Top tips we learnt from top casting director Pippa Ailion

Posted by Natasha Stone on

Pippa Ailion's name has become synonymous with the West End, having cast some of the greatest productions of our time including The Lion King, Book of Mormon and soon to be 'Moulin Rouge'. We spoke to Pippa to find out exactly what she looks for when casting and top tips for budding actors.

Pippa has had an incredible career casting over 200 productions across London's West End, Broadway, Europe and Television. Having cast The Lion King for over 21 years, Pippa has also cast productions such as Billy Elliot. Book of Mormon, Gypsy, Spring Awakening, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Porgy and Bess and We Will Rock You to name a few. In 1987, Pippa became Resident Associate Director and Casting Director for Jonathan Miller at The Old Vic during which time the theatre achieved s Olivier Awards. Shortly after this Pippa joined the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama to become Head of Acting before leaving in 1997 to embark on the first ever casting for Disney's The Lion King.



So, the first thing is you blitz everyone; casting directors, agents, theatre directors, producers and regional theatres. Use all your contacts. Make sure the letter is short. When I get a CV and a letter - I know that an actor is asking if there are any suitable roles for them. It doesn't need to be a big long essay because we don't have time to read those.


So many actors write to me very frequently, even if they have an agent. Although I've never met them I feel I know them well as I am so familiar with their name and their face from the photo. If there is something coming up that is right for them then I make a point of meeting them. I cast the net really wide. I always see a variety of actors from all types of background, trained and untrained, also recommendations. Even if you have an agent you can't rely totally on that agent you still need to work hard networking and promoting yourself. You need to try and find out what is casting and where.


You need to have one good photo which grabs my attention which is submitted with a short succinct letter. Be bold and submit yourself for a role you think you could be right for.


You can't afford to be selective. A lot of young actors say, "oh no I don't think I want to go for that' or no I don't want a year's contract" and that is so short-sighted. It is to your advantage to to go for every audition offered. To get audition practice is so important. Also you never know who you might meet and you could be remembered for a future project.


Try and get yourself involved in fringe work as the experience is so invaluable. There are lots of sites now which advertise productions. You just need to write and say, 'I've seen your casting notice I think I could be right for this role'. You must be persistent.


It's not easy, but you just need to tick every box re promoting yourself. Really research what's going on way in advance of the publicised programme.
You can always ring theatres and casting offices and ask what the forthcoming season is going to be. Also there is so much information on the internet these days. When you have that info always make sure that you know who you are writing to - that's my advice.


If you haven't done your preparation and you are not completely on top of your material - nerves will get the better of you and someone else will be offered the role. There is always a great deal of competition. You need to make choices. The choices you make may not be the right ones but will show that you are a thinking, curious, intelligent actor with the confidence to make bold choices because you are on top of the material. Have ideas and opinions.


You need to really listen to what is being said to you in the scene and react in the moment. If you don't listen but just respond in the way you have prepared the dialogue, it is really obvious. Many actors unfortunately don't listen - to questions, to answers nor the script.
For a MT audition you need to connect with your accompanist and know that your accompanist is a professional musician who is very experienced in playing for auditions. Your material needs to be well taped and marked up and you need to be able to point out the tempo and any cuts otherwise it could ruin your audition. You need to respect the accompanist and not shoot them deadly looks if you make any mistakes Just compose yourself and ask to start again.


You need to make decisions about the role that you're auditioning for. You can ask questions but not too many. You will probably walk in the room and there will be a little chat first and then you will be asked to read. You have to listen very carefully to what you're asked to do as it's so easy when you're nervous not to hear direction properly as you are thinking about the next line or what was said previously. The frequent comment from directors is 'I asked them to do this but they just didn't listen - they did it exactly the same way. There was no change'
In an audition you have a set amount of time and there are other candidates waiting. Some actors come in and they just love to chat1 Just come in, do your audition and get out Leave bags and coats outside so you can exit quickly. The panel want to talk about you as soon as you leave the room. If you delay, then that valuable chat time and the whole schedule goes out the window. So you need to listen carefully to direction, be flexible, be willing to make changes, don't talk too much, then get out as quickly as possible.


Never use props, not necessary at all. Never start with your back to the panel or in profile. We need to see your face. I need to see your eyes, your reactions and your physicality. Your face is important
We had the pleasure of interviewing Pippa and her incredible career in February's issue of Artist Collective Magazine, you can subscribe to the magazine and read the full article here.

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  • I love this post. It is open, bold, straightforward and really informative. I love casting director’s who give out information openly and not be fearfuI reching out to anyone if you see yourself in a specific programme

    Ali on

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