"I was the guinea pig," local actor and director Gil Opferman muses.
His role was one of Muni cast hopeful and test subject. Opferman, with some 50 area productions to his credit, was the first to try Muni's new audition format - one that he helped redefine as Muni's audition committee chair. He was the first audition of 303 people vying for 140 spots cast for this season's musicals.
The audition planning process began last fall by polling performers and Muni board and staff members to find ways to encourage greater audition participation. The revised format is a simplified process in which cast hopefuls sign up for an audition time within a small group (12-15). Each group completes vocal, reading and basic movement auditions in about an hour and a half. The new audition process, according to Opferman and evaluations, is a more relaxed, encouraging experience that requires far less time.
The number auditioning increased 50 percent over last year. "I really attribute the increase in auditionees as a combination of a very exciting season that has great things for all ages and genders and our revised audition format," says Opferman, who's 57.
"It doesn't matter how you change the Muni format," Opferman adds. "It is never easy to cast. There is so much talent out there ... Often the difference between your first, second and third choices are so very subtle talent-wise, you have to look at other factors like how they match up with the other leads, their look, their personality and how that will complement others. That is where it gets difficult."
Opferman advises, "The theory is always aim high, and if you don't get what you were hoping for, at least you gave it your best shot." In his case, he wanted the role of Fagin in the upcoming "Oliver!" but got the role of Mr. Sowerberry. Opferman also will be assistant director for Muni's season finale, Disney's "High School Musical."
Steve Sykes, 39, who has performed in and directed area theater for 16 years, was cast as Long Song Seller in "Oliver!" "I like the new process ... I do miss the aspect of the 'greatest show in Springfield,'" he says, referring to the previous format in which those auditioning might perform in front of a couple hundred people in large, open auditions. Yet, the closed and more intimate format "provides more individual attention from staff and committee."
That individual attention can help discern how adaptable an actor can be. Sykes is one such example. He recalls meeting someone who wondered why the actor was always cast in roles with a wheelchair.
That's because he uses one.
A congenital condition has kept him in a wheelchair but hasn't confined his ability to adapt.
"I've always been someone who tried to do the most I could in my situation. I found that out early working in theater. With my level of ability it's an interesting process to translate movement to a wheelchair grapevine or pop a wheelie for a kick."
While Sykes credits his parents' encouragement to get the most of what he could, "theater helped me in that aspect more than anything." In Muni's "Godspell" production in 1988, "I got the most of what I could do in a wheelchair, fully choreographed, involved with all the guys dancing with push brooms. That was the most dancing I've ever done." In "42nd Street" the next year, "My wife and I joked that I got a lead in a dance show. That was great experience for a lot of reasons. Muni is fantastic experience no matter what you're in.
"In theater, you can assume a character and lose yourself. It's a great feeling to collaborate with people you grow with over a six- to eight-week period to collectively entertain. There are joys and benefits of being in theater. Relationships of working with people are as strong as family ... they last long after the lights have gone out."
Muni's 2009 season
Story published Friday, May 1, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 3 )