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The first step to acting in community theater is the audition process, a hurdle that challenges all, but terrifies some. Here, Kerry Goff and Matt Ward run lines during auditions for FTC’s holiday show Inspecting Carol, which opens this weekend. Photo by Phil Houseal

Fredericksburg Theater Company presents Inspecting Carol, a farcical take on Christmas pageants by a dysfunctional theater troupe. Performance Schedule: Weekends December 9 – 18; Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Sundays at 2:00pm
Tickets: $20 for adults, $5.50 for youth 18 and under. Please call the box office (888-669-7114) for information, or visit www.fredericksburgtheater.org.


webmaster: phil@fullhouseproductions.net

Trying out

by Phil Houseal
Dec 7, 2011


Well-meaning friends often try to get me more involved in community theater. The reason I don’t? I fear that existential torture ritual: The Audition.

All those people staring at me, judging me, noticing me, is a terrifying experience. It’s like a recital, a Rotary club speech, and first communion all wrapped in the dream where you show up at school in your underwear and find out there is a pop quiz for a class you never attended.

I have peeked in on several local casting calls, fully intending to get over my fear of the audition. I always end up sneaking out. But it was in that spirit I arrived at the second audition night for Inspecting Carol, the Fredericksburg Theater Company’s holiday production showing over the next two weekends.

While waiting to audition, I was stunned that no one shared my fear of the process. In fact, the other actors all seemed eager to get up on stage. Some actually went back two or three times to try their lines different ways. I had to know what drives some people to tolerate cattle calls. So I asked them.

Will Vaughan - who started performing as baby Jesus in a church play - professed to almost crave the experience.

“I get an adrenaline rush going to auditions, rehearsals, or a show,” he said. “It’s an anxiety which to me is satisfying.”

Matt Ward is another theater wonk who thinks auditioning is the fun part. So much fun, in fact, that he went back the second night to read for others. “The anxiety for me comes from waiting to hear if you got the role,” he said. “That’s what kills you.”

Kevin Judson, who exudes a relatively shy, quiet persona off stage, relishes the opportunity to try on an alternate character. “To be on stage, you become a different person,” Judson said. His secret for keeping the nerves in check? “It’s really fun to watch what the other people are doing.” And if he doesn’t get the part? “I would love to have a part, but you can always work backstage if you don’t.”

Strangely, the one thing worse than auditioning is being the auditioner.

Director Ashleigh Goff has the task of winnowing the thespian wheat from the chaff.

“There is a lot that goes into it,” she said. “You look at the chemistry between different actors on stage. Some of it is just appearance. Do they look like the character, and if they don’t, can I alter their hair or apply makeup to fit the character?”

Height is always an issue, according to Kerry Goff, FTC Artistic Operations Manager.

“Sometimes there might be several females that are perfect for a role, but one fits better because she matches up in height,” he said. When he directed Little Women, he literally lined up the women side by side to make sure they could believably be sisters.

It may give solace to actors that the directors take their job very seriously. It is important to pick the right person for the part. Having two days of auditions, Ashleigh Goff worries about being able to compare actors from one day to the next.

“I try to take good notes, noting things I like, things I didn’t like,” she explained. “I ask myself, can I live without them? If I can’t, can I live with things I didn’t necessarily like, or can I change them in some way?”

For directors, the hardest part is not picking the right person for the part, but turning away everyone else.

“The downside of this is that you can’t use everybody,” said Goff. “I saw something amazing from every single one of those boys that auditioned for the role of Luther, so I hate that I have to pick one. I hope they have a good experience, and if they are not cast they don’t go away feeling down, so they do come back.”

So what happens if someone has a flatout anxiety attack, which was the case the night I was there? Goff said the key is to turn the focus outward. “The tactic I use is to focus on the character rather than the fact I am onstage, I don’t know my lines, and people are staring at me,” she said. “Every character has a motive, whether it is blocking, the words they use, or even if they don’t have lines. I find focusing on that helps overcome anxiety.”

Good advice, even for speaking to that Rotary club. And if I ever do screw up the courage to try out for a role, I can think of only one thing more terrible than the audition...

That would be actually getting the part.