Emina Ashman rehearses for Cybec Electric, 2018

Auditions in progress

Inside MTC’s casting department.

By Sarah Corridon

MTC Casting Director, Janine Snape, and Casting Executive, Matt Bebbington, have over 25 years combined experience recruiting the best acting talent in Australia and overseas. We asked Janine and Matt what they love most about their job and how they came to find themselves sitting in on auditions for a living.

How did you find yourself working in casting? Tell us about your career journey to this point.

Janine Snape: The job found me really. I have a background in music and dance, and I majored in writing at University; this also encompassed theatre studies where I discovered I preferred to be a part of a creative team behind the scenes. I worked in arts publicity in Melbourne and built up a good knowledge of performers before working for a theatre producer. I was roped into coordinating auditions across Australia and New Zealand with two international casting directors who travelled out to Australia to cast a musical. They were incredibly inspiring to work with, were open to me suggesting ideas and hugely experienced in the casting industry. It was my first taste of casting, and I had the realisation that this job existed and it was a possible career choice. It just clicked into place for me.

I then headed to the UK to go traveling and to gain experience. I found myself working in London for an actor’s agency during the day, then I’d sprint across Waterloo Bridge to usher at the National Theatre in the evenings. I really immersed myself in the industry. Working within an agency means you are constantly in touch with casting directors, so it was a great way of making contacts. Some wonderful people in the industry have helped me along the way and opened doors for me. I worked in theatre at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and Stratford, and I also worked in freelance theatre and screen casting before returning to my home city of Melbourne to take up the position of Casting Director at MTC.

Matt Bebbington: Having been fortunate enough to be a regular theatregoer from the age of five, I’d always had a tremendous love of the Arts and a great knowledge of actors, so I knew that my career would likely end up in this area. I’d studied performing arts at university – a general course with elements of acting, writing, directing and design, but very quickly realised I wasn’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices to pursue and sustain a career as an actor. I also realised that my favourite part of creating a show was interpreting the script and finding the right people to create a particular universe, so a career in casting seemed like a worthwhile pursuit. As there’s no clear path to becoming a Casting Director, I got a foot in the door at MTC as a Box Office Supervisor when the Southbank Theatre opened in 2009. Luckily, within 18 months, a position opened up in the Casting Department and somehow I weaselled my way in and haven’t left the office for eight years.

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about ‘colour-blind’ casting in film, television and stage. Can you tell us more about this?

JS: ‘Colour-blind’ casting is the practice of casting the best actor for the role without bias. The performer could be from any ethnic background. If we are talking about diversity in casting, this extends beyond ethnicity. MTC engages performers by the Performer’s Collective Agreement, so we adhere to ‘a flexible, imaginative casting policy in casting roles where race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or the presence or absence of a disability is not germane’. The Casting Guild of Australia, of which I am a member, also worked with’ the MEAA diversity committee to set guidelines: ‘As members of the creative performing arts community, we all have a role in creating stories that reflect the diversity of the world in which we live. To that end, and in an effort to deliver more diversity in Australian film, TV and theatre, CGA members will, wherever possible, include and engage with diverse thinking and actions in all aspects of the casting process.

Diversity on stage and screen has been a vigorous and on-going conversation in the casting industry for many years. These conversations are now being discussed more widely and publicly which I think is essential to keep up the momentum to make change. It’s a responsibility of the job to, at times, initiate these conversations and approach the subject with sensitivity. The industry needs to continue working towards representing the cultural identity and demographics of the city and the world in which we live, across all mediums.

MTC holds general auditions every year – why are these important?

MB: Although I try to see as much theatre as possible, there’s so much going on all around the country that it would be impossible to see every actor in a full production. General Auditions are a great way to meet and see new actors in a very condensed amount of time. In a week of generals (which we hold a couple of times a year) we could see up to 120 people. Actors are asked to prepare up to two pieces of their choosing that best reflect their skills and interests, so it’s a great way to learn a lot about someone in a short amount of time – usually about 10 minutes. As these auditions aren’t for a specific production, there is often a more relaxed atmosphere in the room as the pressure of ‘will I, or won’t I, get the role’ is removed and despite the short amount of time, it’s possible to get a strong sense of an actor, their personality and their interests.

What do you love most about your job?

JS: The variety of the work, meeting and working with a huge array of talented and interesting people, reading scripts and going to the theatre, as well watching film and TV often doesn’t feel like work, although it is a major part of my job. I love being in the audition room and I’m fascinated by what choices a performer or director makes in the room. Having the opportunity to open the door for a performer to be considered, seeing them do a great audition, which can sometimes be the start of an ongoing working relationship between an actor and director, is a joy. I work for a company who has a great care and appreciation for every aspect of the work being created, and for the performers, creatives and the in-house team who make it happen.

MB: There’s so much to love about this job, but for me it’s working with the brilliantly talented staff across all departments at MTC. More so than in other positions, I have close working relationships with almost every other department in the company. From the wider artistic team, to stage management, to wardrobe, to marketing, to ticketing, to development and sponsorship, it is so great to collaborate with such a variety of people who are all working towards the same goal but in such wildly different ways. It really does take a village to get a show up and because actors are such a vital part of this process, I gain such a holistic perspective on all the amazing work that we do here.

What are your top three tips for an actor for auditions?

JS & MB: 1. Prepare – if you are sent the full script, read it. Preparation also includes knowing who you are meeting – research their work if you aren’t familiar with the director.

2. Be flexible and listen – it’s great to come in with your own ideas but keep an open mind and remain flexible enough to offer up new options in the audition.

3. Be yourself – we are interested in knowing about you. It’s worth remembering that you’ve been called into an audition because we believe you can get the role.

Published on 17 December 2018