Discovering big talent at the music Theatre of Connecticut
The performance space of Music Theatre of Connecticut, a small theater and conservatory-style performing arts school on the Post Road, sits shrouded in darkness. Rows of seats, forty-five in all, are mostly empty. In the first row, behind a folding table crowded with stacks of papers sit Jim Shilling, Deborah Levy and Marty Bongfeldt. Kevin Connors waits stage left, behind the piano, his fingers resting on the keys.
One by one, kids step into the theater to vie for a spot in Annie, MTC’s MainStage Kids production. Leaving the security of their parents in the lobby, their feet hit the green tape X on stage. The kids bring with them splashes of color. The purple of a wrist splint, the spark of neon Band-Aids on a knee. Today, they are free from the questions that they—and everyone else with a dream of a life off the beaten path—will hear a million times if they want a career on stage. How will you succeed? How will you support yourself?
The only questions are of what each child will be singing today. Kevin, the executive artistic director, glides easily through the accompaniment for each solo, while Jim, the managing director and Kevin's partner of thirty-three years, listens intently. One girl warns, laughing, that there are five more renditions of “Tomorrow” after her. During solos, Jim, along with Deb and Marty—two of MTC’s School of Performing Arts faculty members—sway, animated, chiming in if someone forgets a lyric. They have the same energy during that first rendition of “Tomorrow” as they do for the fifteenth. Voices fill the room, seemingly too forceful to be coming from seven-year-olds. After each kid takes a bow and exits stage left, the chatter between the faculty begins.
“That voice!” Deb says, later, of one girl who seemed to rattle the back wall. “I can just picture her in three years.”
“She didn’t have that belt before,” Jim agrees, pleased.
The afternoon feels like an audition and a family sing-along. There are nerves—only at first. Jim and the others hear about a girl crying before her audition. The piano sheet music she brought in is in a different key than the version of the song she’d practiced at home. Like a family, the hard lessons come just as easily as the praise. Maybe this will teach her to be more prepared in the future? No coddling here.
Already, this is a taste of how she’ll be treated during rehearsals. The young performers of the five annual student productions are held to the same standards as the professional actors of MTC’s three annual adult Equity productions. It’s not harsh. It’s the business. Get ready for some hard knocks.This article appears in our current issue, to read the full article pick up a copy here »