Audition anxiety: Tryouts can offer teachable moments for children

David Sturm pins an audition number on Sophie Bracker Sturm, 6, Lawrence, before the auditions for “A Kansas Nutcracker” Sept. 20 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. Auditions can be a difficult but learning experience for children.

Michele Rogers, Lawrence, braids the hair of Sophia Rogers, 8, before auditions for “A Kansas Nutcracker” at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. The show opens 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11.

When Alexis Kreigh, 10, auditioned for the Lawrence Arts Center’s annual production of “A Kansas Nutcracker,” she assumed the lead role would go to one of the older girls, someone who had performed in more shows.

“I was shocked and happy when I got Clara,” Alexis says. “But I’ve learned to be happy with whatever part.”

Auditions can put a lot of pressure on both children and parents, which is why area casting directors say it’s important to try out with a certain frame of mind to ensure the best experience possible, no matter what the cast list reveals.

Ric Averill, drama program director of the Arts Center, says auditions bring a healthy dose of competition and lifelong lessons to a child despite certain letdowns.

“I look at the audition and casting process as teachable moments,” Averill says.

He says one important lesson kids learn during casting is that it isn’t all about them but rather supporting other performers — good sportsmanship on or off stage.

“I always tell them to look back at the cast list and see their role and be excited about that role; then look at their friends’ roles and celebrate with them,” Averill says.

Candi Baker, Lawrence Art Center dance program director, agrees children need to understand the performance is about the whole picture and not just the lead roles.

While casting for “A Kansas Nutcracker,” Baker says many girls want the lead, Clara, but she hopes they realize without the other characters, the show wouldn’t be possible.

“I hate that there’s such anxiety about being the lead,” Baker says. “Every person plays a part; Clara isn’t the whole show.”

Maya Spitzer, cast in the Art Center’s October run of “My Two-Tailed Halloween Cat,” say it’s hard to cope with the waiting.

“I do get nervous,” Maya says. “I know how it feels to be cast in, but I also know how it feels to be cast out — it’s disappointing.”

Averill says auditions teach kids to be persistent and not give up after their first audition.

“Their time will come if they treat theater as a craft and keep working at it,” Averill says. “Audition lots of times and learn all that you can. If you pay your dues, it will eventually be your time. That’s an excellent life lesson.”

What directors want

Elizabeth Sullivan, director of “My Two Tailed Halloween Cat,” says she realizes performing comes more naturally to some kids.

Sullivan says she looks for a strong work ethic just as much as talent when casting.

“The more they want to work, the better they’ll do, no matter their talent,” she says.

Baker agrees that talent is only one of the factors considered in the audition process.

“There is very little reason to think that why you didn’t get cast is because you weren’t good enough,” she says. “The way casting happens is for a variety of reasons.”

Averill and Baker agree that when it’s down to the final decision, directors often look at the performer’s work ethic, how they fit in with the rest of the cast and details such as physical characteristics and how their voice sounds. Averill says it’s not meant to be personal but to ensure the best show possible can be produced.

“Really good art is the best way to teach kids,” Averill says. “Our goal is to do the very best show.”

Always next time

As for Alexis, she says she’s enjoying playing the lead in “A Kansas Nutcracker” but remembers earlier disappointments in her fledgling theater career. Her family does, too.

Mary Ellen Kreigh, Alexis’ mother, says going back to an audition is just as hard for parents as kids.

“The first few times when she didn’t get a part or the part she wanted, it was tough, and we were like, ‘Gosh, let’s not do this anymore,'” she laughs.

Mary Ellen Kreigh says she made sure Alexis truly enjoyed being part of theater productions before allowing her to tackle more auditions. Alexis assured her it all was worth it.

“I remember when I had a smaller part and I kept thinking, ‘Next time, maybe it will be my turn,'” she says.