In casting The Wolves, the Goodman faced a unique task: find actors who could deliver a compelling story of teenage girls on the brink of adulthood, who have the stamina to remain on stage for the entire 90-minute play and who could perform intricate soccer drills. Associate Casting Director Erica Sartini-Combs and Casting Coordinator Rachael Jimenez reflect on the audition process through which they selected their onstage team.
Michael Mellini: Describe a typical casting process for a show at the Goodman.
Erica Sartini-Combs: Once a show has been selected for our season, we each read the script, and think about actors who could give a voice to each character. We’ll add those actors to our “Ideas List,” which is the “kitchen sink list,” of sorts. The next step is having a conversation with the director and/or playwright to discuss how they’re envisioning the world of the play and what energy, qualities and special skills are needed for each role. From there, we narrow down the list to a pool of actors who best represent the director’s vision, goals and our institutional values. Rachael Jimenez: Our directors, even those based in Chicago, work across the country, so often we only have a certain amount of time to get everything done while they are in town. Holding preliminary auditions for the casting team—without the director present—often allows us to use time effectively. With The Wolves, we did everything in a three-week span and saw hundreds of actors, including the preliminary auditions. Director Vanessa Stalling then saw about six to 10 actors for each of the 10 roles in the show.
MM: Did the actors need to have soccer experience to audition?
ESC: Two of the nine team roles needed to have more advanced skills than the others, but all the women needed to have a strong sense of physicality and athleticism. It was all about research, reaching out to agents, putting out postings, shaking every tree possible to find those athletic actors. At the preliminary auditions, the actors described their soccer experiences and/or general athletic skills, which helped us determine the actor and role Vanessa would see. We essentially treated callbacks like a musical theater audition, where actors would present material along with a dance call. For The Wolves, we had them share text from the script and then head to a “soccer skills callback.” We hired an audition soccer consultant, Angela Staveskie, to teach them skills and help us evaluate their work. We were in awe anytime Angela showed us a new move! We held the soccer skills callback at Chicago Futsal Academy in Edgewater, where the actors went through warm-ups, skill drills and rotations for about two hours. With Angela’s help, we identified the women who had strong soccer skills, or the potential for skill development. There was one more final soccer callback before the cast was selected. It was so cool to see the women lean into each drill and the support they gave each other. There was such energy, it was electric—and one of my top audition experiences to date.
RJ: We ultimately cast a couple actors who don’t have much previous soccer experience—but they were the ones really having fun on the field and supporting and encouraging each other. It was like being on a team already. The full team, including their understudies, will be going through a training camp before they get into the rehearsal room.
MM: Does a process like that change the experience for actors?
RJ: This was definitely a unique experience. It’s not every day actors have to share their soccer skills for a theater project; it certainly raised the energy in the room. We weren’t just sitting behind a table, we were up moving around with the actors. We also were on a soccer field, which is essentially what the play’s set will look like—so moments felt deeper and richer because we were already in the world of the play.
ESC: There was also a notable conversation happening during the auditions because, when an actor walked in, she discovered a room of all women: the director, casting team, audition readers and soccer consultant. This is rare. Actor after actor addressed this openly with shock and excitement. It was honestly moving.
RJ: It was the sense that we’re making this play about female experiences ourselves; here we are, all doing it together.
MM: What makes for a successful audition, or what should an actor bring to the experience?
ESC: Presence and being true to yourself. Individuals who know, and own, who they are have a strong presence. It shows when you are confident, prepared and take ownership of your space, and that little bit of theater you present won’t feel like an audition. When you have fun, we have fun. Especially with this project, it was important to let go of any nerves over the physical aspects. We made great efforts to be sure actors felt supported and comfortable to make mistakes. Their footwork may have looked a bit wild at first, but seeing an actor who was game and just went for it made a huge difference.
RJ: It’s important to bring yourself to the role. We should be able to see the character on you, versus somebody performing a character. Chicago theater artists and audiences like authenticity and reality. You just need to be confident and say, “This is my version of this character and what I bring to them.”
MM: This cast is comprised of local artists, most whom are making their Goodman debuts. Can you speak a bit about the Goodman’s commitment to Chicago artists?
ESC: It’s no secret Chicago has an incredibly vibrant arts community. We always look first at Chicago actors for every project—unless, for example, an artist came attached to a project. Our intention is that it’s not until we have exhausted our Chicago pool that we will go out of town. We were confident going into The Wolves that we would find our cast locally because of the age range we sought. Our full casting team sees shows weekly, across Chicago, in hopes to keep up with the talent pool. Most of that scouting time is spent in the storefront scene and mid-size Equity houses. It’s nice to see people we have long admired in our community now debuting at the Goodman. I can’t wait to see this show on its feet. I’ll be beaming on opening night!