For aspiring and working actors, casting directors are the golden ticket to getting seen, networking with directors, and booking jobs. As an acting coach and career consultant, the question I am asked most often is what do casting directors look for in young performers? Casting directors see thousands of children and know what makes a performer a standout. I have worked with casting directors throughout my entire career and can lend some insight on their process.
1. Naturalness. Acting may be pretend and make-believe, but that does not mean your child should seem fake. In show business, it is important to not be “showbizzy.” Casting directors aren’t interested in jazz hands and costumes, but kids being themselves. Jen Rudin, CSA, an award-winning casting director, emphasizes the importance of authenticity in auditions, “Be yourself. I always respond to the kids who are real and not manufactured in their acting or personality. I can spot a fake young actor from a mile away, so just relax and be you!" It is important that casting directors see young performers with an authentic personality and an emotional connection to their audition materials.
2. Personality. Acting natural does not mean your child should tone down their personality. In fact, it’s what casting directors are most eager to see! Is your child funny, thoughtful, interesting, quirky? These are all-important pieces of your child that can help a casting director place them in their head as the character for which they are casting. Joy Dewing, CSA, writes, “The difference is that with kids, it is of paramount importance to me, as a mother myself, that the child really wants to be there and that their parents are supporting them, not pushing them.” Seeing a child open up and connect with a casting director by demonstrating their passion for the craft is sometimes the most valuable aspect of an audition. It makes a child memorable—and that’s no small thing when competing with thousands of hopefuls for a part.
3. Professionalism. It requires a certain level of maturity for a child to be a professional actor. Unlike most young children, they have a career to cultivate and maintain. Acting is fun, but it is also a job. Casting directors want to see that a child they hire will be easy to work with and will bring positive things to a set. Merri Sugarman, CSA, of Tara Rubin Casting describes the professionalism that comes with child acting. “We’re looking for kids who seem mature in temperament and well supported by the grownups in the lives. This is a challenging business and we feel protective of the kids we're hiring.” Casting directors recognize and value the children with whom they do business. Competition is so fierce for young performers, there’s no room for divas or immaturity in the industry.
4. Well-rounded. Professional acting at any age is a full-time job, but there is still time for kids to grow in other areas of their life. Stephanie Klapper, CSA, says, “The kids we love to cast are those who are enormously talented but are still real kids! They genuinely love performing but have other interests, too. They do it because they love it, not because they (or their parents) want them to be famous.”Your child’s interests outside of acting can be as essential as their song or monologue in an audition. If your child has skills in other areas, it is to their advantage to continue with them. More importantly, it is another way for casting directors to see all the wonderful parts that make up your child.
5. Training. A young performer may have a winning look and a great personality, but those will fall short in an audition without proper training. Whether it is through group classes or private coaching, it is essential that young actors build a foundation in the theater arts. Jason Styres, CSA, of Binder Casting talks of understanding audition material when casting children, “My main focus is seeing the natural learning process on which each kid thrives. That is the only way I can figure out how to approach whatever material they have brought in.”
Casting directors are looking for a well-rounded, authentic child who can bring their acting chops to the table and give a compelling performance.