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The Self-Taught Producer: How To Create a Breakdown

Along with producing your own projects comes the task of casting. Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE the casting process. On some projects, it’s the first time you’ve heard the script being read by actors. And not just one…you get to watch many interpretations of the material. It’s especially gratifying and eye-opening if you’ve written the script.

But before you can actually have your casting session, you have to create a document, letting agents, managers and actors know what you’re looking for. This document is called a BREAKDOWN, offering information about your project, the actors you’re looking for, the dates of production and more…you know, breaking down what you need in regard to casting actors. Sending out a breakdown is how you will manage to create a roster of actors for your audition…but what should you include in this document so that you’re not wasting the time of entertainment professionals…and your production colleagues?

There are, of course, templates you can find on the internet (with everything else), but I’ll share with you the information that I find to be most crucial and the way that I describe characters so that I can get the assistance I need.

Of course, you can hire a professional CASTING DIRECTOR, but if your production is on a strict budget I always suggest being your own casting director and sharing information about what actors you’re looking for and receive the submissions yourself.

As far as information to be shared, here is what I suggest:

Name of Production

Name of Production Company

Name of Director

Name of Writer

Name of Songwriter(s) (if it’s a musical)

Name of Choreographer (if it’s a musical)

Contract Type

Date of Project (if you know), Including Rehearsals (if there are)

Production Location or Locations

How You Would Like to Receive Submissions

If the production is a world premiere or a new adaptation or a musicalized version of a beloved story, you will also want to notate that. This simple information adds a point of interest that will set your project apart from others.

For characters, besides the obvious description of the character’s sex, age and race, I always use the term “generically specific”. What does this mean? It means that you offer the broader description of the character within a more particular type. This allows you to see a variety of actors within the parameters of the characteristics of the role.

For instance, if your character is the half-sister of the main character, a tough, steely, sarcastic woman who is a kindergarten teacher, has a child, is married to a contractor and dreams of being a college professor even though she doesn’t have enough time to be what she wants to be, that’s all well and good. However, adding all of this information may not get you the results you want. A better approach is:

LEE: Female, 40’s, Caucasian. Sylvie’s half-sister. Serious minded, sarcastic yet with a great potential to love…she just doesn’t feel comfortable showing it.

With this description, you’ve opened up the possibilities of actors who could play it, without offering too much information that won’t really be useful for the audition process. You can always offer more information if asked or before a call-back session.

I also suggest opening up your idea of what characters could be to other races and ages. Unless the character is a child of 10 and he or she needs to be for the purposes of the story, offer ages in decades, i.e. 30’s, 40’s. It’s possible that someone who may be older or younger than you thought could be the best actor for the role. Likewise, an Asian, Indian or African-American actor could fill a role in a much more interesting way than you had thought.

One thing I’d like to share: for theatre productions, if your project is already cast (some ACTOR'S EQUITY contracts require auditions – check out the Actors Equity website to confirm which ones), you might want to put out a breakdown anyway. This accomplishes three things: first, you will create some buzz about your production – always a good thing in the oversaturated world of New York City theatre projects. Second, you might get a submission from a particularly well-known actor who, if cast, could increase the cache of your production. And, finally, you will need backups in case a cast member gets a better offer, becomes ill or has to bow out for undetermined circumstances.

Breakdowns are important to any production as they set the tone for the kind of project your company is putting together. Following these tips will get you the submissions you want (for the most part – you will always have to sift through them) and let actors and their reps know that your production is a professional one that has merit.

As always, please comment below with your tips, suggestions and questions.

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