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Have you ever wondered how Welsh National Opera finds singers, sources children, decides on dancers for its operas? Like other producing companies, WNO has a Casting department that falls under the wider Artistic Administration department banner. As part of our ongoing series looking at the different roles within WNO, we got insight into the department from Lisa Turner one of our two Casting Officers.
As a Casting Officer Lisa helps to find possible singers for future productions. Working with agencies, she and her colleague find out which artists are available for a particular production – making sure to bear in mind that this has to include availability for the full rehearsal schedule too, as well as the dates here in Cardiff and then out on tour. They then pass this information on to the Head of Artistic Administration and Head of Music for possible auditions.
Once cast, they help negotiate details of the contracts. They also take the lead on finding the dancers, actors and children that may be necessary for a production; everything from the call outs (a kind of job advert for the roles), to arranging and attending auditions, and acting as go-between between the audition panel and applicants.
Lisa explains how WNO’s Head of Artistic Administration spearheads the auditions for the main cast: liaising with the artistic teams for each opera, and consulting WNO’s General Director and Music Director as needed. She goes on to explain that the Head also works closely with the production teams on their contracts, dealing with their needs and queries; and, along with our Head of Music, scouts for the next generation of talent, whether singers, conductors or directors. Launched last year, apparently our new Associate Artist Programme saw 130 singers auditioned in four different places around the country.
As Lisa points out, it is vital that communications between the team, the rest of WNO and artists and their agents, is constant and she says the key contact is the Casting and Auditions Assistant. If anyone at WNO has a query, they are the first point of call. The assistant also gets to work closely with the Costume department, ensuring they get the measurements of the cast as soon as possible, so they can get started on the costumes.
With auditions to be organised; artists of all kinds to be found and contracts to be drawn up; as well as issue solving and support to be provided, you would think from what Lisa has said that they would expect every day to be different: ‘we can never predict what the joys of theatre will throw at us.’
However, she remembers that working on From the House of the Dead in 2017 proved especially unusual: the team were tasked with ‘casting’ an eagle, eventually finding one through a fellow opera company. The multitude of contractual, technical, and safety (both animal and human) requirements seemed unlimited, but they’d almost got things sorted when disaster struck – the bird broke its foot and couldn’t perform, instead a digital projection took flight!
Casting can be an exciting if, at times, extremely hectic place to work, and it should come as no surprise if the team now believed wholeheartedly that, as the saying goes: you should never work with animals.