From the Collective: This article was originally written by Tal Minear on their Medium page, and they have allowed us to share this article on the Sound Escape website. Please be sure to follow Tal on Medium and Twitter for more content on audio drama.
Creating Audio Drama Casting Calls
As a podcast creator and voice actor, I’ve made a few casting calls and auditioned for a lot more. I’ve seen folks ask if there exists a guide to making casting calls for audio fiction shows, but I’ve never seen one myself, so I decided to make one. This is a guide for what I think are best practices for making an audio drama casting call. I’m by no means a casting call expert, and these are merely guidelines, not rules — feel free to just incorporate what works for you.
My favorite casting calls are written up in google docs. PDFS come as a close second, but these can be difficult for those who use screen readers to access. Please don’t only post your casting call as an series of images. Not only are these are impossible for screen readers to read, your text isn’t copy/pasteable and folks who need to change text size, color, or font to read it won’t be able to. Images are great to post on social media and catch people’s attention with, but consider including a link to a google doc as well. If you’re using google docs, make sure the link you share is view-only, not restricted or editable. Check the permissions in an incognito window before you share the link.
On the document itself, you don’t need to get fancy with formatting. It’s more important to have clear, legible text than fancy colors or fonts. In the casting calls I’ve made, I used 11pt Nunito and 12 pt Arial, and bolded the most important information. I like to include show art at the top of the casting call, but this is just a personal preference and definitely not necessary. I’ve never had character art to share, but if you do, that could be worth including as well.
Before you list characters or audition lines, you should put information about your show, who you’re looking for, and how auditions should be submitted.
Something I find very useful as a voice actor is a quick breakdown at the top of the document, with information such as:
Here’s an example I’ve done.
Of course, you don’t have to provide information in this specific format. Here’s another example of show information that I posted before audition lines.
If you’re putting your information in a paragraph format, I recommend bolding the most important lines, such as deadline and payment. Keep your show information concise and to the point. Voice actors are reading lots of casting calls, often several one after another. Make it easy for them.
After putting information about your show, follow up with the information voice actors should know for their audition. These are some questions you should consider answering in your general information section:
Do voice actors need to be in a specific location, or are you doing remote recording? How important is mic quality? Should voice actors slate at the top of the audition? How many takes of each line should they do? How many characters can they audition for? Is improvisation welcome? What should they name the file? How should they submit their audition? What additional information should they send with their audition? Are there any characters restricted to voice actors from certain demographics? Are there any content warnings for your show?
Here are two examples of audition instructions:
I want to briefly expand on that last question before moving on. If your show has dark or distressing themes, be up front about it in your casting call. As a voice actor, there are some situations I simply cannot handle acting for and show themes that will affect me in deeply negative ways. When casting calls have content warnings for their shows, I’ll know right away if I shouldn’t audition. This page contains a list of common content warnings.
A Note On Voice Pitch
It is incredibly helpful for transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming voice actors if you include a note indicating who they should audition for. This can be as simple are as complicated as you want to make it.
I’m not going to go too deep into this, but I’ll use myself as an example. I am an AFAB non-binary voice actor who isn’t on testosterone, which means most people think I sound like a girl and most audio dramas cast me in female roles. However, I’m comfortable voicing characters of all genders, not just women. If you include a note saying you welcome voice actors to audition for any character they feel comfortable playing, I know that it won’t be a waste of my time to audition for a male character. If you don’t say that, I’ll probably just audition for the female/non-binary characters unless I’m feeling particularly brave that day.
In short, voices don’t have a gender. There are men with high voices, women with low voices, and people who sit outside the gender binary with all different pitches. If you want characters to have a specific voice pitch, then say so. Don’t just put “this character is male” and then reject all auditions from trans men with high voices. Make your expectations clear. I’d also invite you to think about your expectations and assumptions. If you want men with low voices for a character, ask yourself why. Look at why you wrote certain characters with certain genders, and evaluate how flexible their voice and pronouns might be.
Here’s what I wrote for Someone Dies In This Elevator. This casting call had 25 roles, some with specific pronouns and some without. We ended up with a cast that was nearly 50% trans/non-binary.
“Some characters are written without a specific gender, while others have set pronouns. We invite transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals to audition for any character they would feel comfortable playing.”
The Sidequesting casting call did not include specific characters, so I just included a note at the top that read “People of color, trans people, queer people, and those from other marginalized groups are especially encouraged to audition.”
But if you’re not going to cast like this, don’t say you are. Don’t write “We invite transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming individuals to audition for any character they would feel comfortable playing” if you’re not willing to cast these folks in the roles they feel comfortable playing.
You should consider listing character name, character pronouns, who the call is open for, a sentence about the character, and number of lines that the character has.
Examples of the formatting I used for Someone Dies In This Elevator were:
Mae — This character uses she/her pronouns. Open casting. An artificial intelligence designed to calm and encourage Ezekiel through his various dates. 51 lines.
Winston — Open casting, preference given to an older VA. A somewhat too relaxed member of an Architecture Firm Board. A very empathic and upbeat individual. 50 lines.
Ralie — This role is only open for nonwhite AND trans/nonbinary VAs. Terminally optimistic. 59 lines.
Tommy — This character uses he/him pronouns. The role is only open to transmasculine VAs. A younger man, the desk clerk. 28 lines.
Gedeon — Open casting. An experienced lawyer, prone to thinking about language to remain calm under pressure. 54 lines.
If you’re looking for a certain type of voice, like for an older character, say so here in the character description. Include other important character information, such as if the character is an AI. Don’t feel like you have to fit the description into a single sentence or two (I did this for Someone Dies In This Elevator because we had 25 characters and the casting call was in danger of hitting a double-digit page count). Write what you think is important for voice actors to know, and keep it generally concise. If it isn’t feasible to include number of lines for each character, consider simply stating if they’re leading, supporting, or an extra; possibly include episode count as well.
When picking lines, I look for a variety of emotions so that I can see an actor’s range. I like having some lines where how the line is said is written out (ex: “kindly” or “crying”) and some lines left open ended for VA interpretation. I want to see how an actor takes instruction and what approaches they take without it. If I felt that context was necessary, I included that (ex: Answering “Will it hurt?”). Overall, I’m interested in how an actor sounds and how well they can portray the character.
Here are five examples of audition lines from Someone Dies In This Elevator:
If you have characters that engage in lots of back-and-forth banter, I’d recommending pulling a snippet of an exchange and including it in the audition. When you have audition audio, you can actually edit the exchange together and hear how your prospective actors sound together.
Here’s an example of an exchange as an audition line. We had those who auditioned for Elkan read only Elkan’s parts, and those auditioning for Gedeon read only Gedeon’s part, but we provided the whole exchange under both characters for context.
GEDEON: (Grunts) The, uh, clasp comes undone if I flex too much.
ELKAN: Allow me… oh dear. This is a fake
GEDEON: Fake? I shouldn’t be surprised, yet…
ELKAN: The logo on the clock faces to the left. Similar materials… guessing the factory sold their defective units at a discount.
For Sidequesting, I wasn’t casting for specific characters, but rather collecting a pool of voice actors to cast from as I wrote. So for this show, I focused on providing lines that gave a range of emotions. I didn’t plan on doing table reads for Sidequsting, so I was especially interested in how actors took scripted instruction (This is why all four lines have some sort of guidance.)
A Note On Casting Marginalized Groups
Please don’t cast white actors as characters of color. This is whitewashing and erasure. If you’re confused about this point, start with this article.
Please don’t cast cisgender actors in transgender roles. If you’re confused about this point, start with this article. A quote from it:
“When you cast, for example, a cisgender man in the role of a transgender woman, you’re putting across that a trans woman is “really” a man.”
If someone from a marginalized group comes to you with an issue about your casting call, please listen to them! I have certain networks and creative teams on a personal blacklist because they ignored or belittled voice actors that pointed out issues with their casting call.
So you’ve got your casting call written up. What’s the best way to collect the auditions? Some shows ask voice actors to send them an email with their audition, often specifying a specific subject line to be used in the email. My personal preference is to collect auditions via a form. I use Google Forms, but I’ve also seen Airtable used. You can specify exactly what information you want from actors, and the form will collect and organize all responses for you. Instead of combing through emails and downloading every audition, I had all responses automatically put in a spreadsheet and all audition files in a google drive folder. It made sorting through the 500 auditions we got far easier than it would’ve been otherwise.
Here is the information I asked for on the submission form for Someone Dies In This Elevator:
This form asked for: Name, Pronouns, Race, Email, which characters they were auditioning for, the audio files, confirmation that they were not submitting an audition for a role restricted for a group they were not a part of, and had optional questions for audio fiction experience, demo reel, any situations they wouldn’t feel comfortable acting in, and an open ended catch-all question.
An important note about google — the form will append the name of the account used to submit the form to the end of the audio file name. Which means that if an actor is logged into an account with a name they don’t want others to see, the system will append that name to their audio file. I didn’t know this would happen when I collected auditions for Someone Dies In This Elevator, and neither did most of the people who auditioned. With multiple roles specifically for trans and non-binary actors, this meant that I accidentally collected several deadnames and had to manually remove them from file names. It was unpleasant. Learn from my mistakes, and inform people you will see their account name if you’re collecting audio via google form.
If you are casting a truly wild number of characters in one call, consider having a list of characters at the beginning of the casting call. If you use google docs, you can set this list as a Table of Contents, which means it can update automatically and link to you the section of the casting call with that character’s lines.
Consider sending rejection emails. Honestly, this is a fairly contested point across both audio drama actors and showrunners, but I personally appreciate it. I also received many emails back from people thanking me for letting them know about their Someone Dies In This Elevator audition. Is it necessary to send rejection emails? No. Is it nice to find out you didn’t get the part from your email and not the episode casting announcement (or the episode itself)? Yes.
You can use mail merge to personalize these emails with actor’s names, too. I opted to send a single email with all the addresses bcc’d.
That’s all I’ve got for you!
I wish you the best of luck creating your casting call and finding voice actors for your show! If you have specific questions, you’re welcome to contact me on twitter @starplanes. If you’d like further assistance with creating your casting call, I’m available for consulting.
If you want to see the full Someone Dies In This Elevator casting call, it’s linked here.
If you want to see the full Sidequesting season one casting call, it’s linked here.
If you want to see the full Sidequesting season two casting call, it’s linked here.