For the Screenwriter's Workshop, IFP Chicago was proud to have Director & Casting Director Tara Branham cast the Staged Reading event on December 1st (RSVP here) from our pool of local Chicago actors and the 2015 graduated class of School at Steppenwolf.
We sat down with Tara over Thanksgiving to ask her some questions about the casting process and what writers should know.
IFP Chi: Tara, you cast for films and multiple theater companies around the city. What do you look for in a script when casting for a production?
TB: As a casting director I try to keep the initial pool as wide as possible when I read at the scripts. So in the first pass, I look for the minimum requirements. If a person must be a specific ethnicity, age, gender, ability, etc. I also see if there is anything in the text that delineates look or type. (I.E. If there are families onstage, what is the flexibility in that family? How large is the age gap between parent and child and brothers and sisters? Are any of the children adopted? Could they be?) Basically, I see what is required by the text for casting.
IFP Chi: What are the responsibilities of a Casting Director, and what can a Casting Director bring to your production?
TB: Ultimately, the casting director is responsible for providing the director with the options they need to cast their project. Casting Directors are also administrative wizards that are great at communicating efficiently and effectively with largely varying groups of people. Casting Directors bring a large knowledge of the acting community, a knowledge of the play, the theatre company, and the work of the director. Ultimately, it's in our best interest to gain as much information about what the director wants for a role and bring that to the table. We can also bring a different perspective and provide new and exciting casting options. I am a casting director who makes inclusive and culturally aware casting a priority. I am responsible for providing the options and if those options aren't diverse, the show has no hope of being so.
IFP Chi: You are a prolific Director as well, what kind of scripts attract you to a writer?
TB: I'm a director that is drawn to female-centric theatre that explores extremes in human behavior. The scripts I'm most drawn to tend to have characters that "behave badly" or challenge the status quo. They often deal with epic themes in a microscopic environment. Beyond subject matter, I look for a style or idea that I haven't seen before. I also look for writers that are interested in active collaboration that enjoy being a part of the rehearsal process and ultimately are looking to trust freely and explore the opportunities in their play.
IFP Chi: When casting, how long should you give yourself to cast a project?
TB: I ask for 6 weeks. It can be done in less, but this provides the casting director with breathing room and brain space and also allows for inevitable scheduling issues. Artists are busy! So the more time we have the better.
That breaks down to 2 weeks to read the script and complete required script analysis, and meet with the director. 2 weeks to assemble a list of invited actors and identify any holes in the casting pool and fill those and invite actors to the auditions. And 2 weeks to hold auditions, callbacks, and make offers.
IFP Chi: Who were some of your favorite actors and writers you've discovered this year?
TB: I'm currently collaborating with a few writers that I'm in love with: Kristiana Rae Colón, Guadalís Del Carmen, Tate Geborkoff, Jake Carr, Steven Simoncic, and Mariah MacCarthy. I just started working with Guadalís Del Carmen who I'd primarily known as an actor. I'm blessed to be surrounded by amazing artists that entrust their work to me.
Some actors I've discovered this year are Kiki Layne, Tony Santiago, Amanda Fink, Aurora Adachi-Winter, Heather Chrisler, Skyler Schrempp, Awate Serequeberhan, Magdalena Mentelska, Guadalís Del Carmen, Vahishta Vafadari, Andrew Cutler, Gay Glenn. And that's just a few from this year alone. There are so many more amazing actors in the Chicago Theatre Community.
IFP Chi: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers on getting good actors interested in their work?
TB: An actor will be interested in the work if it is novel, challenging, excellent, pays well, has good publicity, or forwards their career or their core artistic values. If the project can be more than two of those, it's a great project. A writer only controls some of those things, so my biggest advice is to make sure that all of the characters have a reason to be onstage. If you have an ensemble, give them exciting things to do! There is nothing worse being spear holder #2. Unless there are 10 spear holders that together dance in unison to The Weekend's "Can't Feel My Face" while challenging the laws of time and space. Actors want to do that. They also want to play Stanley in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and Oya in "In the Red and Brown Water." Give them something exciting to do, and actors will be there.
And don't miss the results of Tara's work at the FREE Staged Reading at Greenhouse Theater December 1st at 7:30pm.
Admission is FREE to the public. Doors open at 7:00pm. RSVP Here.