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BWW Interview: A-Five, Six, Seven, Eight: MSMT Local Auditions Sparkle

The hallways are jammed with bright, expectant, luminous faces wearing their most eye-catching outfits, laden with dance bags, juggling binders with music and resumes, scanning their ever present iPhones, and searching for a place to sit or stretch or warm-up as they await the call. The energy is palpable and the spirits high. Many have come together in groups and chat excitedly, while others search for a quiet corner to gather their thoughts. Some 300 actors ranging in age from children to seasoned adults have checked into Maine State Music Theatre's offices and rehearsal studios at 22 Elm Street on February 25, 2017, to try their luck at the company's annual open call local auditions for the 2017 season which opens June 7.

"Every year the number grows," comments Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark on the Monday following. "In terms of talent, this year we definitely saw the highest overall quality with some of the best college programs being aggressive about getting their kids up here. This year we had contingents from Boston Conservatory, Boston University, Emerson College, University of New Hampshire, and even from as far away as Penn State. They are sniffing us out early, and making the trip because they know they will get a little more time up here (3 minute slots) than we can allot in New York, due to sheer volume."

Managing Director Stephanie Dupal concurs," I am amazed at the level of talent we see at our local auditions. Every year I think the professionalism gets better."

Clark continues," We saw some great kids, both younger children and college aged young adults vying for the competitive MSMT Intern Program, as well as ensemble roles in the man stage shows, and some very talented older adults. It's obvious they are coming to see our shows, and they are jazzed about American musical theatre and they want to participate."

Dupal, who has spent more than two decades at MSMT, talks about how the audition process has evolved during her tenure. She credits Clark with much of the dynamic energy, which envelops the event today. "Curt changed the auditions from an appointment audition to an open call to make sure that everyone who wants to be seen gets a chance to audition for us. This may be inconvenient to some since they may have to spend the whole day at MSMT, but we feel it is important to see everyone who comes. Curt's goal is to make sure the auditioning process is a positive experience. He appreciates that these artists are willing to give up a day to audition, and he never forgets how nerve-wracking an audition can be."

MSMT has fine-tuned its system so that the entire process seems welcoming and fun. With most of the annual staff and some volunteers present to greet the auditioners and shepherd them through the various calls, and with choreographer Raymond Marc Dumont and music director Ed Reichert on hand to assist Clark and Dupal, the day runs with streamlined precision, and the general mood is upbeat.

In speaking with a number of the applicants, it was clear how much each one had invested in this moment. For many it was a first time to try their luck with MSMT. Boston Conservatory sophomore Mickey White said he knew several schoolmates who had been MSMT interns in previous seasons and he was impressed by what they had to say about the experience. "I love how many different opportunities there are for you to participate in, how many different shows you are allowed to pursue, and what wonderful connections you make with professional actors and with the artistic team. And this season with Guys and Dolls, Grease, Newsiest, Tommy, and the children's shows really stuck out for me." Asked if he is ready to work the 18-hour days associated with the intense, fast-paced internships, White answers with an unequivocal "Oh, yes!"

Another Boston Conservatory sophomore, Rachel Wirtz shared his sentiments: "I would like to get into the intern program here because I think it will really help me go out into the theatre world with a hard-working mindset, with the dedication, responsibility, and training in what I love to do. This is our passion; we all give these hours because we love it...I love it, and I see an internship here as a chance to grow and strengthen my skills."

Others like Katy Juster, a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, has been working at her craft for a few years at Seacoast repertory and brings her resume here to MSMT in the hopes of finding a new challenge. Still others have come through the community theatre route, such as Benjamin Proctor, who confides that he hopes "to take that next step up to Equity theatre" or Cathy Matero, who has been doing shows like Man of LaMancha, Taming of the Shrew, and Hair in Bath, and has her sights set on playing one of the Save a Soul Sisters in Guys and Dolls.

And then there are those whose parents have encouraged them to take the plunge. Allison Truman, for whom the MSMT audition is a first, says her mother brought her to MSMT shows as a youngster and throughout the years, and she encouraged her to come to this call. "She told me she wanted to see me on this stage, so here I am ready to sing and dance and would be thrilled to take anything they might offer!"

Similarly, Hannah McCowan, a Brandeis University theatre major has been accompanied by her father, who tells me while he waits outside for Hannah to finish the vocal audition, that this has been his daughter's dream since childhood and that he and his wife have shared it with her telling her to "so many wonderful shows in New York and watching her dance since kindergarten." Asked if he has any worries about the uncertainties of a life in the theatre, he replies," We are not worried; it's her dream. It's what she has to do." When Hannah emerges beaming because she has been asked to "stick around and dance," her Dad looks proud.

And then there are the actors who return to MSMT, having auditioned or performed there in previous seasons. One such "regular" is Gregory Charette, who saw in this season opportunities to play roles in a wide range of ages. Charette who has juggled a full time delivery job with part time theatre work for the last two decades has enough professional credits to be only five points shy of getting his coveted Equity card. So here he is, planning to sing "Being Alive" from Company and "This Is the Moment" from Jekyll and Hyde and keep his fingers crossed that he may be cast as a gangster in Guys and Dolls or one of the older characters in Grease or Newsies.

"We do get a great many returnees -" Clark notes, "- actors who have worked here in the past or who have auditioned in the past. Among my favorite people are those who come one year and don't get cast, but they come back again and they are better, and they come back for another several years in a row and each time they get better and better, and finally they get a show!"

The auditions I am privileged to sit in on for Broadway World bear this out. All three auditioners have worked for or auditioned at MSMT before, and there is an air of respect and collegiality as they step into the large rehearsal hall. Liz Kirschenbaum and recent graduates of the University of Southern Maine, Eric Berry-Sandelin and Cameron Wright, and each delivers a polished performance, and each is asked to come back for the dance call. Exiting the hall, Kirschenbaum breathlessly admits to having been "very nervous" but she quickly adds, "It has been a really energizing, exciting day so far!" Asked how he felt it went, Wright, who was asked to sing an additional third selection, rates his own performance modestly "at 7.5 out of 10," but by his smile and twinkling eyes (and my having been in the room), it is clear that his three minute performance is a tangible example of the performance moment famously dubbed by Michael Bennett as "one singular sensation."

These three among the 270 others who brave the long lines, wait the exhausting hours, and test their nerves and mettle come because they love what they do. They come to experience the rush of adrenalin and the thrill of the stage moment. They come for a chance to practice their art but they also come for the very specific opportunity of being a part of the MSMT ensemble.

As Curt Dale Clark explains, "My expectation has been that these local auditions will encourage people to work here. If I expect this community to be engaged in us, then we have to be engaged in this community, and one way to do that is to offer places in the company to deserving local talent. I think we have accomplished this because each year our attendance grows, and it is clear that there are so many talented performers out there who want to be part of MSMT. That makes me very happy!"

Additional Equity and non-Equity auditions are taking place in New York City from March 14-24, 2017. For more information, please visit or call company manager Kathi Kacinski at 207-725-8760 ext. 11.

Photographs courtesy MSMT

Video by Carla Maria Verdino-Sullwold

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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold