Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How many Characters does it Take?

So a lot of people ask me..."how many characters to make a good play?" I always have two answers to this and no one believes me.  My first answer is "enough" and the second answer is "where do you want it produced?"

Let's start with the first question.... 

The easiest answer is that you should write as many characters as it can take to write your story. Everyone knows that story that has way too many characters to the point where you can't follow the action. But everyone has seen that other side of the coin where there are only three characters and the play is just dragging! (yuck)

And now for the second...

The problem with putting as many characters in your play as possible is that someone will eventually have to cast all of them from their (probably small talent pool). And, unfortunately, there are some realities that theaters face in the casting pool. And there are a couple of play markets that have different cast sizes. Here is just a small (but not exhaustive) list of play markets and their casting requirements.

  • High School (10-20): In a highschool you normally have to find a play that can get your whole class on stage. You normally need one or two leads and a lot of character actors with little stage time. And highschools are always banking on having parents and grandparents show up so the more is the merrier.
  • Community/College (10): If you're commissioned to write a play at a certain venue you normally have to work with the talent pool available. But usually in the community market you'll find that they just don't know who's going to walk in the door to audition. So ten is usually pushing the limit. Unless kids or a musical is involved and then highschool rules apply.
  • Regional/College (6-15): A regional and college venue normally has a regular pool of resident actors that they have to use for the whole season. But however many that they have it is a finite talent pool. So having a smaller number of characters where they can try multiple combinations in auditions and plan for understudies is great. 
  • Fringe/BlackBox (no more than six): The reason behind having a small cast in this market is for the very idea that you most likely have to travel and a small stage space for them to perform on. And also because of the money. Usually you have less seats which means less money. That means that if you can write a play with only two or three characters that's only two or three actors that they have to pay from a limited amount of money. 
  • One Man Show (1): Enough said. 

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