By CB Wismar
“Find your own boogie!”
Choreographer Chris DeVita’s words bounce around the Bok Gallery at Sharon Playhouse
and are met with a chorus of nervous laughter. These are the “callback” auditions — the second opportunity for regional actors to secure a place in this season’s production of “The Music Man.” Theater goers will see only the fully rehearsed production, of course, but much goes on before the rehearsals are to start, and for those curious about the process, a chance to audit the auditions is illuminating.
The day before, men and women, boys and girls who stretch and turn in front of a wall of mirrors had stood alone, singing a song of their choice and reciting lines from a favorite play. If that solo performance was impressive enough, the invitation was offered. Today, things get more intense. Today, they dance.
The audience on this Sunday in early spring is both critical and encouraging. Director Morgan Green, who will bring three major productions to the Sharon, Conn. stage this summer, controls the ebb and flow of the day. First there is work with the show’s choreographer, Chris DeVita
, then the chance to sing a song from Meredith Wilson’s classic American love story and do a bit of dialogue. Then it’s “Thanks for coming. Good job. We’ll announce in about a week.”
And, the wait begins.
If you’re an actor, this is the time for second guessing — for wondering if you hadn’t missed the “grapevine” step or hit the high note with a bit less vibrato … or …
If you’re a director, it’s time to juggle the images and performances and individual chemistry with notes and opinions from your production team. The goal: to get to the moment when the cast works with the concepts already in your mind. There’s a long journey between hearing a few bars of “Wells Fargo Wagon” done three different ways to determine an actor’s range, and opening night on August 4 when the audience gets to meet “The Music Man” for the first time.
Morgan Green has demonstrated her range as a director in the complex world of what is euphemistically known as “Off-off-Broadway.” With her production partners Madeline Wise and Milo Cramer, Green is part of New Saloon
, a production company that attracted positive reviews for their production of “Minor Characters” at this past year’s “Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival” and captured the attention of Sharon Playhouse Artistic Director Johnson Henshaw. “Minor Characters” will be Sharon Playhouse’s first offering this upcoming season, running from June 9 - 25. It will be followed by Green’s staging of Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away,” then “The Music Man” comes to town.
If you’re a choreographer, the hour of dance auditions that begin the day is layered and intense. With 30 cast aspirants working hard to learn, then deliver the routine he has devised, Chris DeVita demonstrates his great talent of being both a patient, encouraging teacher and a keen-eyed critic. He, like Morgan Green, must be able to see what’s in front of him and project how that performance can fit into the ultimate production.
“I want them to have fun … to let us see what they’re comfortable with,” he says. “My approach is to work with whatever skills they bring, not try to force them into routines that aren’t comfortable.” Almost on cue, as a group finishes running through the choreography, DeVita leads the boisterous cheering and applause.
DeVita is no stranger to the talent pool in the region. He spent two seasons as Artist-in-Residence at the Wassaic Project
, spending summers in the New York town as counterpoint to his full-time role as cofounder of his own New York dance company.
His audition complete, would-be cast member Rudd Anderson, a gifted education teacher at Weston Intermediate School, gets ready for the drive home. “As auditions go, they made this very comfortable,” he says. Anderson seems relaxed, not caught up in the second guessing that might be expected. “Theater is where I started, and I enjoy having this creative outlet,” says the veteran of regional theater, European theater companies and an American touring company of “CATS.”
And, inside the Bok Gallery, the rehearsal pianist strikes a chord and yet another rendition of “Wells Fargo Wagon” fills the morning.
Related story: Sharon Playhouse Plans a Director-Driven Season