Open vs. Closed Auditions*

I remember watching the pilot episode of Mozart in the Jungle, and being amazed at the “blind” auditions professional orchestras conduct. The musicians get audition numbers, and play behind a curtain for a panel. No one knows who’s behind the curtain, and so (ideally) the musicians are judged only on their skill and artistry.

In the theatre, there’s no way to do this – an auditioning actor’s voice, body, and face work in concert with his interpretation of the song/monologue to create a performance. In educational theatre, the production staff usually knows most of the hopefuls, and they often have to consider factors outside of the students’ talents when casting.

So how can you conduct auditions as fairly and efficiently as possible?     

There are two basic set-ups for auditions. Each has its own advantages, and you may want to choose based on your production’s needs.

Open Auditions are held with everyone who is auditioning and the production staff in the same room. The students watch everyone else’s auditions, and everyone watches their auditions. The advantages are that students can learn from each other, support one another, and everyone knows what happened during the auditions. There is no mystery about “how well” someone did, and most students will recognize the difficult decisions that the director must make during casting. Another advantage is you’ll get the opportunity to observe how potential cast members conduct themselves as they wait, be quiet, and support their fellow students.

Choose Open Auditions IF:
You have students who will benefit from watching other actors audition.
You need to have students read sides with each other during the auditions.
You don’t have adults who can monitor waiting students in a separate area.

Closed Auditions are held with the production staff and the potential cast members in different rooms. Students wait until they are called, and then they go into the room to audition. No one sees the auditions except for the production staff. The advantages are that the production staff doesn’t have to do crowd control while they’re trying to watch auditions, the students don’t know “how well” anyone did, and it generally takes less time than open auditions. DON’T choose this method so that the students don’t have to be nervous in front of a crowd of people.  That is exactly what they have to do in a few weeks for your production.

Choose Closed Auditions IF:
You have a group that falls into the trap of harshly criticizing others’ auditions (obviously, you’ll work on this with them, but auditions are not the ideal time to get started).
You think your students will be less stressed by having quiet, self-focused time prior to their auditions.
You want to give students a taste of what “professional auditions” will be like.
You don’t have access to a space that’s large enough to accommodate all of the hopefuls.

Movement/dance auditions for musicals are almost always conducted in small groups;  sometimes, the entire group of hopefuls learns the audition combination at the same time and is then split into groups of 6-10 people.

Callbacks usually have small groups as well; it’s easier to have different combinations of actors read sides when everyone’s in the same room.

* In the professional theatre, these terms mean something very different – in open auditions, anyone with an Equity card can show up, and in closed, you (or your agent) have to get the production staff to agree to set up an appointment.