Casting with Intention

I will often tell people to write casting calls with intention, which I realize is a rather opaque phrase. What does casting with intention mean? In this article I’ll dive into an quick example and talk about and around it because it’s been on my mind.

Let’s say you have and audio drama with some male characters, some female characters, and a robot that has a human voice but is not human (the robot uses it/its pronouns because it is an object). You split up the roles in your casting call to “male roles” and “female roles” and then… where does this robot go? Maybe you think to yourself, I’ve always pictured this robot with a male voice. Let’s put it in the male roles section and be done.

When I say “cast with intention” I mean to question your expectations and assumptions and look critically at what sort of voices you want for each character. There is no singular right way to do so this, so I’m going to take this example and discuss different ways to cast with intention.

First of all, something is apparent. In this situation, there are no nonbinary roles. Every role is either a cis man or a cis woman — not necessarily bad, but in this situation the robot has even been assigned to the “male” category. Why is that, I ask? So you might think, yeah, I’m not actually attached to this robot having a male voice. Let’s make this a nonbinary role.

And now you’ve accidentally stumbled into a trope! Lots of creators have made non-human characters (like aliens, robots, or monsters) and decided that the gender binary need not apply only to these characters. Nonbinary people are tired of the implications that you can’t be human and nonbinary, so that’s not a great thing to do. If you’re going to create a “Nonbinary Roles” section for this robot, it would be a good thing to have some nonbinary humans there as well.

But if this robot could have any voice, why not make it a open role? And while you’re at it, why not look at the other human characters and see if any of them could be open roles too. There are a lot of scenarios where you want a character to have a specific gender, and what casting with intention means is looking at what you have for each of them and thinking about why you decided that gender for the character. Is someone female because you wanted to show a woman in tech being an awesome scientist? Cool! Is someone male because they’re the CEO and you just thought the CEO should be male? Less cool! That CEO could probably be a role with open casting. Or maybe, you thought of a really interesting angle for the story if that CEO is nonbinary, or transmasc, or a cis woman — also great! Being intentional about your roles doesn’t mean making them all open casting, it means having a reason why you’re looking for a certain voice (or set of voices) or each one.

For example, what if this robot started the show as genderless and inhuman, but grew over time to connect more with humanity? What people start using he/him for this robot instead of it/its as they get to know it better and started to think of him as a friend? I think that would be really compelling! That might be a good reason for the robot to be listed under “Male Roles” (though, of course, the question of “why not she/her pronouns?” is there still and should be something you can answer — maybe you want to be different than robots and AIs like Siri or Cortana, which are usually voiced by women.)

There is absolutely no one correct way to cast with intention — the whole idea is about the process, not the result. When you list a role in a casting call, take a moment to think about why you’ve written each piece of information you give about the character and the voice you want. You might find that you’re artificially limiting yourself from telling more interesting stories and casting more diverse actors.

Tal is a SoCal based podcaster who cannot be stopped from making things and will occasionally write about audio fiction.