Where Drama Can Lead You: Arts Careers with the Casting Directors Guild's Sophie Hallett

The CDG's Sophie Hallett on casting and working in the arts

You studied at Webber Douglas Academy – what made you want to study and pursue performance in the first place?

I always knew that I wanted to work in our wonderful industry – for a while I thought that was as an actress – but while I was at drama school, I became increasingly interested in casting and how the process worked.

What inspired this shift? 

Whenever any of the tutors at drama school talked about casting, I wanted to know more. I did a lot of research and became obsessed with who was casting what. By the time I left, I knew who had cast pretty much anything – plays, films, TV. I started to see that certain casting directors cast the same sort of things and this fascinated me.

I think casting directors are really brilliant people who are generally not recognised for the work that they do and the silent championing of actors that they strive for – on the whole, they prefer to be in the background, which suits me as I am quite like that! Why I ever thought that being an actress was a good idea baffles me! A lot of my work at the Casting Directors’ Guild is championing the work of CDs.

You’re a woman with a lot of different hats to wear! Do you think this is essential to anyone considering a career in the arts?

I think if you are planning on being an actor it is pretty essential.  Lots of my friends are actors, including my brother, and all of them are skilful at lots of different things.

What’s the best thing about teaching drama?

Before I went to drama school, I ran a small youth club at my local arts centre. It got me hooked and I always promised myself that I would start something up myself one day. Along with this I was inspired by my own drama teacher, who I still keep in touch with – she is an amazing lady and a lot of what I do today was instilled by her.

There is nothing better than a parent phoning me up and telling me that her child is really shy or lacks confidence – I get really excited about this, as I just know we can make a difference.  It is so rewarding watching that child grow and after a few weeks being able to walk into a room knowing their voice is important and they are able to speak out in front of everyone.

What makes your programme at the Shene School unique?

Because I have done so much work in casting and in casting children as well, I know now that it is really important for children to know something about their craft, to feel brilliant and to have the necessary skills required. So our focus is not on putting children in a West End show or getting castings for them, it is about making sure they have all the core ingredients first and to love what they do, to be happy and have confidence. Without that I can’t see how they can be successful.

Before I started Shene Stage School I did a lot of work for other schools and one thing that stood out for me was that it seemed a lot of schools wanted to impress the parents – our school is completely opposite to this! The most important thing to us is impressing the children – that they leave with a smile on their face having had a brilliant morning.

What sort of qualities make for a good teacher, and alternatively, a good student of drama?

My brilliant dance teacher, Lee Harvey Robinson and I have discussed this at length on many occasions. We think it is important to get down to the same level as the students and yet find that balance of the children knowing you are in charge. To be firm but never cross and to be kind – kindness at the school is one of the most important things to me. And a good student is someone that wants to learn but have fun at the same time – again finding that balance.  I love it when a student comes to me with an idea or something they have thought about during the week – I always try to incorporate their ideas into the lessons.

What about for those who are interested in the arts more generally – what are your thoughts on opportunities in the industry?

This is something we are looking at seriously at the CDG – we have recently created a Diversity Sub-Committee and are looking into ways that we can reach out to communities in the hope of giving opportunities to those that might need help and support.  It is something we all feel very strongly about.

What are you excited about doing next?

I am in early stages of looking into expanding the school in some way, starting more classes. This is something that really excites me, but I want to get it right, so I am giving it a lot of thought! And at the CDG we are holding our first ever awards for Casting Directors next February – I am very excited about this. It is about time that CDs are recognised for the great work that they do.