Audiences at the Forestburgh Playhouse are accustomed to seeing talented children on stage every summer -- and producer Franklin Trapp is accustomed to finding them – right here in Sullivan county and the surrounding areas. Although most of the adult cast members are Broadway professionals or college age younger professionals from all over the country, Trapp finds the kids much closer to home. Nearly every year, depending upon the summer’s casting requirements, the Forestburgh Playhouse holds a local audition for children. Any number from 20 to 80 young hopefuls show up, sing their song, and hope to be one of the lucky ones chosen to appear in one or more of the summer’s productions.
“I am thrilled by the talented children from the surrounding areas that show up to our auditions”, says Trapp. “It is especially exciting to be a part of their artistic development right from the start!” The audition process is designed to be as efficient and painless as possible. The children and their parents arrive, sign in and fill out a simple application, and are seen one by one by Franklin and an accompanist. Some of the children have prepared music and give it to the accompanist, who is used to working with inexperienced children, and usually manages to strike just the right note of reassurance to the sometimes-nervous children. Children with nothing prepared are encouraged to belt out “Happy Birthday” or “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” a capella. Loud is good, and on key is even better. The whole process takes about three minutes, and most children leave the room with a very positive experience. To the surprise of some, parents are not allowed in the audition as their presence often causes the little auditionees more stress than support.
Children do not learn if they are cast at the time of the audition, since after the audition process, the auditioners discuss among themselves each child, based on notes taken during the audition, and decide which children have the most potential. “Then I get to call the kids and their parents, and tell them they’re in the show. That’s probably one of the best parts about my job,” said Trapp.
Of course the audition is just the beginning – the gateway to what will be for the children, a real eye-opening experience. Each show is rehearsed for five hours a day for 12 days. The children who succeed are eager, focused, and excited to learn. Usually only gradually do they and their parents realize what a rare opportunity they have been given – to be able to work with and learn from Broadway professionals with years of experience right in their own backyard in Sullivan County. Parents often express amazement at the amount of work that goes into each production, and yet the children rarely complain. Most of them absorb it all just like a sponge. They become part of the acting company – they talk with the company, eat with them, rehearse with them – and by the time the two weeks of performances roll around, these children are ready.
Those children with particular talent, and whom the theater bug has bitten particularly hard, are often asked back for other productions. John Garry of Forestburgh made his first appearance with the Playhouse in 1998 in The King and I. He has since developed quite a resume at the Playhouse, playing everything from Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol to featured roles in On Golden Pond and the children’s theater. He recently graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Musical Theatre, and was promptly hired to star in the national tour of Spamalot. Erin Slaver, the violin prodigy from Liberty, also made her first appearance in the King and I, and has subsequently appeared often on stage or in the Playhouse orchestra. She graduated with a music degree from the SUNY Stoneybrook, and is currently pursuing a musical career on television in Nashville.