by Chantal Williams – Community Producer
I have been gifted with casting for Rent Party, a show that does not shy away from being all that it can be. It celebrates being talented, wonderful, lived; cascading the parameters of being black, queer and working class. Brash, bold and brave, it’s a bloody joy and the idea of replicating such a vibrant, confident cast here in Cardiff to showcase a re-devised Welsh Rent Party is, well – it’s bloody exciting!!
The beautiful thing is that this show is real. Real lives, real people, told from lived experience. Framed by a party (a party thrown to raise money) in a way that values the performers’ talents, yet the experience of it is so far from that in reality. It is a one on one, a gift from performer to audience, a window into another life filled with talent, verve, challenge! It’s wonderful!!
The artists/performers dictate the content; they make the show as wonderful as it is. They devise their story, they tell THEIR truth and the glorious Darren Pritchard showcases them to their best, most honest capabilities. This framing of the show has to be at the very core of every aspect of Rent Party being staged and re-devised here in Cardiff, it just has to! It’s amazing to think we will get to show a Welsh cast in this way.
So where do we begin with casting? We start by opening a casting call,
In reflective chats with Darren, we agree a call out isn’t necessarily the most effective way to attract the performers to the show who may be the right fit, considering our ambitions to attract less present performers in theatrical/artistic circles. It’s maybe something about language, the officialness of it – the “that’s not for me” feeling that super talented people outside of the “artist” label parameter might feel. So it is very important how I support artists and performers throughout the casting process.
It’s also prevalent from the beginning of the process that the importance of the framing of the work has to run through the very veins of the casting process, starting with the language and delivery of the casting call. Wales Online should not be able to say “Working class Welsh performers surprisingly can sing well”. It will have to say “What a quality show, brave and ambitious bursting to the seams with talent, relevance and empowerment” and it is our responsibility to get this right in the production of Rent Party here in Wales. We open the call with a welcoming video from Darren, calling out to performers and explaining in a friendly approach what the offer is.
I begin to open conversations and encourage people to come through, audition/submit their work, celebrate themselves, celebrate their talents. I am asking organisations who they would recommend in relation to the brief. I am chatting and chatting and encouraging everyone to follow the casting process. It’s about telling performers/everyone suitable; these processes, ARE FOR YOU!!! And I can support your submission: You want to Whatsapp me your video? Sure! You want me to write your paragraph as you dictate? Absolutely!
We had over 40 amazing submissions; so diverse and talented that it shows that casting calls work. Albeit being peppered with lots of foundation work, tonnes of conversations with organisations that could share and recommend the work and lots of encouragement to local artists to take up the opportunity.
In the next stages Darren and I met for 2 hours, where he talked through every artist. He is generous and spends time looking through each person’s repertoire of work, accessible or not. We meet potential cast members via zoom and workshop potential cast members providing honorariums for their time. Darren really wants to get to know people, to ensure they are a right fit for the show, or see where the show can support their development. It feels a blessing to work with someone who is forever thinking about people, expanding the offer and opportunity and is generous enough to know that creativity in any community needs nurturing. A facet of our society that is so important, yet not always supported. Darren takes the infamous statement ‘Rethink and Retrain’ as a responsibility to people, not a move to another sector.
Rent Party is part of the Moving Roots Touring Network. The core values of this work for Common Wealth encompass the embedding of creative process in Cardiff East, collaborating with the community here to be a resource in developing, supporting and complementing the creative landscape here. Rent Party is a huge part of that, giving opportunities of work to artists, local people and bringing audiences to this place feels hugely important. I worked passionately to ensure that local artists knew that this opportunity was for them, widening the process, supporting applications through whatsapp, looking at methods that people could access the online spaces. And yet, still only three artists from Cardiff East postcodes applied within the 40 submissions – and of those three, two dropped out at workshop level. So I note that yes, these casting processes work, but are they still alienating and scary for some? Yes I think so, will people seeing themselves represented on stage through an amazing and honest cast help? I sincerely hope so.
I also considered that not everyone applying can be cast members, that there is a need for work right now, and that I guess is the crux of why this process is important. Opening those conversations with the people who really fit with what the show has to say. There are so many artists in Wales who are soooo talented but the show is its own beast, has its own creative needs, it’s political, it’s bold, it’s honest and it’s important! It’s a kaleidoscope of what it means to be, to live, to traverse the landscape of jobs, childcare, dreams and imagination. And it will be coming to Cardiff East in 2021…
And finally after weeks of chats, workshops and holding people through the process, who most of which actually enjoyed, forarmed with the knowledge of what to expect and an open inbox where no question is a stupid question. WE HAVE A BRILLIANT CAST!!
And they are so diverse, supportive, collaborative, stunningly talented and just brilliant!