*** This story appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007 edition of the Bristol (VA) Herald Courier.***
ABINGDON, Va. -- Ginger Poole came to the Barter Theatre from North Carolina with a song, a dance and a big smile. Her goal was to land a role in one of the 2008 productions at the storied arts showcase.
"As a regional actor, you are always looking to put another feather in your bonnet," Poole said. "Barter would definitely be a big feather."
Around 90 actors, singers and dancers from various states attended the annual open auditions held on Dec. 7-8 at Barter Stage II in Abingdon.
The audition process is a mix of preparation, exhilaration and tension.
Poole, who has performed professionally for 15 years, is a veteran of the mind-bending and hand-trembling process.
"You have to embrace an audition as another opportunity in your career," said Poole, a former choreographer of the Atlanta Falcons cheerleading squad. "The people here at Barter are very nurturing and supportive. They want you to succeed."
Each performer had three minutes to wow casting director Katy Brown and her staff with songs and a monologue. The dance auditions were held later in the day.
Chris Salazar, a 26-year-old native of Miami, devised his strategy weeks in advance.
"It's wise to look at the upcoming season, then plan an attack that plays to your strengths," Salazar said. "I noticed that Barter is doing a Shakespeare play ['Much Ado About Nothing'] in 2008, so I decided to do a Shakespeare piece.
"A lot of the other roles require younger guys, so I wanted to select a monologue that showed youth and energy."
Salazar currently works at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va.
THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS
Eric Eteuati certainly has youthful energy. In fact, the 21-year-old Emory & Henry College student from Virginia Beach might have been too energetic.
"I spent about a month and a half planning for this day, and I didn't get to sleep until 6 this morning," said Eteuati, moments before his afternoon audition on Dec. 7. "It wasn't so much nerves ... I was just going over my pieces and thinking about what I can do different."
Eteuati credited the thriving theater program at Emory & Henry for fueling his desire. Students can major in acting, directing, musical theater and production at E&H.
"We even have a mentorship program with Barter, and that's really helpful," Eteuati said. "Quite a few people from Emory have landed jobs here, and an opportunity would mean a lot to me. I'm interested in the Barter Players because I really want to do children's theater."
The Barter Players performs for young audiences, both at the Abingdon theater and in schools throughout the Mountain Empire.
On this day, Eteuati simply wanted to add another chapter to his personal story of ambition.
"I'm battling a sinus infection, but that doesn't matter," Eteuati said. "I've got three minutes on that stage, and I've got to be on when my time comes."
Like many of the hopefuls at Barter last week, the E&H student plans to travel to upcoming major auditions in Richmond and Memphis.
"This is my first audition of the year, and I'll probably go to 20 to 23 more over the next few months," Eteuati said."We actually have an audition class at Emory where we go through the process over and over. This day is always a little weird, but you have to make the commitment if you really want something."
NEW YORK GIRL
Many young stage actors dream of living in New York City and thus being one step closer to the ultimate goal of Broadway,
Jessica Miesel is experiencing that dream, sort of. For the past year, the 2006 graduate of Shorter College in Georgia has shared a small apartment with two roommates in the borough of Queens, N.Y. In between traveling to auditions, studying with a famed vocal coach and attending plays, Miesel waits tables at the Brooklyn Diner in Times Square.
It's a familiar and even stereotypical story, yet Miesel is willing to sacrifice for her craft.
"If you don't have the drive or the passion, then you are never really going to succeed as an actor," Miesel said. "I've been singing since I was 8 ... I try to be versatile. The grind of auditions is exhausting, but I learn something every time.
"I just want to be able to work and have a roof over my head."
Big theater or small, Miesel wants to follow her dream.
"It's hard to get your foot in the door with a Broadway theater," Miesel said. "So many great talents got their start here at Barter, and I've heard so many good things about the place. It would be a wonderful place to grow as an actor."
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Cathy Bush offered encouragement, empathy and her wicked sense of humor to several of the hopefuls at Barter on Friday. Barter's resident playwright related to the wide range of emotions in the room.
"I used to audition all the time in New York, so I understand their pain," Bush said. "The energy, the vibe, the anxiety, the anticipation ... you can just sense it. This is one reason why I gave up acting. You have to be fearless in this business. It's much easier to write than to go through all this.
"We have a great season planned for 2008, and it would be a wonderful feeling for anyone to land a role in one our plays."
Katy Brown's official title is associate director of Barter Theatre/Artistic Director of the Barter Players. She plays a key role in the selection process, along with fellow director-actor Nick Piper and producing artistic director Rick Rose.
"The local auditions are always a very exciting time for us because we are putting together the shows for the next year," Brown said. "Many of those roles are filled by our resident acting company, but there are always spaces for newcomers. We get folks from right here in the Tri-Cities, but actors also drive and fly in from all over the country.
"We've never done a count of how many states before, but last year, we had 78 people signed up to audition over two days."
In addition to hosting auditions in New York, the Barter staff attends auditions in Memphis, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Washington, D.C, and Asheville.
"We see more than 2,000 people over the course of an audition year," Brown said. "The 90 people that we see at our locals are seen first and get the most time with us, so it's a great place to audition for us.
"It also gives people a taste of the theater, and it gives us a chance to see what local actors we can use for the next year. We really like to hire people from this area whenever we can."
The current resident acting company includes Eugene Wolf of Greeneville, Tenn., North Carolina's Mary Luci Bivins and former Emory & Henry student Gwen Edwards. Meanwhile, the Barter Players includes Abingdon's Philena Gilmer and former E&H student Chandler Davis.
Bivins, a crowd favorite, was actually hired from the local auditions.
Nerves or not, Brown encourages actors of all backgrounds to chase their dreams and then keep chasing them.
"The 2008 season is going to be our 75th Anniversary season, and it's going to be a big one," Brown said. "We are looking for singers, dancers and actors of all kinds to act on both of our stages."
According to Poole, the first step is the most vital.
"Landing a role at the Barter would be huge for a career," Poole said. "If you want it, you just have to put yourself out there and give it a shot."
Final selections for the 2008 Barter cast will not be announced for weeks or even months, Brown said.