TYLER is in his late twenties. He’s from Salford and he’s smart and knows where he’s going. He can talk too- he’s the smoothest talker. He left school a little early due to a misunderstanding about something he had going on with a teacher, but it was all good. For two years he worked in a call centre selling medical insurance, brilliantly- he was top of the leader board every week. He lived with his Mum, a single parent and his brothers and sisters in a high rise with a view over a building site but with the city in the distance and it was those lights twinkling away 24/7 that called out to him. He ducked and dived a bit trying to get a foot in the door. Worked as a holiday rep in Ibiza which was OK but no money, sold things for a while- the less said about that the better- and then came back home because of some personal stuff with his Mum. He followed the lights and got some work in offices, picking up some skills and now he works for Samantha as an Executive Assistant and this is the sweetest job ever- for so many reasons-but there needs to be a future doesn’t there? And that’s the issue right now. The big what’s next…
And now I need to cast an actor and work with him to move the character on through the development process so we can jointly and collaboratively work out what Tyler wants.
Most current working playwrights have multi-facted roles in the theatre making process, either they’re producer/directors like me or they’re very much immersed in the ongoing collaboration.
My apprenticeship involved bashing away in solitude, producing a draft and then handing it over to the director who would then set about casting, either from a standing company or, more likely, breaking down the roles into bitesize chunks of description and sending out a call to agents and/or casting service the spotlight.
The playwright waited for a date for auditions to be held and then sat in a chair next to the director, sometimes a casting director too, and listened and watched and chipped in occasionally as various actors read the script brilliantly or not so brilliantly and then the director made his/her choices and it was time to disappear again until the first day of rehearsal. The playwrighterly disappearing continued throughout the rehearsal process until the show opened and everyone could breathe a sigh of relief because the writer had disappeared for good.
A slick functional operation offering clear separation between creative departments it none the less felt like the opportunity for some exciting work was being missed- the fundamental connection between writer and actor- and fuller interaction and co-operation is now more likely to be factored into the early stages of making new work, brand new playwrights included.
It’s tremendously beneficial to work with actors- the principal drivers in theatre making- at the beginning of a new play and production process, so that they can feed the writer, as much as the writer feeds them.
After a few years of old school restless witnessing, I jumped out of the writers chair and into the directors and my process evolved as I started to cast actors before writing, at the concept stage.
I LOVE YOU BABY has been written to this point with four actors in mind.
Clarence and his sisters Samantha, Grace and Sadie have been clear entities to me during the first draft process as the actors who will deliver the initial scratch performances are already known to me, however I left the character of Tyler un-cast as I wanted to have a good look at him through this first draft.
He exists very much in reaction to other characters and I wanted to look at just that, how he reacted.
These are tough time for everybody, for those who work in the arts and for young people who want to get a foot in the door, and make a career out of something which will never pay riches but which enriches the whole of society.
I was lucky enough to be just on the tail end of a state subsidised grant system that saw me through drama school and into the acting profession, assistance which enabled me to do what I really wanted to do, and without which there would definitely have been no training for me, no further opportunity and no career.
Important debate is currently taking place around diversity in casting and like most of my colleagues and peers it’s an issue I take very seriously. If a new generation of actors isn’t developed from the broadest possible base then theatre becomes narrow and the preserve of the privileged, and the rich panoply of creative work generated over the past two decades withers on the vine.
Increasingly students from economically challenged backgrounds are precluded from actor training and it seems therefore increasingly unfair to focus casting searches on drama school trained actors.
This puts increased responsibility on producers and directors to mentor and train new talent on the job (As was the case in the 1940’s and 1950’s) but if this is what it takes to ensure a theatre fit to represent a 21st century society where disability, race, gender, sexuality and difference of all kinds is embraced and celebrated then so be it.
Sarah Brigham at Derby Theatre is heading up some serious current conversation around diversity and casting and the Guardians’ Lyn Gardner has also written incisively around the subject.
Companies such as Dark Horse theatre and others with a remit to offer opportunity and training to talented people with minority life experiences need to be supported to be able to continue to provide space for the excellent and under-represented to be seen on main stages.
Writers, directors and companies are continuing to bring new talent on and to offer chances to as broad a talent base as possible and, as times constrain options more and more, there is a greater impetus to look as broadly as possible for tomorrows actors.
I aim with the casting of Tyler to find an actor for whom this is a break- and an actor who might not get that break elsewhere.