In the dark auditorium, the air was heavy.
A student wearing a blue dress dotted with small daisies rushed to center stage, finding herself face-to-face with the director, choreographer, music director and producer — all sitting at a folding table onstage with snacks and notes scattered across it.
“Whenever you’re ready,” director Ian Coleman said.
Sheet music shaking in her hands, senior Kate Wayman looked to the exit sign in the back of the auditorium, waited for the accompanist to give her the first note, took a deep breath and sang.
“What’s going through my mind probably isn’t what is supposed to be going through my mind when I’m singing,” Wayman said. “Am I hitting the notes? Was my vibrato too intense or not intense enough? Am I acting? Am I acting?! Am I going to remember the words? Am I making too much eye contact with them? Do I look too still? Am I with the piano or off tempo?”
It’s Wayman’s fourth year performing with Whitman Drama. She spent half of the summer browsing through songs online for her final musical audition at Whitman, eventually choosing “Fly, Fly Away” from the musical Catch Me if You Can.
Kate is very particular when it comes to selecting an audition piece. She looks for songs that match the tone of the musical, fit her voice or share the same composer as the show she is auditioning for.
The audition process for this year’s musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, spanned a total of three days: one day for singing, one for dancing and one for callbacks, which are a second audition for specific roles within a group of selected actors.
In the dance audition, the actors — each wearing a loosely attached numbered tag — formed lines onstage. Coleman and the choreographer, Wood Van Meter, quickly taught the dance to the actors and then watched them perform the routine in small groups.
Sophomore Rachel Chen, who’s been dancing since third grade, said she felt more confident during the dance audition than during the singing one. Like Wayman, Chen spent the summer preparing for her singing audition, listening to her audition songs as frequently as she could and singing them alongside a recording or an accompanying piano.
“I don’t really prepare for dance auditions. I usually stretch my splits — that way I can kick high and be warm,” Chen said. “I definitely prepare more for the singing audition because you know what to prepare. When you’re going into a dance audition, you’re kind of thrown into it.”
Having the entire summer to prepare for the singing audition is a luxury for the actors — they only have one night to learn their music for callbacks.
Junior Eli Blanks prepared with other actors for his callback for the lead male role of Quasimodo in the auditorium lobby, waiting patiently for the producer, senior Emily Mayo, to call him onstage. The other actors in the room loosened up before their auditions: they rehearsed their songs, danced, cracked jokes, even did massage trains. But when Mayo cracked open the auditorium door to ask if anyone in the room was called back for the ensemble, the room froze.
“Everyone is doing weird things to stop them from being nervous,” Blanks said. “Personally, I worry practicing too much will throw out my voice. So we’re really just messing around, trying to make the time go by quicker before we actually get to go up and do our stuff.”
Toward the end of callbacks, the directors called Blanks and two other actors back once more to audition for Quasimodo. The directors decided to start with the song “Out There,” which Van Meter told the actors was one of the most emotional songs in Hunchback, Blanks said.
After the trio sang the song gathered around the piano, each actor lined up to sing it one by one. Blanks went first.
His audition wasn’t flawless, Blanks said. When the directors instructed him to start halfway into the song, he didn’t know the exact place to start singing. In fact, he had to restart several times because he had only practiced with the recording, not with someone playing the piano.
But soon after, he hit his stride at the climax of the song — Blanks’ favorite part — and by the end of the song, the emotion of his performance had moved the directors, Blanks said.
Walking off stage with his music and little Gatorade water bottle, Blanks was emotional too.
“When I actually got into the song, it was everything I’d ever hoped and dreamed it would be,” Blanks said. “When I sing that song, I feel like I really do live through the character.”
The students waited over the weekend, anxiously anticipating the release of the cast list. Finally, on Sunday night, the list revealed Blanks as Quasimodo; Wayman, Esmeralda (the female lead); and Chen, featured dancer.