Let’s talk about double-casting. It’s something every opera singer takes part in at some point in their singing life.
What is double-casting? Double-casting happens when companies want to put on more shows than vocally possible for one cast (our tender cords can only take so much). It also occurs when universities need to provide performance experience for the students, so they double up on singers.
Rehearsals are twice as long and both casts are in it to win it — yet the two casts can give two very different performances!
When you’re double-cast in a role, there are many opportunities to shine as a performer and as a colleague. On the flip side, there are some real sinkholes you could fall into.
I hope this guide helps you rise to the occasion and come out on the other side of your double-casting experience with class, panache, and a reputation as a great colleague.
The Do’s of Double-Casting
DO introduce yourself to your counterpart. Know their name, and the names of the whole cast for that matter. It shows respect for them and the show, and it gets you started on the right foot. Bedside manner matters as an opera singer. And y’all better know, my mama taught me to be cordial.
DO be fully prepared on the first day. When I say “Be Prepared” I’m not referencing Lion King — I mean, you should be memorized, even in a university setting.
Since the show is double-cast, there’s a chance the other cast might not show up on the first day because of another gig, illness, or the moon being in the wrong phase. Be ready in case you’re called for the first rehearsals with the other cast. It’s an opportunity to show how good you are as a singer and how willing you are to make this production work. Show the company that you’re a team player and can rise to the occasion.
DO accept that the show is double cast and one cast will most likely be more at the forefront than the other cast. As a member of the second cast, you might do fewer shows. But at universities this often isn’t the case — it’s likely that they’ll attempt to even out the playing field so each cast gets their time to shine.
DO be present in rehearsal. In fact, ask if you can show up to other rehearsals when you’re not called to further observe and absorb your character and take in the experience. This is especially beneficial if you’re a student. If you can’t do this, I recommend trying to attend the very first on-stage rehearsal to take a look at the set and any rehearsals that involve complicated scenes.
DO ask questions if something is unclear. Dance and fight scenes, for instance, can be tricky. When you’re observing rehearsals for the other cast, ask if you can mirror your castmate in the back or to the side of the rehearsal room. Only do this during the break, not during the rehearsal itself.
On a personal note, I’ve been in situations where colleagues mirrored me from behind and it was distracting for me as I was rehearsing. I’d recommend doing this from the side of the stage out of your castmate’s direct line of sight.
DO your thing. Be yourself. If something the other cast is doing doesn’t work for you, ask the director, “My counterpart does this scene so well. Is there any way for me to approach it in a different way?” The staging doesn’t have to be exactly the same between the two casts.
While the template remains the same, you have the liberty to make some acting choices of your own. If you’d like me to elaborate on this (it’s kinda complicated) let me know in the comments below.
DO copy your counterpart if you like something they do. This is how we learn as stage performers. Use a keen eye to decipher intricacies that you don’t agree with or come off unclear and change it for yourself.
Use an outside perspective as an audience member when observing the other cast and use it as an advantage to finely curate your own interpretation. It’s like being given a cheat sheet — you see what works or doesn’t and figure out a new way to make it work for you and the show
DO follow along in your score and take notes. The music staff might get tired of repeating themselves twice between the two casts. You can make yourself look REALLY good this way. When you take a note when it wasn’t even given to you, you look really professional. WOW THEM!
DO be part of the character conversations between the director and the other cast if you’re there to observe. Sit in the rehearsal room where you can hear the conversations but more off to the side so you’re not in the center. Be seen, not heard.
The Don’ts of Double-Casting
DON’T be a distraction in the rehearsal room, especially when it’s the other cast’s time and you are there to observe. Don’t make side conversations. Don’t be on your phone. If you need to text or talk, take it out of the room.
DON’T sing along to the other cast or conduct them.
DON’T give feedback to your counterpart or anyone in the cast … ever. Unless they specifically ask for it, keep your feedback to yourself.
DON’T comment on the other cast. Don’t laugh when they make mistakes and don’t acknowledge it. Be respectfully silent. Everyone makes mistakes in rehearsals.
The reason we rehearse is to find the pitfalls in the staging, music, and character in a private setting before taking it public. Do give them a compliment at the end of rehearsal if you genuinely liked something they did.
DON’T talk shit. A lot of people like to talk shit. What other people do is not important to your end goal of getting the show up and running and singing the role well. Don’t get sucked into that hole of negativity. It’s unprofessional and unkind. If you hear someone talking behind the other cast’s back, whether you believe what they’re saying or not, don’t contribute to that kind of negativity.
I was once with a group of singers at a major opera company where the dressing rooms were right next to the artist’s entrance. We were gathering and talking and could hear someone warming up. I knew who had gone into that room because I had seen her go in. She was one of the most famous singers in the world at the time.
A small contingent of singers were boisterously commenting to each other on how bad her warm-ups sounded. Then someone actually said, “Could you imagine if that singer is “Famous Singer”, and they named the singer correctly without even knowing it!! I changed the subject and got us out of there.
This situation made me realize two things:
- It is unfair to judge someone when they are warming up. We set impossible standards of vocal perfection and expect those expectations to be met 100% of the time. No one is always on and everyone should be able to start their vocal day without the fear of judgment.
- Like it or not, someone is always listening. Try to make any ugly sounds at home.
DON’T compare yourself vocally, acting-wise, etc. to others. We are each at a different place on our musical journeys. You are you. You’re not above or below anyone. You’re just there to sing, make some nice art and some money. It’s a job. A lot is expected of you, so just focus on yourself and don’t mind the noise. You are everything and you are nothing (thank you RuPaul for this bit of wisdom).
Did I leave anything out? Comment below with any of your do’s or don’ts of double-casting and add them to the mix.
And my final one for the opera companies and universities:
DON’T LEAVE THE CASTING CHOICE TO THE LAST MINUTE. It is so counterproductive to rehearse with a cast you won’t end up performing with. An opening night casting choice doesn’t allow the artists to form bonds on stage. You need time to build camaraderie, get the timing down, and develop cohesiveness with your cast. This is especially important for operas that rely on ensembles or recitatives. You will end up with a more cohesive and better running show. There, I said it.