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Sound of Auditioning

Ashburn resident Stephen Smith had one shot at being captain.

“You sung. You read. You danced, and you’re gone,” said Smith about the April 26-27 auditions for “The Sound of the Music.”

Smith had at most 15 minutes to try out for the part of Capt. Von Trapp, lead role with Maria Ranier played by Karen Schlumpf of Ashburn. Before arriving, Smith did not know what lines or song he would be assigned for the cold read. As he waited to audition, more than 20 people stood in line in front of him, so he had a few minutes to prepare his part of the script. “I’ve already been psyching myself up for it days in advance,” he said.

That weekend, 276 people auditioned for 46 parts in the Sterling Playmakers’ summer musical that will show in late July and early August. An average of 100 people try out for the community theater’s musicals, compared to about 40 people for the plays.

Schlumpf was number 37. “I try to keep in a mindset, 'I’m going to go in and have fun with it and give it my best shot,'” she said. As she waited, she read through the lines, thinking about where to put the pauses and each emphasis. She saw the movie more than 50 times and decided to give Maria's part a try. “I felt that I had a lot of characteristics similar to her. She has a fun side to her and loves children, yet she has a serious side. I’m like that,” she said.

In the 1959 musical, Maria serves as governess to the Austrian Von Trapp family after the captain’s wife dies. The children, who did not like their other caretakers, fall in love with Maria, then the captain does the same, all of this taking place during World War II when the Third Reich came through Austria. The Von Trapps escaped to Switzerland, not being supporters of the Nazi cause. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the musical based on the book, "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers," by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. The movie followed in 1965.

THE FIRST SET of tryouts for “The Sound of Music” lasted 10 hours, four more hours than average for a musical. Forty people were asked to try out a second time for callbacks on 14 lead roles.

The final cast selected from both cuts had to be able to sing, act and dance, while appealing to the casting staff and the director, who had the last say on cast selection. During both sets of tryouts, the director, assistant director, producer, stage manager and other staff sat at a table, taking notes on each audition and discussing what they saw with one another.

“You highlight the ones that stand out,” said Kevin Robertson, the director selected in June 2001 to oversee the show. The Sterling Playmakers select the staff prior to the season, along with the season’s showings for two years.

Robertson looked for physical presentation, tone of voice and “sometimes it came down to height,” since the Von Trapp’s seven children stair-step down in size. He looked for how the actors interacted with the staff and each other, determining if they were comfortable in front of a crowd. He also looked for the intangibles. “Sometimes it’s nothing more than a gut feeling,” said Robertson of Gainesville, a member of Sterling Playmakers for almost six years.

The selected cast returned May 1-2 to get their scripts, get introduced and participate in the first read-through of the lines. They had their measurements taken for the making of 100 costumes, which will be sewn by Beth Robertson, wife of Kevin Robertson, and her sewing circle.

ON MAY 6, the cast returned for blocking of certain pages, a process that will last until June 19. Blocking involves deciding the moves of cast members as they say their lines read from the 102-page script. Ten to 20 pages are blocked for one or two practices, then a larger section of the play is run or acted out. In the interim, 12 days are set aside for music and dance rehearsals.

“It seems like it’s baby steps,” said Smith, a six-year member of the Sterling Playmakers. “Once we get the blocking done, then it starts to take off pretty quickly. The lines are now attached to movement and go to memory. It all ties together.”

Smith said he aims to get off the script, since it is a hindrance, and begin thinking about his character. “It’s a slow steady build,” he said.

For Schlumpf, she wants to find her character early on. “As I’m learning the lines, I’m learning them in that personality and characterization.”

By June 24, the cast will run through individual acts of the two-act play, then run the entire show in a week. The following week includes three days of rehearsals before the actual opening the weekend of July 26-28. The cast is scheduled to practice four nights a week with Fridays off until mid-July, when the cast will have to show up for five days of practice.

“People make it to practice because they want to,” said Ashburn resident Liz Harrington, a six-year member of the Sterling Playmakers and production manager playing the part of Frau Schmidt, the captain’s housekeeper. “Personal stuff comes up, and people can miss a practice or two. … It always comes together at the end.”

EACH PRACTICE lasts about three hours until right before the show when practices are four or more hours. “It gets a lot longer when you have to coordinate with lights, sound, the orchestra and the actors,” said Bill Fry, technical director. “It gets longer because you’re adding elements to it.”

“We’re presenting a product … which in this case is live entertainment,” Harrington said. “Families get to come do this together, and we feel we’re doing something for the community … with the community in it."

The Sterling Playmaker hopes to draw 300 to 500 people to each of the nine showings of “The Sound of Music.” The average turnout for a musical is 250 people per show, while dramas and comedies draw 75 to 80 people. The theater group has 135 household members and works with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.