Director’s Notes: On Recasting

Following our recent need to recruit some new cast members for our revival of ‘Mankind’, our Artistic Director shares some of her opinions on the idea and process of recasting.

I’ve always marvelled at the phenomenon of long-running shows, or those which tour multiple companies of the same production simultaneously. A sort of “quality control” aims to make sure that audiences in Beijing, Los Angeles, or Leeds are seeing pretty much the same thing; you can see the production in 1990 and again in 2010 and it looks more or less identical. It’s not so much the degree of planning and oversight it must take to pull this off. It’s the actors. Dozens of individuals, with their own talents and creative processes, somehow manage to inhabit the same character, and in very nearly the same way. I’ve often wondered what it must mean to them, creatively, to not only have to do their basic job of acting, but to do it knowing that there is, effectively, only one “right” result.

Since we have been faced with the task of recasting a few parts for our revival of Mankind, due to some actors from our November production being unable to return, I’ve been thinking about this a great deal. As we’re trying to keep it quite similar to that earlier performance, we don’t want a significant shakeup in the characterizations. But I also believe firmly that actors have to be allowed to find their own way to a character, to merge what is on the page with what they imagine. Performances aren’t things which roll off a conveyor belt, identical; you can’t just put Actor A into Actor B’s place and expect that everything will stay the same, not if you actually value their work and their contribution to the process.

This is especially true, I think, with medieval drama, where the “character clues” in the text are fewer. With characters drawn to type and non-specificity, their individuality and believability comes largely from what the actors bring to the table. The characters that are built, and their relationships with one another, are open to an awful lot of interpretation. Because we aren’t starting from scratch, in casting we needed to contemplate not only whether an actor would fit well with a part, but how well they might “click” with their opposite – Mercy with Mankind, or the two N’s. After all, while actor chemistry isn’t necessary, it certainly helps!

This was very much held in mind as we were recasting the vacant roles. As always in casting, there’s an element of gambling involved, of trying, instinctively, to imagine how people will work together and how the personality you meet at an audition or interview will translate into a working process and resultant performance. Parameters or pre-existing ideas, born of an earlier run of the production, definitely make this process more challenging.

We were fortunate to have a fantastic cast in November, and I think we’re equally fortunate in our April group. Our new people are talented and enthusiastic, and as always I’m looking forward to get into rehearsals and see where they go with their parts. Helping them find their own path into previously established roles will be an interesting challenge: I want to give them room to discover and create, without the results taking the production in a different direction than the one we’ve already set. Unlike a first performance, the sky isn’t really the limit; at this point, there actually are “wrong” answers. But if creating a performance is a journey, there are many different roads you can take to arrive at similar destinations.

If you had the chance to see our November performance of Mankind, I do hope you’ll come along for the April revival and see what might have come from our experiences on those different “paths”!

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