Stage lights beckon for county's would-be thespians

Adults, high school students strut their stuff in bid for parts in production of `Anything Goes'


Erika Grahl rushed up to Cate Barry, face flushed, loaded with questions. What were the dance sequences like? Should she change her shoes? She had worn heels, but maybe flats were better.

Barry, drama teacher at Long Reach High School and assistant director of the Howard County Players production of Anything Goes, did her best to reassure Grahl, who was trying out for a part in the musical. The dance sequences were easy, she said. Grahl should wear whatever shoes were most comfortable.

It was all a bit of a cliche - the nervous actors, the energy, the crush of costumed bodies in the hallway. But Sunday's audition at Long Reach High School for the Cole Porter musical wasn't really like a scene from A Chorus Line, where everyone always seems to be muttering "I hope I get it" and "I really need this job."

The adults and high school students chatting in the halls or rehearsing their songs while pacing outside the front door weren't struggling actors hoping for their big break. They wanted to participate in community theater because it was fun. The production might provide valuable experience, but it would not, in itself, lead to fame or fortune.

Even Grahl, who seemed flustered when she first arrived, said she had no ambitions beyond having a good time. "It's just for fun," she said. Grahl, who lives in Silver Spring, was a theater major at Boston College, but has not been in a theatrical production since graduating five years ago, she said.

She works for the Discovery Channel, and likes that Anything Goes will run for only three days, with rehearsals compressed into a six-week period. "It's better for working professionals," she said.

"At this level, it's pretty much for fun," said Mo Dutterer, the play's director.

Dutterer, formerly the drama teacher at Centennial High School, started the Howard County Players eight years ago with the idea of allowing high school students and adults to perform together. For the first few years, the productions were held at Centennial. Any adult who could drive to the auditions could try out, but the student population was limited to those at Centennial.

When Dutterer retired from Centennial three years ago, the productions moved to Long Reach, and the auditions were opened to any interested adult or Howard County high-schooler. About 100 showed up for Sunday's tryouts, some more nervous than others.

In all, 64 parts were cast, Dutterer said, with 10 going to high-schoolers and one or two to adults who had never been in a musical before. Even though a good number of amateurs made the cut, the competition was fierce. With only 10 lead parts, many talented people were assigned to be sailors and passengers - the chorus. One of those was Grahl.

Another was Luiza Schwartz of Baltimore, who teaches elementary school music in Baltimore County and has performed in many productions in Howard and Baltimore counties. "Maybe one day I'll move to New York City and be a star," she said. Meanwhile, acting is "more like a hobby, a fun hobby," she said.

Like Schwartz, Adeline Sutter of Columbia has performed in many productions throughout the region. She seemed to know everyone in the increasingly crowded high school hallway, exchanging hugs and asking "How'd it go?" while she waited to go on stage.

Sutter, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, was cast as one of six angels. She hopes to pursue an acting career when she graduates, and community productions such as Anything Goes, she said, are "giving me a small taste of what I hope to do some day."

The auditions were held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Dutterer said he, Barry, musical director Aaron Broderick and choreographer Tina DeSimone made their choices by midnight.

Groups of about 20 people were taught a dance sequence, then brought into the auditorium to perform it on stage in a line of six to 10 performers, as Dutterer sat in the front row, watching quietly. The dance portion presented a challenge: All the performers had to stay in step with each other, while finding a way to shine.

It was easier to stand out in the next portion, when performers came forward one at a time to sing a song of their choice. Some of the hopefuls were so good that they elicited applause from their competitors sitting behind them.

Karen Covington of Clarksville, who won a spot in the chorus, boomed out "Ain't Misbehavin'" in a strong voice. Covington, a special-education teacher at Long Reach, said she puts on a production for Black History Month each year, but she is usually behind the scenes. Last year, she performed in the Howard County Players production of Finian's Rainbow.

One of her main motivations for participating with Howard County Players was to share the experience with her daughter, Korinne Covington, 15, a junior at Long Reach, who also won a part in the chorus.

"I don't like singing in the auditions, but I love to perform," Korinne said.

"Anything Goes" is scheduled for 7: 30 p.m. Nov. 10, 11 and 12 at Long Reach High School. Tickets will be $10 for adults, and $7 for students and senior citizens.

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