WRITTEN BY EMILY KIMBELL, PHOTOGRAPHED BY SARA MOORE
There’s nothing quite like a live production and the excitement of knowing it’s a moment that can never be reproduced. Perhaps you’ve wondered, as the curtain closes on the last scene and the actors take their final bows, what goes into creating the magic of live theater. Maybe you’ve thought of being onstage yourself.
I’ve been part of the music and theatre community my entire life. I was a “theatre kid” and now, as an adult, I actively participate in musicals and play productions with several companies. Most recently, I was cast in my largest role to date. At Newnan Theatre Company (NTC), I’ll be playing the part of Maria in their May production of “The Sound of Music.”
The hit musical, in which Julie Andrews starred as Maria, is set in 1938 Austria at the eve of the Anschluss. It tells the story of Maria, a governess caring for a large family while deciding if she wants to become a nun. She falls in love with the children and eventually with their widowed father, Captain von Trapp, who is ordered to join the German navy but opposes the Nazis. Adventure ensues as he and Maria plan to flee Austria with the children.
Preparing for a musical of this scale takes prep work and teamwork, and “Sound of Music” is arguably the largest production NTC has undertaken. The cast features established NTC performers, company newcomers, and an all-star directorial team including NTC Director Tony Daniel, Tammy Kimbell, Mary Caroline Moore, and Emily Weiss.
“We’ve done musicals here at NTC before, but they have traditionally been on a small scale,” says Daniel. “Now, after pushing our envelope a bit, we have all learned that the only way we can truly go farther is to test ourselves.”
A musical of this caliber with its sizable cast starts with a large audition. First, theatre companies send out an audition notice detailing rehearsal and production dates, roles to fill and, most importantly for the auditioning actor, requirements for the day of auditions, including what to sing, what to wear and how to prepare.
Since “Sound of Music” requires seven children for the production, an entire day of NTC auditions was dedicated to actors 18 years and younger. More than 70 children auditioned, with their energy filling the room from the moment they entered the building. Even more talent hit the stage when adults auditioned the next day.
Lindsey Wisely, who portrays Mother Abbess, says of her audition experience: “It was a totally new experience. I’d never actually auditioned for a musical or any other type of theatre production. It was amazing watching how vulnerable everyone was, and their willingness to completely put themselves out there was inspiring.”
After callbacks to confirm they got the role, cast members meet for the read-through, which is when they get their script, meet each other and read lines for the first time. Daniels says the “Sound of Music” read-through was a particularly special moment.
“The kids had only met at their auditions, and a good many of the adults cast are new to NTC, so everyone was a bit nervous,” he recalls. “But as they read, you could see faces begin to glow and eyes light up as people realized, ‘This is really going to work.’”
Hard work is required to create a good show. The first step for a musical is learning the music, and the classical style of “Sound of Music” requires vocal durability and range. Charles Ferguson, who portrays Max Detweiler in the musical, reveals a sentiment shared by most of the cast members.
“Rodgers and Hammerstein is more classical than musicals I’ve been in, so the music has been a challenge to learn,” he says.
The singing becomes even more difficult when choreography is added.
Even though rehearsals often mean late nights and hard work, it’s the time when you start to connect with cast mates and develop your skills.
For Michelle Mason, who plays Elsa Schrader, the collaborative nature of rehearsals helps with character development.
“Being in rehearsal with other people helps you find your character,” she says. “It’s one thing to read lines on the page; it’s another to interact with other people and to find that collectively.”
Wisely feels that rehearsals help the nuns of “Sound of Music” feel like a sisterhood.
“I look forward to coming to rehearsal every single time,” she says. “I love the camaraderie of the sisters and hearing their stories of where they’ve been and what they’ve done.”
Finally, after months of practice, it’s time to put everything together with lights, set-building, sound and, my personal favorite, costumes. With 49 costume changes for the Von Trapp children alone, there’s a lot of planning, purchasing and sewing for costume designer Theresa Bush, who finds it all worthwhile when the cast and audience sees her work.
“I love finding the perfect fabrics that make my vision come alive,” says Bush. “My favorite part of any play is when the curtains open and the stage is filled with my work. I like knowing that I have fulfilled the director’s and my vision.”
All the work culminates when the stage curtain rises on opening night. By that time, we are more than a cast: We are a family, and it’s a wonderful experience to share your talent with your community and your friends. What you see on the stage is more than people acting. It’s months of hard work, laughs, friendships, and love. It’s our hearts being shared with you – the audience.
As Mother Abbess sings to Maria in “Climb Every Mountain,” be sure you “follow every rainbow ’til you find your dream.”
“The Sound of Music” runs May 9-19 (Thursday-Sunday) at Newnan Theatre Company. Singalong performances are set for Sunday, May 12 and 19, at 2 p.m.