Quasi-Nepotism in Casting

Katie Ludlow

“It was favoritism.”

“They didn’t deserve the part.”

“I think ______ would be better than them.”

Admit it, you’ve said something like this at least once in your acting career. We’ve all done it. I bet that every lead in every show ever has heard something about how they shouldn’t have been cast as the lead, and I’m sure many of them have come up with arguments in their head to contradict those harsh words. Sadly, this is show business; criticism, and people who think you weren’t good enough are just part of the job. 

A director once explained it to me as this: If Bill fits parts A(lead)  and B(supporting lead), and Joe fits part A, most directors will cast Joe as part A, and Bill as part B, even if Bill was better than Joe. Despite the fact that Bill was the better choice, Joe will get the lead, because a great show needs not only great leads, but also, just as great supporting leads. 

What about shows where nepotism seemed to be involved? 

I’ve had a lot of experience with this, where people get lead roles just because their parent is directing. But do we really know that? Maybe, they had to work just as hard as anyone else did for that part. When I did shows my mother directed, I always had to prepare my audition months in advance (where I’d normally prepare it within the week), and the pressure was so immense, it often brought me to tears. My mom told me almost everyday that I wouldn’t get the lead unless I stepped it up. When auditions came, she didn’t even score me, she had someone else do it. It didn’t stop there though. Not only did I have to impress the director at rehearsal, but also while we were at home. I had to practice constantly, and the show was quite likely the only thing on my mind. I’d be sitting on the couch and Mom would walk by and say “Sit up straight, and put your legs together! Wendy would never sit like that!” I literally became my character, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life!

My point? I believe that any somewhat-professional director would never give their child a part merely because it’s their child. I also believe that any decent person with a parent as a director who just gave them the part out of love for them will at least admit they weren’t the best choice. 

As much as we’d like to point out the flaws of those who got better parts than us, it’s really just hurting us more than them. Despite the many crude words the leads may receive, they almost always feel better about themselves after acting as a main part in a show. Those of us in the background who criticize those people are just trying to make ourselves feel better for not being as prepared for auditions, or not looking the part, and sometimes those are the reasons we don’t get the part. 

Photo: Debra Jo Rupp and Caitlyn Griffin play mother and daughter in Chester Theatre Company’s production of “Memory House.”