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Archive for Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lawrence Community Theatre gives everyone a chance to find the spotlight

Lawrence Journal-World reporter Chad Lawhorn tries his hand on stage as he auditions with the actors and actresses looking to be cast in the December production of Annie at Theatre Lawrence.

October 26, 2010

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Annie will run from Dec. 3-5, Dec. 9-12 and Dec. 16-19 at the Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 N.H. For ticket information call 843-7469.

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A mash-up of "Little Girls" from "Annie" in five takes

A collaboration of auditions of "Little Girls," sung by the part of Miss Hannigan from "Annie" during auditions at Theatre Lawrence. Enlarge video

Audition night for "Annie" at Theatre Lawrence

Actors and actresses run through an evening of auditions for the December production of Annie at Theatre Lawrence. Enlarge video

From left, Kelly Brakenhoff, Knute Pittenger and Dean Bevan show off their stage moves as they audition for roles in the musical "Annie" Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 at Theatre Lawrence.

From left, Kelly Brakenhoff, Knute Pittenger and Dean Bevan show off their stage moves as they audition for roles in the musical "Annie" Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 at Theatre Lawrence.

Director Charlie Goolsby observes during the singing portion of auditions for "Annie" on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 at Theatre Lawrence.

Director Charlie Goolsby observes during the singing portion of auditions for "Annie" on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 at Theatre Lawrence.

Aspiring actors and actresses run through dance routines with choreographer Melia Stockham, bottom right, during tryouts for Annie on Wednesday at Theatre Lawrence, 1501 N.Y. The theater recently received a nearly $500,000 grant from the Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Okla.

Aspiring actors and actresses run through dance routines with choreographer Melia Stockham, bottom right, during tryouts for Annie on Wednesday at Theatre Lawrence, 1501 N.Y. The theater recently received a nearly $500,000 grant from the Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Okla.

On the street

Have you ever wanted to be or been in a play?

“I actually come from a theater family, so part of my rebellion was the rejection of theater.”

More responses

If Harry Caray could do it, surely I could too.

The famed baseball announcer had sung a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch of countless Chicago Cubs games. A longtime pitchman for Budweiser, Caray often sang like his vocal cords had been well-lubricated with that fine product. And everybody still seemed to love the show.

So, I stepped into the Lawrence Community Theatre near 15th and New Hampshire thinking I could do this. It was open auditions for the theater’s December production of “Annie,” and I was set to sing a little “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to woo the producers.

Then, I find myself sitting with 30 other fellow audition participants in a cramped basement, and my thinking changes.

The first contestant in what seems to be Lawrence’s version of “American Idol” steps forward and nicely sings “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” At that moment, I know this: I’m happy I didn’t go first.

Up next is a woman who sings a beautiful version of “Little Girls.” Now, I’m thinking: What a suck-up. Singing a song from the actual show. (Or so I gather. I’ve never actually seen “Annie.”)

Yeah, that’s just sour grapes. Mainly what I’m thinking is: I wish I would have gone first.

It’s going to be that type of night.

•••

I’m here at this mid-October audition because I want to get a peek at the business of community theater. Lawrence’s theater group has embarked on a campaign to raise $6.2 million to build a new 300-seat theater near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Already, Theatre Lawrence — as the group now is named — has raised more than $4 million.

That’s why I’m here. Natalie Donovan, on the other hand, is here because the produce section of Dillons is an uninspired audience.

“It seemed like it was time to do something with my silliness,” Donovan said. “I just can’t tap dance in grocery stores for the rest of my life. I’ve decided I’m almost 40 and it is time to do something bold and a little daring.”

Donovan is a newbie. This is her first theater audition, and she has taken dance classes and voice lessons to prepare.

“I learned,” Donovan said after her audition, “that it is more difficult than karaoke, for sure.”

It was Shakespeare who said “all the world’s a stage.” I’m not sure who, if anyone, said every stage is a classroom. But somebody should because it seems everyone who stepped on the stage at these auditions could recite a lesson it taught them at some point.

For Donovan, her lesson went beyond karaoke. In a way, it is one of the greatest lessons of all: Perhaps a husband can be right.

“I was going to chicken out tonight,” Donovan said. “But my husband told me I had an appointment at the theater. Now I’m glad. I didn’t pass out or anything, so I think it was an unmitigated success.”

•••

Holy Cow — as Mr. Caray would say — somebody brought their own pianist to this audition. I’ve long heard the advice to not play a man who brings his own pool cue to a game. Surely there must be some equivalent for people who bring their own musicians to an audition.

My discomfort grows as a man steps forward and not only sings a song for the producers but also spells it. Yeah, the song requires him to spell some of the words — very quickly — all while staying in key. I’m already questioning whether I can sing, and several Journal-World copy editors have assured me I can not spell.

But my turn does come, so I try to summon some inspiration. As a good husband, I think of my lovely wife. Before the audition, I told her that I had asked theater director Mary Doveton what song a person who can’t sing should sing. Mary had answered “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Then, I sang the song for my lovely wife.

As I’m preparing to begin my solo, I remember my wife’s reaction: Mary was wrong.

•••

At 16 years old, Erin Riley is an international performer. It started in the third grade when she was a witch in a spoof of “Macbeth.”

“I just remember that was the coolest thing ever, and I’ve been looking for auditions ever since,” said Riley, who attends Free State High.

Her search has included spots like Georgia — the country, not the state — Germany, and “random places in the world.” She has a military father — he’s in Afghanistan currently — to thank for the travels.

And she says theater has made them easier.

“I have to move around and make new friends all the time,” Riley said. “The theater helps me take out a part of myself and just give it to people and really be outgoing.”

It is a piece of advice that also works well in other parts of life.

“Just show people that you love what you’re doing,” Riley said, “and they’ll love it with you too.”

•••

“It’s a buffalo without the shuffle,” someone exclaims from the dance floor.

Oh, now you tell me. It is a buffalo without the shuffle. Sure, now it makes sense.

As I’m standing on the stage trying to learn a dance routine that seems destined to physically hurt me or perhaps the person standing next to me, I recall that I once wrote a newspaper article about a wild buffalo that charged me. I felt more comfortable then than I do now.

With grapevines, a spin, hand thrusts and a leg kick, I really am concerned that I may hurt someone.

For a moment, I am pretty sure it will be my cameraman, who has a wide smile and a video camera pointed right at me.

“This,” he says, “is going to be the most watched video ever in the newsroom.”

•••

Knute Pittenger must have been giving off some type of look at his daughter’s tumbling class. One of the other parents in the class asked him if he had any interest in trying out for a part in a Baldwin City production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Pittenger, actually, did. That was in 1991, and since then Pittenger has been in — among others — “Beauty and the Beast,” “The King and I,” “A Christmas Story,” and “Annie.” (Wish I would have seen it.)

“Most of it for me is that I love to sing, and the theater is mostly pretending to be someone else and having a really great time with it,” said Pittenger.

And sometimes you get to surprise the heck out of people. Pittenger is best described as a hulk of a man. He is big and broad with a handlebar mustache that looks custom-made to ride atop a Harley. You’ve maybe seen him. He’s a utility worker for the city of Lawrence.

And about one night per year, you can see a whole slew of men who work with water meters and sewer pipes fill the seats of the community theater.

“Each year I sell out one show with nothing but my friends, family and co-workers,” Pittenger said.

For those who haven’t seen him sing or act before, they often leave surprised. Pittenger said surprise is one of the great aspects of the theater.

Perhaps the most common surprise, Pittenger said, is how the theater allows you to do things you’d never do otherwise. The real surprise is that it actually doesn’t.

“It is really the other way around,” Pittenger said. “You have this ability and you find it at the theater, and then people start saying I can see why you do theater. And then you end up seeing it too.”

•••

If I wanted to talk like an actor, I would say Charlie Goolsby is a very giving director. I had sat through about 25 auditions and watched the director — my director? — give praise and encouragement to everyone who stepped forward.

So as I finished the last note in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and waited for the applause to end (everyone gets applause at community theater), I wondered what he would say now.

“Well,” Goolsby says, “I recognized it.”

As do I recognize my thespian future.

So, look for me in the shadows of the crowd, not the bright lights of the stage. But did I learn anything from all this? You bet. I’m no Harry Caray, yet.

Maybe another Budweiser will help.

Comments

Alceste 4 years, 1 month ago

This story is a LIE. The Community Theatre is controlled by a group of snobs and only allow buddies of their buddies in to "act", "usher", or otherwise be involved. Let's not fool ourselves here, please. Thank you.

jedifunk 4 years, 1 month ago

Are you kidding? You've gotta be kidding. Have you honestly been told you couldn't usher?

rbs 4 years, 1 month ago

I do not agree at all--in my experience, they are a very welcoming group. Is someone mad about not getting a part?

bastet 4 years, 1 month ago

Alceste, you are absolutely wrong. Indeed, there is a core of volunteers who keep things going, but every show has new actors, new people behind scenes and getting involved at every level. They all happily, gratefully, willingly accept anyone who wants to volunteer his or her time. In fact, the theatre actively encourages ANYONE to join in the creation of great theatre. You are very mistaken.

Alceste 4 years, 1 month ago

Nope. Not mistaken. I know whereof I speak. Ya gotta be a member of the "chosen" to get anywhere with that outfit.

Also, they don't do "theatre" they do "shlock". No cutting edge stuff such as art by Ronald Ribman or Athol Fugard. Just the same old same old cutting edge drama like "Oklahoma".

ONLY the CHOSEN get to be in the plays; and the 2nd tier of CHOSEN are permitted to usher. It's a closed scene.....like so many of the other "art" actions in Lawrence. Not dissimiliar from the Lied Center I might add.....shrug It is what it is.....

bastet 4 years, 1 month ago

Well, since they just do "shlock," it is fortunate for you that you are not one of the "chosen." Wow, you really dodged a bullet there. Now you have the time to go off and do "real" theatre.

KansasPerson 4 years, 1 month ago

Oh, Alceste, you are so very silly. I walked in there years ago, literally just walked in without any preparation, just because I read on their sign that they were having auditions. (And yes, I got a part. And I'm not THAT good!) I know someone else who had a similar experience -- just showed up there after moving to Lawrence, and got involved right away. In both cases we were total strangers to the organization. In addition, they ask for volunteers EVERY SINGLE TIME they do a play. I have NEVER heard of anyone being turned away to be an usher, for crying out loud, unless they were already full-up and didn't need any more, which happens if you wait too long to speak up. (Ushers get to stay and watch the show, which is one reason why the spots do fill up!)

"Oklahoma"?! You've got to be kidding. I've lived here for quite some time and have never seen LCT perform "Oklahoma." Sure, there is the occasional "big-draw" musical, because guess what?? They need money to maintain that theater, and a popular musical brings in lots of people. I've enjoyed some of those shows. But I've also had the chance to see things at LCT that I didn't see anywhere else. Did you not know that LCT (sorry, I keep forgetting to call it by its new name -- that's gonna take some practice) has often produced original plays?

OF COURSE there are going to be disappointed people whenever there's an audition. If that was the case with you, Alceste, I can sympathize. I certainly didn't make it into every show I tried out for. But I didn't let it embitter me. There is always a lot to do at the theater. I haven't been able to do much there for several years, due to other commitments, but I still enjoy helping out when I can. Believe me, anyone else who's reading this, it's certainly not a clique. I've been here since the mid-80s and there have been A LOT of newcomers since that time, as well as some stalwart volunteers who keep coming back.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 1 month ago

Alceste, gee wiz, aw shucks, I bet you got a pullitzter prize last year than, eh buddy?
LMAO!

full of cr@p!


Theatre Lawrence is the most amazing community theater I've ever seen. quality of dancing, music, acting, is all very high.

"Shout" the music and harmonies were stunning!

original plays. well thar, I done saw one of them at theatre lawrence a few years ago, with the writer there. it was excellent.

never ever have experienced one ounce of cliquishness, and I would have noticed that!

We are so fortunate to have Mary Dovton, and the whole magnificent bunch at TL with us here.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 1 month ago

Sorry you didn't make it Chad!

watch for when they have a good play involving a newspaper, like the Philidelphia story: you could play the Jimmy Stewart part!

friendlyjhawk 4 years, 1 month ago

Have to agree that Theatre Lawrence is a closed circle. Many of the people audition over and over and even get shows especially chosen for them. All of the "closed circle" are those that are willing to do the work show after show tho. Most do an adequate job and amaze their friends and family. Men are always in demand. Most middle age female roles go to a certain few over and over. The instant family that develops is a poor substitute for real camraderie with real friends. You have to be willing to put up with lots of me, me, me from them and hear about their prozac dosage. It is that way in any community theater.

Alceste 4 years, 1 month ago

Thank you for you accurate description, friendlyjhawk.

Now the "article" is FRONT PAGE news for the October 27 ljworld.com!! What a hoot!

Elizabeth Peters 4 years, 1 month ago

Alcaste,

Sorry you didn't get the part you tried out for and that it has made such an unhappy person. Did you ever try again? Have you ever heard of trying again. "Try, Try, Again" Little tip. Bad attitude will get you no where. The world and the Lawrence Community Theatre are not against you. Open your heart and put a smile on that face. Keep trying and you may surprise yourself and get a part in one of the next ones.

Alceste 4 years, 1 month ago

Yeah....right....ilikepie000...and God didn't make little green apples in the summertime, either. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5J_FyLg7tc

tyson travis 4 years, 1 month ago

I grew up in Lawrence but now live in Arkansas. I have been volunteering in our regional community theater since 1997, and have found it to be a very rewarding experience. Here in Pine Bluff, we have a very nice 300-seat theater with flyspace which permits rapid scene changes. Right after we did a very ambitious production of "Beauty and the Beast" in 2005, I took my Mom to see the LCC's version and was very impressed with the quality of the production and how they handled scene changes. They have done very well with their facility, but now it is time to move up to the next level, hopefully with flyspace, enhanced lighting, and more seating capacity. I appear on stage occasionally, but have really found my niche in operating the pinrail and working backstage, and understand that these roles are just as important, and that there is always a need for volunteers in these areas, as well as lighting, sound, costumes, makeup, etc., and that this need will only increase with a higher-tech facility. Keep volunteering and you will be used! We form a family with every show, and although I realize that it may seem cliquish that the same people seem to be getting roles, there's only a limited talent pool in every town. We've wanted to do "West Side Story" for years, but have been stymied by the lack of good MALE dancers. We'll probably do it eventually with ladies dressing as guys, like we had to do in "Guys and Dolls." We broke in a brand-new lead talent with Anna in "The King and I" this year, someone who had never had a major role, but did very well. Again, keep volunteering, you'll get used, and your efforts will be appreciated. Ty Travis, Pine Bluff AR.

Alceste 4 years, 1 month ago

Be too much like right for a "progressive" place like Lawrence, Kansas to stick its neck out and do something that entertains AND is food for thought such as Fuller's Zooman and the Sign. It'll never happen in white bread land.....

Annie = Oklahoma = West Side Story = NO MAS!

jhawkmamax2 4 years, 1 month ago

At least one of the five Shout! castmembers was a TL first-timer.

tyson travis 4 years, 1 month ago

Sorry, in my previous post, I said "LCC." Was supposed to be "LCT." The Anna we discovered in the Summer Musical was sewing costumes for the waitresses in "Bus Stop," which was our next show, and she was happy to do it. There's always a place for everyone, you can't be the star every time. BTW, coming from Lawrence, I knew "Bus Stop" was set in Tongie, and had my brother drive out there and take pictures of the Almeda so the cast here could get a feel for the original place Bill Inge had in mind. For your audience members, I know you want to see something new and different, but you can't forget that the familiar plays like "South Pacific," "Annie," "To Kill a Mockingbird," etc. are the ones that put the folks in the seats and keep the theatre going. Here in the conservative south, the familiar plays go over well, occasionally we try something new, but folks seem to like the bread-and-butter stuff best. Like it or not, it's a fact of life.

ajmag 4 years, 1 month ago

its pretty sad that the posts can ruin any neutral understanding of the theater.

Jill Flessing 4 years, 1 month ago

I have been involved in the Lawrence Community Theatre - Now Theatre Lawrence, off and on since 1998. In that time they have done neither West Side Story OR Oklahoma. And now, are auditioning for Annie. If you are going to bash something, please research your facts.

I was welcomed with open arms to the theatre as a complete stranger. I have worked back stage, on stage, at the bar, as an usher and in the "pit" and have given countless hours to the theatre for one reason.. I respect the "art" of theatre -and it is truly a community project. No one is a professional, no one is paid.

I agree with the comments above that the "big name" musicals are undertaken for the simple reason of money. They draw a crowd, they make money. Theatres, even though non-profit, need money to run.

Perhaps you should look at the past seasons, "Cups" "A Shayna Madel" "Doubt""Cover of Life""Proof" and "Wit" (amoong many others) seem far away from "typical schlock."

Theatre Lawrence does a remarkable job with the resources they have. I'm always proud to have been involved.

bastet 4 years, 1 month ago

Yep. And though this is not the place to generate a discussion of the "worth" of the big-time musicals, it is worth noting that the American Musical Theatre is a rich and valuable tradition that explores the complexity of human existance just as effectively as many straight stage plays. Familiarity might breed contempt, but there are interesting and thought-provoking ideas in many of our familiar musicals including "Oklahoma" and "West Side Story."

rbs 4 years, 1 month ago

Wow, some discussion. . . I would just like to say (for anyone who reads down this far) that I have met some of my best friends at LCT. And as far as the alleged snobbery--this is the one theater where I have worked and seen VERY LITTLE diva drama or conceited attitudes. The folks that work there put in a lot of time and effort to make each show wonderful. The plethora of different types of shows each season usually have a little something for everyone.

And the Lawrence area is rife with talented musicians, actors and directors, so there will almost always be solid competition for any roles in any show. And yes, there are very talented actors that you will see cast in multiple shows each year. These people have a lot of talent, and often have skills that may be critical for a particular role. That is the reality of the situation.

So, Alceste, I'm not sure what experiences you have had to influence your opinion of LCT, but they seem incredibly biased and formed from a negative emotional place. I hope that you can let this attitude go and try again.

tashadono 4 years, 1 month ago

Thank you, Chad, for writing such a fun article! And Nick did a wonderful job with the video! I was right with you in the nerves department, but standing up (and not falling over!) in front of those folks while singing and dancing was so empowering! I know a lot of those amazing singers are old pros at auditioning, but a "newbie" like me had some serious knocking knees!

I am happy to report that I did get a part in "Annie"! I have seen some wonderful productions at Theater Lawrence, but never believed I would be part of one! Everyone I have met so far has been kind, welcoming, and genuine.

Thanks, again, for writing a great story about a great place! Best, Natalie

lawslady 4 years, 1 month ago

Like any group that depends upon VOLUNTEERS there are going to be some perceived cliques, especially if a newbie is shy, awkward (or has other social impediments - like "Know-it-all" syndrome or "You all need me and my ideas so bad" attitudes). But many times I have seen people who were brand new get big parts, and be welcomed and celebrated by this theater. When planning a future season, there is always grousing about choices - but let's face it, if they do not put rears in the seats, the whole thing will fold. So they MUST provide shows that will pull in an audience. If you want to do experimental, check out EMU theater or start your own group! This is a very subjective topic, what is an isn't good theater, but I have friends who routinely travel from out of state to see the shows put on by this theater - because of the excellent quality and talent. Lawrence is indeed very lucky to have Mary Doveton, and her dedicated band of helpers. You do not have to agree with someone 100% in order to appreciate the work they do. And I do!

Alceste 4 years, 1 month ago

lawslady : You mean be certain I share what my dosage of Prozac is or is no (in between the "ME, ME, ME, ME" nonsense), right? hahahahahahahahahhhahaahhaa

Jillster 4 years, 1 month ago

If nothing else, Alceste is succeeding in getting many people to share their positive experiences at LCT, so that's all for the good.

Icomiclast 4 years, 1 month ago

Auditions became much easier for me when I realized just how easy they are. There are, of course, some necessary flutters before one auditions, but after you shake that off, all you have to do is be prepared and focused. Read the play. Choose a character and learn it. Then do your best. Everything after that is up to the director. If you don't get the part, it's because the director made another choice.

Preparing in advance is your best hedge against disappointment. You did your best. There is no shame in putting your best foot forward. The final outcome is in another's hands, and in collaborative arts, that will frequently reoccur during the course of your arts career. You get get over it or you get bitter.

I got over it. I like working in the theatre. It takes years to learn how to do it right, and that includes straightening nails in the scene shop. It is a group effort, and everybody pulls together to make it work.

It takes a village to do theatre. I like small towns, and a theatre company functions like a community, with all the eccentricities and good will of a nice place to live.

I've worked with Theatre Lawrence, and I like it. I don't live there, like some folks, but I know them well enough to say howdy. The cliquishness that one may perceive is simply to be accepted, because some folks just never seem to go home! They live and work together, (figuratively speaking) and so they would naturally be most comfortable in each other's company. I like them. They make friends easily and have never made me feel unwelcome. I'm going to work with them again some day because someone else will think it's a good idea, and I'm looking forward to it.

borntoplay 4 years, 1 month ago

I have worked with LCT since 1994 as an actor, board member, bartender, usher and serve on play selection. I have cleaned up after the fire, sorted costumes, donated my furniture to be used on stage, baked a thousand cookies and raised money for them. I was cast, as a complete stranger to town, in the first show I auditioned for. LCT has an excellent record of casting brand new people constantly. In my tenure with them, I believe that only three shows out of 90 productions did not have a new person in it. If that is not welcoming, I don't know what is. As to not taking chances, the theater has to make money to keep the doors open. Musicals make money. The community likes them and we are a community theater. We do new comedies and dramas every year, as well. No apologies.

Alceste 4 years, 1 month ago

hehehhe.....born an apologist; a 16+ year veteren....ride along Hop Along Cassidy! hahahahahahahahahahahah.....

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