High School Musical
Presented by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse
May 19 to 30
Tickets: $39 for adults, $20 for under 18
Box office: 1-888-449-4463

Photos and story by Casey Lessard

Aiming for fame, more than 100 teenagers joined auditions in Exeter and Guelph for Drayton Entertainment’s summer presentation of Disney’s High School Musical, which runs at the Huron Country Playhouse May 19 to 30. After a weekend of auditions, including a full Sunday at South Huron District High School, 80 actors were chosen to join the P.E.P. Squad, the play’s chorus.
“I saw it in the paper and right away I knew that it was something I had to do,” said Alicia Veens, 16, a student at North Lambton Secondary School in Forest. “I love the play a lot, and I love to sing. I love to dance, even though I’m not very good.”
Veens and the rest of the teens had to show their abilities in both areas. Director and choreographer David Connolly and dance captain Michelle Black taught the audition attendees one of the routines those selected will be performing in the play, “We’re All In This Together”.
“It was nerve-wracking,” said Viktor Coletta, a South Huron student from Parkhill. “I was scared out of my mind. I wasn’t expecting what they did. I felt better when we were in groups, but I think I did pretty good.”
The Drayton team acknowledges the fear auditionees have. After all, for some, this is their first time trying out for a professional role.
“We had kids coming to the door, still not convinced of whether they were going to do it at all,” Michelle Black said. “Still thinking it over and they got here. The fact is, they got the courage to learn the material and present at the end.”
The process is not new for Grand Bend’s Meaghan Forrester. She was in the chorus of last season’s Oliver!
“With my Oliver! audition, I screwed up, too, and let my performance suffer,” Forrester said. “This one I screwed up, but I felt my performance was better. You miss a step or have to catch up.
“I hope I get in, but if I don’t, I’m applying to university and those auditions need work,” she added. “If I do get in, I plan to work a lot harder than I did on Oliver!, because we had a lot more time and it was less complicated. This will be less time and more complicated.”
It seems Forrester impressed Connolly and Black; she was among those chosen to join the squad for eight performances this summer. But Connolly understands the pressure the audition process puts on a new performer.
“These kids are making courageous choices to be here,” he said. “For some, it’s an obvious choice; their parents support them and they drove them and it was a no-brainer. There are others who moved mountains to get into that room. When you know what an audition is, it’s scary enough, but they don’t even know what an audition is and they’re walking into a room to put it all on the line.”
Alicia Bradley, 17, of London put it on the line. The Central Secondary School student, who spends summers at a cottage in Grand Bend, has experience at the Grand Theatre in London, where she was a pianist. She was hoping to move from the orchestra pit to the stage.
“I love to dance and sing, Bradley said. “I want to go into theatre at university, but I didn’t realize that until last year, so I’m trying to get my show experience now. I have a couple of auditions at Ryerson, York and U of T. I’m a dancer, so I thought this would be a good chance to get on stage.”
Unfortunately, Bradley is not among those who will be on the Playhouse stage this summer. Neither will Beth Smallman, a South Huron student new to professional theatre.
“I want to go into acting after high school,” Smallman said. “This was my first audition. I’ve been in a lot of drama things through school. I wanted to see what an audition is like and see whether I get it.”
No matter, though. It was a worthy experience for the teen.
“It went really well,” she said. “I learned a lot. I tried my hardest and it was a lot of fun.”
That’s the kind of attitude David Connolly was looking for, even if it didn’t translate into a position with the cast. The overwhelming desire to succeed reminds Connolly of his early theatre years.
“My first big audition was for Alan Lund at Kitchener-Waterloo Musical Productions. I had done some dancing with dance studios and competed a little, but Alan Lund was standing in front of me with Cynthia Toushan Brnjas, who was his assistant, and I didn’t even know that choreographers had assistants. I remember being in awe of that. I must have been so bad and awkward. But we’re looking for passion, someone who can’t think of anything else they’d rather do, and I must have had that.”
It’s all about perspective, Michelle Black said.
“If they did it again, it’s less of an audition and more of a workshop on life. Every time I spend time with David, I learn a little more about myself. Today, if they don’t get the show, the confidence they’ll get from being in the room with him is huge.”
And it’s not for everyone.
“We had a girl yesterday break down in the middle and say, ‘I can’t do this,’” Black said. “You can see that, for some of them, it’s terrifying.”
It wasn’t a problem for Virginia Iredale of Exeter, who earned a spot on the squad.
“The hardest part is keeping it all together,” the Grade 10 student said. “I don’t get embarrassed on stage. The easiest part was coming. I just decided, I’m going, my mom will bring me. Then it’s like, I’m here, guess I get to do it now.”
Family support is important, and makes the process easier.
“My mom made me (audition),” said Viktor Coletta. “I did this in London with Original Kids. I was Zeke Baylor, the cook. It’s a fun show, a lot of energetic people.”
Alicia Veens came wearing a shirt that reads Born to be Famous.
“My grandma bought me this shirt,” Veens said. “She loves what I do and hopes for the best for me. I want to be famous really bad.”
And she knows what it takes to get there.
“If you have it, you have it. You don’t have to be good looking, as long as you have the talent and believe in yourself.”
Words David Connolly might argue were taken right out of his mouth. He hopes some kids discovered this about themselves during the audition process.
“You can tell somebody they’re great, but that will never replace them feeling that they did it themselves,” he said. “That moment of doing it for themselves will stay with them.”
Veens walked away wanting the moment to last.
“I would love to get a letter in the mail saying I’ve made it. I’ve always wanted to be in a play like this.”
“I’d like to see all the good people get it,” added Virginia Iredale. “I will definitely go see it now because it looks like fun.”
No need to buy a ticket, Virginia, because you and Alicia are in it. Veens and Iredale were both added to the P.E.P. Squad roster. And yes, High School Musical looks like fun. To see it for yourself, visit http://www.draytonentertainment.com