National Theatre: Head of Casting
As Head of Casting at the National Theatre, Wendy Spon has brought some pretty spectacular actors into the limelight. Ahead of her event just for IdeasTap members this month, she offers us an insight into her role…
On an average day, [the casting department] will be working on a number of different projects. We might be just beginning with something, so we’ll speak to a director to see what kind of actors they’re interested in. We might have already started the process of auditions, or we may be preparing for that process by having ideas, talking to agents, sending out casting breakdowns or attending other meetings in the building.
You’ve got to understand what the director wants and then you have to deliver that. The casting department gets involved with the director as early as possible. A lot of the directors who work at the National Theatre are very experienced. They are also very busy. We’re a resource with an accumulated knowledge of actors, which we have to maintain. We have creative discussions about how we interpret a particular role and which actors are right for those roles, but ultimately it’s not about how I see a play, it’s how the director sees it.
You have to get out and about and see as much work as possible. Whether it is on the fringe or in the West End or at drama schools, the casting department is out there seeing work all the time and, between us, we have been for many years. Our value lies in the fact we’re a group of people with an accumulated knowledge of actors and their work.
When we bring people through the door, we need to know that they are equal to the task. While we are present in auditions, the best thing for us to see someone in a show. As a department within a national organisation, reflecting the community that we serve is a huge part of our responsibility. Diversity is important to us in the casting department and introducing new actors to directors is a big part of what we do.
I’d unconsciously always been interested in actors. This is not a job you can do without having a knowledge of actors. To get into this role, some casting directors worked for agents, others assisted casting directors and others were performers themselves. A huge part of our job is seeing actors’ work across the board. After university I was an assistant director for a bit and that was a good place to observe what directors do. I then got a job working for a casting director. That is where it all fell into place and felt like an interesting job that consolidated all the knowledge that I'd acquired.
I would certainly encourage actors to be themselves as much as possible when it comes to auditions, especially in those for the theatre. You should feel empowered to ask questions if you don’t understand something. Don’t try to second-guess what people want.
Want to know more about casting? IdeasTap has teamed up with the National Theatre to offer 30 lucky members the opportunity to chat to Wendy at our London Bridge HQ on Wednesday 29 February. Apply to our brief before 21 February.
National Theatre by sweenpole2001 available by CC BY-NC 2.0.