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This Autumn, Curve is producing the world-premiere production of Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, a gritty drama based on the real-life of reformed Leicester football hooligan Riaz Khan.
The script for the production has been adapted for the stage by Curve Associate Artist Dougal Irvine, based on the book by Riaz himself.
We recently announced that young actors Jay Varsani and Hareet Deol will be performing the roles of Riaz and his brother Suf, both making their professional debuts. During a break in the auditions here at Curve, we spoke to Artistic Director Nikolai Foster and Casting Director Kay Magson CDG to find out what happens during the casting process, why it’s important to create a relaxed environment in an audition and the alarmingly low numbers of South Asian male actors graduating this year.
Watch the full video and find the transcript below.
Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual
In the audition room
How does the casting process begin?
Nikolai Foster: Well, the process for casting probably begins on average I’d say about six months before –
Kay Magson: Yeah, minimum –
NF: – we sort of go into rehearsals, and in the case of something like Memoirs of an Asian Casual once the script has been delivered, Kay and I will read it, we’ll have a discussion about the play, I’ll probably jot a few sort of words down and sort of a few paragraphs about each of the characters – which in this case there’s only two of them – so, having worked on a lot of shows recently where there’s several, you know, casts of thousands it’s really nice to you know, just be dealing with a couple of characters.
KM: Then I do my bit basically which is take Nikolai’s…once we’ve had a discussion, take Nikolai’s information, send it to about 280 agents and then start to process it, go back through, shortlist. Then, Nikolai’s one of the best Directors to work with because we work closely on the shortlisting, so we sort of know who we want to bring in and then I do all the admin which is all the prep, getting people to the right place on the right day, with plenty of time for them to do their due diligence with the script so that they’re coming as well prepared as they can be.
How many actors were put forward for the roles?
KM: We’re still at a point where training for BAME actors is in need of some attention so, I mean, enough so that we’ve managed to do a day and a half of people and been really selective on who we’ve brought in but lots of people from different backgrounds, some non-trained actors, some actors who’ve been around for a while and quite a few drama school leavers because we’re looking for youngsters really, we’re looking for people who can play children, teenagers.
NF: And I think looking at the drama school submissions I think out of about 600 people who are graduating this year, we’ve had only under 10 South Asian men put forward which is quite a sort of alarming percentage or number I think and it just shows that, you know, in a place like Curve obviously with the Young Company and all the work we’re doing with our community groups, there’s lots and lots of opportunities to come and train and come and participate in stuff here but in terms of then that step to drama school it feels like the access needs to start much sooner than the sort of point of entry to somewhere like Curve or a drama school it sort of needs to start in primary schools, the kids need to know there are theatres like us there is, you know, a job like an actor or a director, but it feels like there’s quite a lot happening but it’s sort of too late in people’s sort of, development really and this process has really proved that because we’re looking for two South Asian boys and we’re, you know, we’re not struggling but it’s been, it has been challenging.
How do you decide what happens in the audition?
KM: Nikolai very skilfully chose contrasting sections, we gave them five sections each to look at and asked them to pick two so, that gives them a little bit of ownership for what they want to bring to us and then most people have been really good, really accurate, the rap was an interesting one because it gets – they can then demonstrate who they are, but they need to put their own stamp on it, so they’ve got to own it and the rap’s given them a chance to own something.
NF: And I think because obviously this is a new play, it’s a brand new production, never been done before, when we’re rehearsing we want to be working with people who are creative and imaginative and are going to be really brave with the material and of course if you’ve practised your scenes at home, that demonstrates, you know, one thing specifically, but I think we always try to include something which is a little bit, off-the-wall and a bit wacky, so in this case it’s “can you write a rap inspired by the events or some of the themes in the play” so it demonstrates a sort of, you know, courage, bravery and a sense of imagination and how you respond imaginatively to the play and I have to say, there hasn’t been one dud rap so far I mean it’s been really, you know, you sort of, feel very old watching these!
KM: It’s amazing what can rhyme with Lacoste!
NF: Yeah, yeah! (Laughter) But just incredibly, it’s just humbling to see how many talented people there are out there and, you know, they not only come and deliver these scenes with such sort of, interest and nuance and sort of rigour but then they come and write you a rap you know it’s really, it’s really inspiring.
What do you look for during an audition?
KM: We’re looking for some technique, some discipline so that’s what, you can tell when they come in how well they’ve prepared because you need that you know, they need to be professional, but also we just need individuals who are unique, it’s a really strong play and they’re very very well written characters but they still need someone to make them live and especially, you know, they’re multi-roling all the time so what you want to see is people who have got an imagination and who can be inventive on the hoof, in the moment – otherwise rehearsals will be very boring!
NF: And I think we’ve discovered that it needs to be, because Riaz’s story is so real and it’s rooted in such a visceral truth which is this city outside the walls of this theatre, we’re looking for people who are really natural and you can’t see the joins you can’t see the acting and it’s also because the play’s really funny but it’s also really moving and it sort of just catches you by surprise and I think it’s actors who are really, can understand or can imaginatively go, What would, how would I experience this and what would this have been like in my life, have I experienced racism, have I experienced persecution, do I know what it is to be ostracised – when they can connect it to something in themselves then the play really seems to fly.
Why is it important to create a relaxed atmosphere for auditions?
KM: I think because you, nobody’s quite invented a better way to do it. It’s quite an old fashioned way to cast but all you can do is make people feel comfortable you know like Nikolai never has a barrier so that, you don’t want to sit behind a desk and make it formal and I usually talk to people about shoes and football and whatever just to relax then because they’re – they’re not just their job they’re a human being and you want them to leave the room with as much dignity as you can give them because it’s horrible and they’re terrified. And also we don’t want to sit in a room for another day do we? We want them to succeed and we want it to be positive.
NF: Yeah, I think auditions are such unnatural, it’s such an unnatural part of a creative process and I, I can’t imagine how terrifying it is to sort of wait outside the room and then come in and sort of be given your 10, 15-minute slot to sort of deliver everything that you’ve imagined and thought and created around the sort of work you’ve done on the play. The arrogance on a director or a casting director or a you know, production team who feel that they are the sort of mighty and powerful sitting behind a desk making decisions is sort of nonsense really because it’s as much about the artist deciding if they want to work on the project and I always see it from that point of view as well you know, they’ll be sort of testing us as much as we’re interested to see what you know they bring to the party.
KM: Yeah you need to know that in those three, four weeks of rehearsals that you’re going to have a positive relationship with someone, so it’s all about listening and responding and seeing if, you know, it’s testing the water, it’s like a first date isn’t it?
NF: Yeah, it is speed dating, it’s exactly that.