Announcing the cast is an exciting moment in a school production
Casting for Dazzle at Bowness on Solway
For everyone involved in a school production, announcing the cast is a big moment.
For the director and, not least, the children, it can be exciting and even momentous.
As the director, you will wrestle with the familiar questions:
Will the youngsters find the courage to audition?
Who will you cast in the more demanding leading roles?
If this is their first time on stage, do your starry-eyed principals have what it takes to carry it off?
In the second in our series, Chris Rafferty, currently producing Dazzle! at Bowness on Solway Primary School, reflects on his approach to casting for the production.
Director’s Dispatch - Number 2: Casting Dazzle!
One of the aims when we began staging an annual Summer production was to give the children a memorable end to their time at the school.
The first show came to have the alternative title Life after SATs.
Since then, our productions have become more ambitious and we have begun to work on shows earlier, although rehearsals don’t get going in earnest until the children have completed their tests.
The children’s response to this year’s production of Dazzle! was incredibly positive and has remained so.
Having staged a version of Hamlet last year, some were half-expecting another Shakespeare play this year.
So the idea of a musical set in a seaside fairground was very different and captured their imagination.
Easier to learn
The children quickly spotted that the script for Dazzle! was longer than last year’s Hamlet.
However, the children felt that its more 'normal' language would be easier to learn.
We gave out scripts and song sheets to the children in February.
Many took time to look carefully at these before putting their names down for auditions, knowing the amount of dialogue they would need to learn, as well as any singing role.
For the auditions, we suggested excerpts from the script for each character, but also gave children the freedom to choose any part of the script they felt appropriate to the character.
It became apparent from the list of auditions signed up for, that the children had some clear ideas about the roles that they were going for.
Before the auditions, it is inevitable that you have an idea of how the cast might look, based on what you know about the year(s).
It is sometimes surprising how this initial view can change as a result of auditions.
Auditions went well, with some surprises
That proved to be the case with Dazzle! The auditions went really well, and threw up some surprises that caused me to rethink my initial mental sketch of the cast.
It is wonderful to see children show real desire and determination to win parts they have set their hearts on.
We needed an extra couple of roles to ensure all the children could be fully involved. The boy I felt was most suited to play Uncle Waltzein would prefer a speaking-only role.
With this in mind, I contacted Limelight’s Andrew Bailey to suggest some additional characters.
Andrew was very accommodating, I like to think because it was apparent that I was keen to be sympathetic to the original script and the changes were not adding or taking away from it.
Thus, three new characters were introduced:
A partner for Monkeychunks called Gorillalump;
Uncle Waltzein was joined by Aunt Wagener;
And Superintendant Beakworthy is accompanied by his detective, Noblesnout.
Announcing the cast
I announced the cast in one of my timetabled Monday afternoon sessions with the class.
Most of the children had actually chosen their auditions very well, and the majority of parts were the ones the children had wanted.
There was only pupil I needed to have an extra word with, to explain the casting.
It is an unwritten rule that, in the event of a tight decision, the Year 6 pupil will be awarded the part, as it is their last chance in the school before they leave for secondary school.
Not for nothing is the Summer show referred to as the ‘Leavers’ Production’...!
The principal girls….
With several strong female roles, Dazzle! ticked lots of boxes immediately for this cast.
One female cast member has had the role of a male “baddy” on two occasions in recent shows.
It was therefore one of my priorities this time to select a show with strong leading roles for the girls in the class.
With Poppy Pringle, Flossie Candour, Sarkky Cutter, Primula Clacket, Mary and Coco, there were certainly enough specific female roles in the cast list.
Jobs for the boys…
The roles more suited to the boys are equally strong.
It came as little surprise that there was lots of interest in the part of Monkeychunks, the fairground strong man!
The role of Murgatroyd Megarich provides a challenge, both from the point of view of script (a villain who becomes a hero) and the solo singing required.
However, I have no doubt that children can rise to the challenge when directed and supported well, and their confidence helped to develop.
It was one of joys of last year’s Hamlet to see the pupil in the leading role grow and develop in the part.
One of the main duties for the director, and indeed the wider production team, is to help children rise to the challenge.
The boy cast as Murgatroyd was slightly anxious initially that the role would be too challenging.
But it has been amazing to see the way he has set about learning the part.
Such commitment, indeed professionalism in one so young is just inspiring.
The point is not to make each year’s production more demanding than the last.
The key is to take stock of your year group and potential cast, and look for a script that will provide the right kind of setting and vehicle to give an appropriate challenge…. for them.
One of the class was really keen to take on the part of Sterling Squeamish (Muragtroyd’s weasily accountant) and his audition showed fantastic determination to win the part.
Dazzle’s score provides me with something different.
Many of the songs include individual lines, as well as chorus lines and full cast moments.
It is this, together with the fabulous melodies and orchestration, which provides that West End feel to the music.
The harmonies in the score add another dimension, and we are aiming to incorporate as many as we can.
When asked about use of harmonies, Andrew was equally confident that, were we simply to use the main melody, the songs would retain their impact.
There are several songs throughout the show with strong chorus parts, where choreography will feature strongly.
Using the full cast in these routines enables children with minor roles to be fully involved from the start
As usual, children from our middle class will take part as additional chorus singers.
For this show they will be our “Mini Dazzlers”, and will be dressed accordingly.
Being part of a production gives them invaluable experience - and shows what they can aspire to in subsequent years.
Director’s Dispatch 3: Designing the set
Director’s Dispatch 4: Four weeks to go
Director’s Dispatch 5: Counting down...
Director’s Dispatch 6: Surprise addition
Director’s Dispatch 7: Costumes
Director’s Dispatch 8: Dress rehearsal
Director’s Dispatch 9: Last night