'Urinetown' cast members talk audition process, nerves

by Betty Kim | 1/12/17 12:00am

 The audition process can cause even the most confident and experienced performer, such as those who auditioned last week for the theater department’s production of the Tony Award-winning satirical musical “Urinetown,” to descend suddenly descend into a vortex of self-deprecating, worst-case scenario concerns: my hands are so sweaty, I’m going to damage everything I touch and get blacklisted by the Hop. I’m so nervous, I’m going to accidentally start singing the alma mater instead of my audition piece, and I won’t be able to stop until I get through the whole thing.

Those panicked thoughts may be exaggerations, but any Dartmouth student who has auditioned for a performing arts group or production has probably experienced the particular brand of nervousness that comes with trying to make a room full of authorities acknowledge one’s talents and skills. These thoughts may even turn into questions of social acceptance because those very “authorities” may or may not become one’s closest friends and mentors on campus.

Coming from varying class years, musical backgrounds and theater experience, students took on this challenge at the Hopkins Center Garage last week, participating in the three-part audition for “Urinetown.” The show, which is about a town where private toilets are banned, features a 25-member cast list, which was released this past Sunday.

Students completed their first round of auditions on either Thursday or Friday, demonstrating their vocal and acting skills to secure a callback. According to Zachary Gottschall ’20, who will play Officer Lockstock, the first round took around ten minutes. First, the vocal audition included singing an excerpt from a short piece for the stage manager, choreographer and music director, who accompanied the auditionees on piano.

After completing the vocal portion, students performed their acting audition, which entailed reciting “acting sides,” or excerpts from the show, which were posted online during interim for students to prepare. The parts that each auditionee read varied. Ryan Spector ’19 said some auditionees had the option to pick a part to read while others were given a specific part.

Spector, who sang the song “Me” from “Beauty and the Beast” for his audition, said both his piece and singing style influenced his casting decision. Though he did not audition for a specific role, Spector will be playing evil moneygrubber Caldwell B. Cladwell in “Urinetown.”

“[Gaston] has a very similar disposition to that of Cladwell,” Spector said. “I think my voice matches that part both in range and tonality. He’s very sure of himself — he has a big voice.”

Other cast members auditioned for parts that attracted their interest from the very beginning. Naomi Lazar ’17 attributed “high belting” vocal parts as her motivation for auditioning for Penelope Pennywise and chose an audition piece that showed off her vocal skills.

JoJo Boyle ’20, who saw “Urinetown” when she was younger, auditioned for the character Little Sally because of her precociousness and comedic role.

“She’s constantly questioning the narrator [about] the logic of the show because it’s a satire,” Boyle said. “It was the role I wanted, and I was very surprised I got it. I was over the moon excited.”

Auditionees who received callbacks returned on Saturday to complete a dance audition. According to Spector, choreographer Keith Coughlin taught students a short dance call or routine. Students then performed the dance in small groups of three or four. A rotation continued until the whole callback group performed the routine multiple times, allowing the judges to “evaluate movement skills.”

Lazar remarked that the choreography component of the audition was “intense” but “fun” because of its creative element.

“It isn’t so much about getting the moves right as it is send[ing] a message through the movements,” Lazar said. “We learned a choreo[graphy] that was supposed to be angry and violent. It wasn’t really supposed to be neat, so I had a lot of fun with that.”

After the dance audition, auditionees who were called back for a specific part either sang or acted for the part one last time before an email with the final cast list was sent out.

Though many students involved with Dartmouth’s theater department participated in theater before their college experience, the cast members have diverse musical backgrounds.

Spector reported having “no real significant acting or musical theater experience before Dartmouth” but adapted his skills as a classical pianist to theater. He also starred in the College’s production of “Chicago: The Musical” his freshman year and said there was “a little bit of comfort but also the normal level of nervousness” going into his audition for “Urinetown.”

Boyle and Gottschall are both first-year students who have previous experience in musical theater and agreed that they felt nervous going into the audition.

“Each audition is almost as terrifying as the last,” Boyle said. “I’m not a super confident singer, so it’s very difficult knowing there might just be someone who went right before you who’s better.”

Lazar, on the other hand, said that she did not feel particularly nervous for the audition because she felt her character was such a good fit. Lazar has also participated in previous Dartmouth productions — including “Big Love,” “Spring Awakening,” and “Cotton Patch Gospel” — and said studying and understanding a role is key to an audition regardless of musical background.

“If you come to an audition and you’ve done your homework, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from; we have physics majors, and we have theater majors,” Lazar said.

Spector, who is considering a minor in theater, agreed that students studying any subject have the opportunity to create a meaningful experience for themselves by participating in theater at Dartmouth.

“For its size and for a school that is not particularly known for theater, [Dartmouth] has a very impressive program that matches or even exceeds the standards of quality and musicianship, performance ... of larger programs that are more renowned,” Spector said.

Performances of “Urinetown” will take place in the Moore Theater Feb. 17 to 19 and Feb. 23 to 26.