There they are, sitting at a long table, looking right at you.
Maybe you know them all, maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve worked with some of them.
One of them is eating dinner. Another is recording you. Another is perusing your headshot.
Everyone is polite, everyone is attentive when you begin.
But you? Odds are, you’re nervous, feeling vulnerable and, for the next three or four minutes, filled with self-doubt. If you’re lucky, maybe that self-doubt disappears.
And those people on the other side of the table? They may have the power on their side, but they want you to succeed. They need you to succeed. They have shows to cast.
Welcome to the world of auditioning.
A few weeks ago, Ephrata Performing Arts Center held its season auditions over the course of several days and nights. About 200 people auditioned.
It was the first of several rounds of auditions that are taking place as people get asked to attend callbacks and more callbacks.
The first two shows of the season, “The Humans” and “Ragtime,” already had been cast after earlier auditions.
But five other shows needed their casts: “The (Expletive) With the Hat,” “Pippin,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “Newsies” and “My Fair Lady.”
Talent and dedication
I sat in on a Friday night audition, acting as the proverbial fly on the wall.
My admiration for community actors only grew that evening.
The talent in the room was considerable. So was the dedication.
If they get cast in a show, the actors will have to devote their evenings and weekends to that show for a month or so of rehearsals while working their regular jobs. Then there is the run of the show.
And they won’t get paid for their hard work. This is community theater, and they are involved because they love performing.
At the Friday night audition, 24 people were scheduled to perform.
It was a very efficient evening. Those auditioning sat in an area in the basement of the Sharadin Bigler Theatre, next to a rehearsal room, where the auditions would take place.
The actors were escorted into the room, where three directors awaited them: Ed Fernandez, Bob Checcia and Ken Seigh, along with music director Zach Smith, an accompanist and several board members who are helping out.
Each director was looking for certain types of people for their shows.
The actor was introduced to the table, said hello, passed his or her music on to the accompanist at the piano and stood there, taking a split second to prepare. I heard plenty of deep breaths and saw a few bowed heads.
Fernandez announced what roles the actor was interested, and then it happened. .
They presented a monologue and a song.
The directors were always positive, even when a few crashed and burned.
One woman struggled to sing a song, constantly having to start over. It was agonizing to watch and seemed to go on forever. You could see she was both nervous and devastated.
Happily, only a few of the auditionees crashed and burned. Most presented a song and monologue that seemed pretty good to me, and some were fantastic.
Not much was said between auditions, possibly because I was there or possibly because the night moved fast. About 90 minutes after they started, the auditions were over.
What they’re looking for
What were those directors looking for?
“First and foremost, I am very aware of the docket of shows I have to fill,” Fernandez says. “So I know what I am looking for.”
That means young men who can sing and dance for “Newsies,” some older people for the ensemble of “My Fair Lady.”
What does he recommend those auditioning do?
“I don’t care what you sing or where your monologue is from,” he says. “Pick a song that suits you, that shows off your voice. Don’t do anything too complicated. You are singing with an accompanist, pick something that showcases your voice, not something like Sondheim.”
The monologue is a chance to see who you are.
“I want to see your personality. Who are you?”
That doesn’t mean trying to be the character you are hoping to play. Fernandez doesn’t want to see that. He wants to see the real person and then take it from there.
And dress like you are going to a job interview because that’s what you’re doing.
The competition for community theater is fierce in this area. A number of talented people will not accept smaller roles.
“They’ll say lead or nothing because they know they can find another show,” Fernandez says. “There used to be more of an esprit de corps; people accepted ensemble roles, knowing their time would come.”
And what’s it like to audition?
“It’s one of the most humbling experiences you can put yourself through,” says Tim Spiese, who has worked at EPAC numerous times. and hopes to play Charlamagne in “Pippin.”
“It’s always tough, but the callbacks are really hard because you are in a room with a lot of people who are as qualified as you are.”
But the general audition was fairly stress free.
“Not having any time to prepare took the pressure off,” he says. “But I’m a smartass; I was just being myself.”
“Before going into the room is where my nerves hit,” says Sheridan Schreyer, who hopes to be cast in “Pippin.”“I have learned to channel that into the energy I can put into the (audition).”
Schreyer is a freshman at the Hart School at the University of Hartford, where she is studying musical theater.
She knows to survive in her profession she has to grow a thick skin.
“I’ve been told by a million and one people, ‘It isn’t really about you. They want taller or shorter. There’s so many reasons you don’t get a role, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the opportunity in the future.’ But for every one yes, you’ll hear a hundred nos.”
Her ideas for a good audition?
“Sing something you are comfortable with. Go in with energy and confidence. They can tell immediately if they want to work with you. And be nice to everyone.”
General auditions are the easy part. Callbacks are another story, involving longs days, a lot of waiting, auditioning with different partners without preparation and knowing that everyone in the room is as qualified as you are.
Both Spiese and Schreyer will be at callbacks for “Pippin” this week.
“Yeah, if you think you have your life together, go to an audition,” Spiese says with a laugh. “Especially a callback.”