Tag Archives: musical theatre
“Auditioning is the most unnatural and unrealistic job interview ever.”
Christy Yael, Producing Artistic Director for Intrepid, is quick to admit this. Having just finished two full days, approximately eleven consistent hours, of open call auditions for Intrepid’s upcoming Season Four this past weekend, she is also quick to state that she is optimistic and impressed at the skill level of those who walked through the door.
“We saw so many talented people this weekend,” she says with enthusiasm, “really talented people.”
With the company entering its fourth year, Christy is now a veteran of the rigors of the open call, an especially demanding process for both directors and actors alike. And the requirements for Intrepid’s audition were nothing short of daunting. Non-musical actors were asked for two contrasting monologues, while musical theatre auditioners were invited, in addition to performing a monologue, to sing both a selection from the 1960s as well as one from Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire, a composer traditionally regarded as one of the most complex and challenging musicians in the American songbook.
“The two required musical pieces are so drastically different,” says Christy, “that it really gives us a good idea of a person’s abilities.”
Veteran musical theatre actress Kathi Copeland was unfazed. Having performed in musicals since the age of 16, when she was cast in a pre-Broadway tour of “The Me Nobody Knows,” Kathi feels a certain comfort level with these types of requirements. Although, she admits, she would probably never recommend auditioning with a Sondheim piece unless it was specifically requested.
“Every audition is different,” says Kathi, who was attending an Intrepid open call for the first time. “It’s just important to prepare, prepare, prepare. You never know how it’s going to go once you get in there.”
There are many variables that could affect a singing audition – the pianist’s tempo, the acoustics of the space, and one’s level of nervousness, for instance. The singing voice, sometimes more vulnerable than the speaking voice, is likely to reflect all of these conditions, and therefore it is important to prepare as many things as one can control ahead of time. “Always take the time to talk to the accompanist about tempo,” advises Kathi. “Don’t forget that it’s your moment to shine.”
Veteran actor and accomplished theatre artist Tim West agrees that the same advice would apply to non-musical auditioners. “It was my first open call for monologues in a decade, so though I prepared I lacked that practiced feeling,” he says, although clarifying that it was perhaps for the best. “I’ve grown less concerned with choices per se and more concerned with trying to find the moment.”
It’s this type of attitude that Christy appreciates the most. Although she finds herself more often in the director’s chair these days, she was once attending the same sorts of open calls as an actor. “At the time, it helped me to think of it as an opportunity to do some work,” she says. “There are stakes involved, but it’s an invested audience with potential payoff.”
For her part as a director, Christy pays close attention to those auditioning, looking for specific elements in the presentations. “With the Shakespeare, it’s a combination of the acting ability and how the verse is handled,” she says, “and all that that entails. I could talk for hours about just that.”
Surprisingly, she says, she has found that many with musical theatre backgrounds were more adept at handling Shakespearean verse than their resumes might suggest. “They are both heightened forms of expression,” she says, noting that one’s ability to act through verse or through music can be both daunting and tricky.
“I just have a tremendous amount of respect for actors,” she says. “It’s hard work and it’s vulnerable work and that’s a heady combination.”
While being on the director’s side of the table is definitely preferably, Christy’s acting background also helps her create a safe space for potential auditioners. Both Kathi and Tim agreed that the process was painless. “Christy was one of the most gracious auditors I’ve ever performed for,” says Tim. “It’s such a difficult thing, to make people feel warmly welcomed while maintaining professional decorum. I am glad I chose this audition to return to the practice. I’ll try never to miss an opportunity at Intrepid.”
Christy maintains that the excitement of finding new talent keeps her consistently invested throughout the audition process. “The thing that maybe people don’t realize is how optimistic we are going into auditions,” she explains. “We have high hopes and expectations that everyone is going to be fantastic and incredibly talented. We are not looking for what’s wrong – we are looking for what’s right.” — T.T.
“This is not 42nd Street.” Colleen Kollar Smith is very definitive when she clarifies her approach to choreographing A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Musical, which opens for previews August 30. Rather than layering on the expectations of a traditional musical theatre piece onto the words, Colleen has found that the words of Shakespeare have actually guided her hand. Or rather, her feet.”The process has been remarkably organic,” she says, as we sit down during a rehearsal break amongst the sounds of set construction and strains of sopranos reviewing their descants. “The movement is already built in and all we have to decide is how it supports the story and how to move in and out of the songs in a natural way.”
Tonight, they will attempt a stumble through of Act I, which involves quite a few tunes and dance numbers. The songs involved are taken from the 1960s, an era that Colleen associates with singing along to the music that her mother used to play in the car. Even if you think you aren’t familiar with the tunes of that era, she assures, you will be finishing the lines of the songs along with the actors on stage.
“Somewhere inside of you, you will recognize the music and say, ‘Yes, that speaks to my history,’” she says with a slight touch of nostalgia.
Even though she is four months pregnant, Colleen is intensely interactive with the cast – not only with their dance numbers, but also in the blocking of the scenes. Both she and co-director Christy Yael are quick to stand and direct the actors as they work out their actions and movements. Tonight, a new apparatus – the introduction of the rope swing into Hermia and Helena’s quarreling – has been the subject of much decision-making.
While Colleen has choreographed for Intrepid before (Season Two’s Romeo and Juliet), this is her first directing gig for the company. She doesn’t seem to mind wearing two hats for this production: decisions about what serves the play and how to interpret Shakespeare’s text span any gulf there may be between her two roles. “It’s all about what puts the text at the forefront,” she says.
Colleen is quick to give accolades to the cast, and cites the casting process as the most challenging part of putting together the show so far – more than organizing any big dance numbers. “We took a lot of time casting,” she says, explaining that actors were needed who could not only carry the Shakespearean text, but also the singing and dancing requirements of this production. “I think even if audiences know these actors, they will be surprised by what they will be doing in this show,” she says with anticipation. “We really do have the best cast.”
Colleen is still blown away by how smoothly the process of incorporating dance movement into A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been and believes it really does speak to the universality of the Bard. “It just works,” she says. “It also makes the production approachable, for those who might be intimidated by the thought of seeing Shakespeare play.”
Colleen plans to bring her own four-year-old daughter to a performance, and is perhaps looking forward to recreating some of those “magic moments” she had with her mother while singing and moving to the sounds of the 1960s. She is hoping that, after immersing themselves in this two-hours’ traffic of groove-able tunes, audiences leave with a similar urge to dance it out as well.
As Intrepid embarks on its first musical spectacular, and we find ourselves analyzing the text of the Bard against a backdrop of doo-wop and dance steps, we also find ourselves again in amazement at one of the things we love most about WS – that is, the unique ability of this playwright’s anthology to be interpreted in a variety of time periods, settings, and, apparently, musical scores. The fact that we spent this week rehearsing “Sh’Boom” with the Mechanicals in a way that totally makes sense, is really kind of cool.
So, if the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be told in a variety of ways, we were also curious as to how the actual idea of “midsummer” came to be in the first place, and why does it work so well in three-part harmony? We decided to do a little digging.
First, the Online Entymology Dictionary tells us that the word is derived from “midsumor,” meaning, well, the middle of summer. So, yeah, that was a shocker. We decided to dig a little deeper.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac:
June 21 marks the Summer Solstice, the day of the year when the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, its highest point in the Northern Hemisphere. The summer solstice is also the longest day of the year for those of us living north of the Equator.
Modern calendars refer to this day as the first day of summer, though ancient reckoning actually viewed May 1 as the beginning of summer, and the Solstice as “Midsummer,” the halfway point of the season. Because the Solstice marks not only the Sun’s greatest potency, but also the turning point at which the length of days begins to wane, this older viewpoint does make sense.
So, the “beginning” of summer on our modern calendars is actually the middle of the season. Well, whaddya know? Fortunately, modern Scandinavians are well aware of this fact, holding days-long midsummer celebrations to honor the eternal sunlight of their northern locale.
The Summer Solstice itself has always held significance for ancient religions and cultures, and can be tied historically to earth-related occurrences, such as the possible meaning behind the creation of Stonehenge and the Egyptian calendars which begin by marking the annual rising of the Nile. In fact, celebrations of the solstice are still held throughout the world that stem from these types of events and traditions.
Historically, the church recognized these pagan celebrations of the Summer Solstice by choosing June 24 as the feast day of St. John the Baptist. In Ireland, this midsummer feast day is also known as a bonfire night (not to be confused with Guy Fawkes Day – also “Bonfire Night” in the UK), which pre-Christianity, was actually celebrated to honor Aine, the Celtic goddess of love and fertility with feasting, singing, and dancing around – you guessed it – bonfires.
In the old days, the ashes of the fires were then mixed with the seeds that would be soon be planted in order to bring good luck to the harvest. At this time, young couples would also perform what was called a “handfast,” where they would wind a ribbon around their wrists as a sign of binding, and then hope to be expecting their own, er, seedling, come the fall. The woman would then wear the ribbon as a symbol of their union.
Interestingly enough, midsummer celebrations in Ireland are still greatly associated with…fairy activity! (Hmm, we are sensing a connection here!) In short, it’s no wonder that Shakespeare chose this historic and celebratory time of year to give his tale of love and dreaming a little magical color. Oh, and if you are in the mood to celebrate and find yourself dancing around a midsummer bonfire one day, here’s a tip: Wishes will be granted when you whisper them into a small stone and cast it into the fire…whether or not the fairies are involved, though, is anyone’s guess. – T.T.