, meeting many pleasant people, networking, dealing with disappointments, wondering whether it is all worth the effort, then suddenly striking lucky in unexpected ways. It is all very, very unpredictable but, at the moment, still worth the effort because some really lovely things have happened along with the boring and tiring bits and it still feels as if we are all learning a lot.
- A Mum and Registered Chaperone. 2003 (Identity witheld by request)