This question comes from the very talented Gil Charleston. I’ve had the opportunity to cast Gil twice in plays over the last couple of years, so he has no trouble getting on my radar, but he asked the following and it’s a question I hear from a lot of actors:
There is a play/tv show you think you are right for but you don’t have representation, how do you get the casting director to even know you exist and call you in?
This is an excellent and difficult question, but I have the answer! No strategy is foolproof but the following steps will definitely improve your chance of getting an opportunity to audition.
First and foremost, make sure you are active on actors access, backstage, and casting networks. Many times the job you’re seeking will be posted publicly. Also, keep your materials up-to-date so you can send out a submission at a moment’s notice.
You need to strike while the iron is hot. Are you in a show or a recent film? Did it get reviewed? Were the reviews good? Did the reviews point out your performance in particular? Use any attention you’ve gotten (recently) to stir up more interest. You need to get them to see your work (including a show you are currently in or your reel) or get them to want to see your work in an audition setting by whetting their appetite with all the amazing work you’ve been doing.
Step 1: Do your research way ahead of time
Some plays, shows, and films often start casting way ahead of time. It can take years for some projects to cast. Other projects fall into place at the last minute and only have a short time to cast. You need to be on top of what is happening and who is involved. There are many ways to do that, but one of the best ways is to read all the breaking news from outlets like Playbill, Broadway World, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly, TV Line, First Showing and many others. Find out who the casting director is as well the assistants and associates. Casting About is a pretty reliable source for that information.
Step 2: Gather and refine your materials
So, you know you would be perfect for a guest spot on Person of Interest or there is a new production of King Lear off-Broadaway and you have always wanted to play Goneril, after you have done your research, you need to tailor your submission.
Send a hardcopy of your headshot and resumé to the casting office to the attention of the casting director and the associate in charge of this project. On the outside write in sharpie: “King Lear: Goneril” (Note: sometimes you have to cast yourself.) Rather than having your resumé go into the very large general pile it will (hopefully) go into the much smaller pile of actors being considered for Goneril in King Lear. This doesn’t guarantee that you will be considered or receive an audition, but it will place you better off than the hundreds of actors who just send in their materials with a note that says “Please consider me for any projects I might be right for.” Casting yourself saves eveybody time.
So now you know what to put on the outside of the envelope, but what do you put on the inside?
a. A short, clear cover letter:
Dear Ms. Lilly, (Don’t put “Casting Director” put in the name)
My name is Abby Actor and I am writing to you in the hope of securing an audition for the role of Goneril in King Lear at the XYZ Playhouse. I recently played Lady Anne in Richard III at the ABC Theatre and Cassandra in Agammemnon at the 123 Players. I have included my headshot and resumé and I am available for the audition and production dates. Many Thanks!
b. Your headshot that is recent, of good quality, and appropriate for the role. On the back of your headshot is:
c. Your resumé which is up-to-date and properly formatted.
Wait, follow up, and use your resources
Sometimes, casting takes time, so you have to be patient; however, that doesn’t mean you have to sit on your hands. A week after you send in your headshot, send a postcard to follow up:
Dear Ms. Lilly,
Thanks for reviewing my submission for the role of Goneril in King Lear at the XYZ Playhouse. I am available for an audition, and I hope I get the opportunity to meet you in the near future.
Also, sometimes you need to ask for help. A personal recommendation goes a long way. Ask the directors, producers, and casting directors you have worked with if they know the casting director for this project. It’s a small world, so it’s likely that someone you have worked with has also worked with someone in the casting office. Choose wisely, don’t ask a director or producer colleague to recommend you for every project. Choose one project that you are absolutely perfect for and ask for one recommendation. Don’t keep going back to the same well, it will run dry.
Your friends are also an amazing source of assistance. Ask friends if they have auditioned for this casting director or if they know the director or other actors who have already been cast. You never know who might be able to help you get your foot in the door.
These steps will put you in the best position to get considered for that perfect gig.
Just to clarify, here are few steps I don’t recommend.
DON’T crash the audition
DON’T call the casting office to ask/ beg for an audition
DON’T send angry follow up notes when you don’t hear back right away (Yes, this happens)
DON’T send angry follow up notes when you are not offered an audition (Yes, this happens)