How to Cast Your Show

From left: Tahlia Celenn, Kermie Breyden, Abigail Michelle, Ben Harberts, Lee Davis-Thalbourne, Photo by Erin Kyan
From left: Tahlia Celenn, Kermie Breyden, Abigail Michelle, Ben Harberts, Lee Davis-Thalbourne, Photo by Erin Kyan

If you're planning a fictional podcast, here are some best practices for finding the right actors for your project.

Between the success of podcasts like Radiotopia’s Passenger List and TV adaptations of series like Homecoming and Limetown, fictional podcasts (also often called “audio dramas”) are having quite a moment.

Sure, a successful fictional podcast is dependent on a great concept and excellent writing, but at least as important are the actors who deliver the story. When you're creating a fictional podcast, finding the right voices to bring your characters to life is key, and you'll need to invest some time and energy in it. Your best bet is to put out a casting call. A casting call is a document you can send out to potential actors--whether to specific actors individually or in actor communities, on social media, etc.--explaining your production and the roles you need to cast. Casting calls have descriptions of characters and lines you want potential actors to read in their auditions. Writing a casting call might seem straightforward, but there are steps along the way you should be sure to hit.

Section 1: An introduction to your podcast

Most actors will like seeing a description of the podcast, including its genre and some of its inspirations. Remember that a lot of great voice actors are in high demand, so you’ll want to hook them with your casting call the way you hook listeners with your show’s description. But introducing your podcast isn’t just about making it sound like an exciting project; it’s also about making sure your actors know what they’re signing up for if they audition.

CARAVAN’s showrunner, Tau Zaman (they/them), wrote the show’s casting call with not just the podcast’s plot, but also culture, in mind. “The most important things to make clear and upfront from the get-go are your culture and expectations, which, in my production’s case, include expectations for how to interact with the rest of the CARAVAN team, how much material cast need to read in advance, by when, and what hours they can expect to be working—in our case, never past midnight,” they say.

If your podcast deals with heavy or disturbing themes and situations, or will include gore, violence, or any other potentially uncomfortable content, it's a good idea to lay that out. Actors will want to know what kind of podcast they’re acting in before they audition.

Section 2: An introduction to your work style

A casting call isn’t just about finding people with great voices. You’re casting characters, but you’re also building a team. For your casting call, think about how you’ll be communicating with your team and how you’ll be recording.

Think through your communication preferences, and note them. Will you be emailing your team updates? Will they be expected to be present in a Slack or Discord group? Some projects demand a greater deal of actor involvement, especially if your podcast involves any improvisation or specific interpretation from the actors. Some projects can be more hands-off and stick strictly to a script. You’ll want to find actors who can fit your production’s needs.

You should communicate your intended recording method and schedule to your potential actors. If it's important to you that you all record in a sound booth together, specify that only locals need apply, but if you're open to remote or asynchronous recording, you can welcome applicants from anywhere. Make sure you list the recording dates and ask for their availability in their submission.

And, of course, be as explicit as possible about your rates and payment methods in the casting call itself. Lee Davis-Thalbourne of Passer Vulpes Productions (Love and Luck, Nym’s Nebulous Notions, Supernatural Sexuality with Dr. Seabrooke) explains, “Not just how much, but how you are able to pay people. This is really important if you plan to work with people outside your country—bank transfers get a lot more expensive when they cross borders! Payment services like Ko-fi and PayPal can help with this, but if that's how you're planning to pay people, potential collaborators should know that.”

Section 3: An introduction to your characters

Now for the fun part: introducing your characters. Give a brief description of the characters you're auditioning for, the characters' names, and any important demographic information like gender, race, and age that will shape who can submit auditions for your production.

Davis-Thalbourne emphasizes that it's wise to communicate what qualities of timbre and emotion would be needed for certain characters. “Yes, obviously you're going to be providing some information on the character itself," he says, "but it's worth specifying the qualities of the voice you're looking for.” An example from one of Love and Luck's casting calls: “We are looking for a warm, bubbly, and expressive voice for Julie. Her actor will need a strong emotional range, able to handle both light and heavy lines with equal charisma.” According to Davis-Thalbourne, this level of specificity allows actors to “aim their roles in the direction that you are looking for.”

The same level of detail is helpful when it comes to casting underrepresented sections of the population. “One thing that we've identified is that you cannot assume that underrepresented people will know they're welcome in your production,” says Davis-Thalbourne. “When you write up your casting call, you should make as explicit a statement as possible about including people of color, disabled people, trans and nonbinary people, etc.”

Section 4: Specify sides or reels

There are two words you’ll hear in regards to casting: “sides” and “reels.” Sides are lines you’ll have actors deliver in their auditions. These can be taken from your script or, if you want to avoid spoilers, made up for the call itself. Reels are compilations of an actor’s work that the actor puts together for auditions. For your casting call, you can choose to take auditions with sides, reels, or both. If you choose sides, be sure to give an emotional range in the lines you write that fits with the emotional range your character will need. For reels, remember that you’ll only get auditions from seasoned actors. This has some upsides, but it does mean you're less likely to stumble upon some amazing newcomer voice acting talent.

Section 5: Explain your submission process

Finally, tell your actors how to submit their auditions. Many casting calls collect auditions via email, but using services like Google Forms and Airtable to give actors a fillable form that converts into a spreadsheet for you is a great option too. This way, you’ll be able to do things like rate the auditions and easily sort and filter them to find your top choices. Finish up your casting call by letting your actors know when they should expect a response. Using a mail merge is a great way to send acceptance and rejection emails to everyone who auditioned.

Casting calls can be as simple as writing up a flyer saying you need voice talent and posting it at your local coffee shop, but with a little finesse, they can guarantee you’re getting not only your perfect cast, but your perfect teammates. Clarity, transparency, and some close thinking about what you need will help you take this big step toward releasing a fiction podcast.

—Wil Williams