We’ve just finished the auditions and casting for the annual panto for WOPA – West Oxford Pantomime Association.
We saw 48 children all of whom showed great humour and talent – I thought it might be interesting to share with our WOPA community how we go about the casting process
for children in this production.
We have 21 roles for children in the panto (We can’t have any more, mainly because of space restrictions). We open the junior auditions to anyone who lives or goes
to school in West Oxford and is in year 2-7 inclusive.
Our main aim at the audition is to encourage children to have fun, show off their personalities, and demonstrate their eagerness to be part of the production.
We ask the children to perform a joke or tongue twister or similar. (Some of the jokes they tell are so funny we actually add them to the script!) They also
sing a song together, in small groups, and act out some of the characters in the panto. It is a very simple and informal audition, and most of them leave feeling
good about themselves.
Before the children leave the audition, we explain about the various groups in the panto, the video, and this year, the Chorus. We ask if they have a preference.
All children are offered something.
Obviously, how we choose which children to include is affected by how many audition, but we always explain how many children we are seeing and how many parts are
WOPA is the only local am-dram group to include a video in the panto. We are well known for this in ‘panto world’ and it allows us to include many more people.
The video sets the scene for the panto; it is the back story that hopefully explains some of what happens in the panto itself. It is crucial to our production.
As one of the children summed it up when offered a part in the video last year – ‘Great, now I get to be in the panto but I can also go along and watch it and
see myself in the video!’
This year, we have also included a Chorus to allow us to include even more people in the production. This is not simply a choir but more along the lines of a
Greek Chorus. The Chorus will be essential to the production, as they will be involved throughout, singing songs, adding sound effects, encouraging audience
After the auditions we retire to discuss. There are five of us that make the casting decisions – two producers, the musical director and the two directors – and
no decision is made unless we are unanimous. This means that casting can (and does!) go on for hours.
We believe, and have experience to show it, that every child is capable of performing well in the panto, so our decision-making isn’t really based on the ‘best’
abilities we see in the audition. We have a huge number of criteria we try to meet. Mainly, we try to get a good spread of gender and ages across the junior cast.
But beyond that, especially since this is a community panto, we consider the following:
- Is the child enthusiastic about taking part?
- Has the child ever previously been cast in the panto (and if so, how recently)?
- Did the child take part in the video last year?
- Do we think the child’s confidence will grow as a result of taking part?
- Are we being inclusive?
None of the above is more important than any other. We discuss each child. We all have a child we champion and that is why we have so many people
involved in the casting process. In the end it has to be a consensus.
Every year, we try to include more children who either haven’t previously been involved or who have only been in the video. This year we cast four children
who were in the panto last year. We have found that casting a few children for a second year running is often helpful.
Firstly, they have a good idea of what is expected and almost ‘lead’ the junior cast. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, a child might have a
question they feel they cannot ask us about how things work etc., but knowing another child took part in the panto last year, gives them someone else to ask.
Every child who is not offered a part in the panto itself is offered a part in the video and, in addition this year, 4 children have been offered a part in
the Chorus. We love that the video, and now Chorus, give more opportunities to involve more people in this community initiative. And we love that so many children
have been eager and excited to participate in this way, even if they may have at first been a bit disappointed not to get a part in the performances.
Casting is very hard work. No one likes to disappoint a child. We are delighted that so many children and their families are so enthusiastic about participating
in and supporting our production each year whether that’s on-stage, back-stage, front of house, in the video, or in many other ways.
Our message to anyone who tried out but didn’t get the part they wanted this year is to come back next year and try again.
Oh yes, and of course, to come and see the show! After all, ultimately, this is for you.