The hardest part of being a director, especially of youth theater, is answering that question. But here goes.
As a “mom” of performers, I always want each of my performers to feel special and appreciated and to have a solo moment where they are the star. I remember growing up in performing arts and hearing sayings like “there are no small parts, only small actors” and “the ensemble is just as important as the lead”, but I didn’t really know that they were true until I got to the other side of the equation and became a director. Personally, I build a megamix at the end of every show so that all the performers who want a solo can get a solo, and we feature as many performers as possible throughout the show. I really endeavor to give each performer their moment in the spotlight, but there is still a pecking order and a ladder to climb. I like to compare the cast of a show to the human body, the leads may be like the eyes or face and get a lot of attention, but the armpits help our body to rid itself of toxins and without armpits we would die. Sometimes you have to be the armpit because it is vital to the show’s health. I know that ensemble role seems insignificant right now, but the director is always watching for future leads. If you are responsible with a small part, I will give you larger parts in the future, and if you are amazing, I may even plan a show for you. Remember a show can cost anywhere from $10-$100,000 to put on, sometimes directors have to put in their personal money to make the show happen. I want to invest in performers who are experienced, talented, trustworthy, and committed. If I can’t trust with a “small” part then why should I trust you with a large part? Also if you have not performed in musicals before, don’t take lessons and miss rehearsals, why should I go out of my way for you?
As a director, I do have to consider the chemistry of the cast and how to make the show the best. Here is where it gets hard. There are so many variables here that the individual performer cannot control. There are height, age, and look considerations, as well as past history between the performers themselves. For example, years ago when we were casting an adult production of “Guys and Dolls” we had a 50 year old male lead as our only option. We had two strong girls auditioning to play against him. One was 21 and very talented, but looked like his daughter, the other was not a strong singer but was 35 and looked more appropriate with him, so we cast her. I do not want to cast exes as leads as it will cause unnecessary drama. I do not want to cast someone who is a diva or has a family who is not willing to volunteer and help out with production needs as it causes a strain on all the other performers. Picking a cast is like picking a winning sports team. I need a few strong leaders, a few people with special skills, etc.
Sometimes there are height and clothing size concerns as well. Specifically for our production of “Beauty and the Beast” I was forced to cast to the costumes, as they were already made and were given to us for free. To rent costumes would cost between $3,000 – $5,000, which we did not have in our budget. The costume for Belle was a size 0-4 petite, so I needed to find girls who would fit it. (By the way, this is common practice at Disneyland and on Broadway.) The costumes are expensive to build so often you have to be a certain size to be considered for a role. Also, as in any company, I am going to give priority casting to performers and families who have been with me for many shows and many years. They have invested in my productions, so I am going to invest in them. I do try to give lead roles mainly to performers who are juniors or seniors in high school with the understanding that they will only get one big lead show. I have worked with other companies where the same performers got the lead in every show, and I do not want to be that company. Of course there are always extenuating circumstances, but I try to keep it fair so that each performer has a shot at a lead role.
In conclusion, if you did not get the part you wanted you should take a clear look at yourself. Were you going for a role that you were appropriate for? Have you put in the time building your performing skills? Do you take voice lessons, dance classes, acting classes? Are you in lead shape physically? If you answered no to any of these, then you should start working on that. If you answered yes to all of those then chalk it up to circumstances beyond your control. I have been in auditions where it came down to me and the director’s girlfriend. Even though I felt I out sang her, I knew they were going to cast her, but I also knew that if I did my time as a principal they may pick a show for me. They did. If you don’t get cast as the part you want, the best thing you can do is happily and eagerly spend your time in the part that you get, learn from the experience, encourage your fellow cast members, help the directors in any way you can, and be thankful that you get to be in a show. I am thankful every time I get to step out on stage and perform, you are so lucky to be healthy and living in such as time as this. One of the best lessons you can learn is that you don’t always get what you want, usually you have to work long and hard to get it. So start working harder and someday you will get that part!