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Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide

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Dozens of boys and girls auditioned this weekend for the chance to be part of the Second National Tour of Billy Elliot which launches at the Durham Performing Arts Center this fall. The auditions took place at the Carolina Dance Center in Raleigh with boys auditioning for the role of Billy on Saturday and girls auditioning for ensemble roles on Sunday.

Billy Elliot, which tells the uplifting story of a boy from a blue-collar family who steps out of a boxing ring and into ballet shoes, will play the Durham Performing Arts Center beginning October 30, 2010. The 10 time Tony Award-winning production has been haled as “The most electric and passionate show in years” by Time Out, and Ben Brantley of the New York Times said that Billy Elliot, "Sends audiences into a mass swoon!"

Auditioning boys for the role of Billy is nothing less than a Herculean task. Over 2,000 boys have auditioned for the role of Billy and since its world premiere, and 23 boys have played the title role. Because the role of Billy is for a young boy, the average Billy stays in the role for just 1.5 years. Each boy grows our of his ballet slippers at least once, often twice, during his time with the show.

Casting Director Nora Brennan, who heads up “Team Billy”, holds auditions across North America to find the perfect Billy. Potential Billy’s aren’t limited to in-person auditions though. The producers of Billy Elliot have set-up a website, www.bebilly.com, to assist in the search. “There are some kids in small towns who can’t get to our auditions,” says Brennan. “We want to make sure that any boy who wants to be seen can be seen.”

Once a boy is cast, the truly difficult work begins. Each Billy spends six to eight hours in rehearsal and up to six hours in private dance classes. On top of that, he must spend 15 hours a week in educational tutoring. It takes several boys to meet the demands of performing in Billy Elliot, with different actors rotating through each week’s performances. Director Steven Daldry has been quoted as saying that the demands of playing Billy is like “playing Hamlet while running a marathon. Never before has anything been asked of a child to this degree in the theatre.” That work can pay off though. David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish, the trio of Billy’s who opened the Broadway production, won Tony Awards for their performances. This was the first time in Tony history that three actors have won for sharing the same role.

Auditioning for any show can be nerve-wracking, but the children I spoke to on Sunday seemed confident and un-phased by the process. Ten year-old Connor Britt-Tripp, who auditioned for the role of Billy on Saturday, was back at the Carolina Dance Center on Sunday to support his sister, Morgan, age 9, as she auditioned for an ensemble role. “I told my sister to raise her had and volunteer to do anything they asked. You want to get noticed.” When asked if they were nervous, Connor and Morgan looked as if the thought of nerves had never even crossed their minds. Their mother, Bridget, seemed nervous enough for them both, but she was thrilled to give them the opportunity to audition. They traveled all the way from Myrtle Beach for the auditions.

Anni Cox, mother of Lilly Overton, age 7, was also more nervous than her daughter, but was pleased with the process. “The atmosphere here is so nice and welcoming. We are fans of musical theatre and love seeing shows at DPAC. We saw Wicked a few weeks ago and we are going to come back to Durham to see Beauty and the Beast next week.” Lilly’s favorite performance experience so far has been her second grade recital. The stage at DPAC will be a far cry from a school performance if she makes it into the show.

Friends Valencia Williams, age 12 and Mattie Eudy, age 11, know each other from the Albemarle Academy of Dance. Neither showed any signs of nerves. It helps that they’ve both been dancing since they were four years old, and that they had each other to rely on.

While most of the children auditioning were from the area, there were a few who traveled a great distance. Suzzette and Megan Secrest came from Kansas City, Kansas and showed up at the Carolina Dance Center at 6:30 am on Sunday morning, three and a half hours before the audition sign-ups began. “We didn’t know what to expect,” said mother Suzzette. “We got here and were afraid that the auditions weren’t happing because no one else was here yet.” Luckily, the auditions were still on and Megan, age 9, had no worries. “I’ve watched some clips (of Billy Elliot) online and I’ve been dancing since I was three.”

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
Casting Director Nora Brennan and Billy Elliot hopefulls

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
Sharean and Valencia Williams and Kelly and Mattie Eudy

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
Megan and Suzzette Secrest

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
Lilly Overton and Anni Cox

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
Morgan and Connor Britt-Tripp

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
Connor Britt-Tripp

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
Casting Director Nora Brennan and Billy Elliot hopefulls

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
The Carolina Dance Center in Raleigh

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide
Billy Elliot Auditions in Raleigh

Photo Coverage: Auditions for Billy Elliot Draw from Far and Wide


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Shane D. Hudson, currently the Assistant Director of Development for PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, NC, relocated to Durham after 14 years as an (read more...)