Following a unique audition and casting procedure, the cast of Heritage Theatre’s upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar was announced on Friday, January 8. Those involved with the show reflect on the process.
Max Ching ’22, who will be playing the role of Caiaphas, discusses the growing popularity of virtual auditions and how the unique situation benefits young actors.
“I liked the video process. So many performing arts jobs surrounding acting are for TV and movies nowadays, and lots of those auditions happen online,” says Ching. “Lots of people just send in videos, so I thought this audition process was a lot more applicable to the real world.”
Senior Briana Gebhart, who is set to portray Simon, echoes the satisfaction with the process. She also notes the short turnaround time the actors were given for auditions, which was roughly three days.
“I was pretty okay with the audition process because recording the video means that I could decide when I was happy with it,” says Gebhart. “I would say that it was kind of tough because we had such a short timeframe to do it. But the video audition process isn’t actually that strange to me.”
Gebhart is also looking forward to portraying a much more prominent role for this production than she has in years past.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity [to play a larger role], because I feel like I can now show off my other skills more. I have some different vocal tricks that I can now do as well. For ensemble singing, you usually want to blend in with the rest of the group, whereas when you’re singing on your own, you have to change your voice in order to be heard above everyone else,” says Gebhart. “It’s going to be interesting to have that change where I get the chance to show off what I can do and really experience having lines and a role separate from other people.”
One of only five underclassmen in the cast, Assistant Dance Captain Kyle Lowell ’23 reflects on his audition and his first experience with callbacks.
“I was able to get multiple takes just in case I messed up and got a much better audition than I would in-person,” says Lowell. “I had never been in callbacks before, so it was a little stressful for me, especially with the time limit and the possibility of tech problems, but having the same material to sing that we had before was very helpful.”
Junior Arwyn Travis, who will portray the role of Mary Magdalene, discusses her experience with callbacks and getting a different role than the one she auditioned for.
“I really did limit my thought process about the characters in this show. I didn’t really consider any other roles than the one I auditioned for. Then, when the callbacks were announced, I realized that somebody else might have been cast, and I had to suddenly rethink my whole audition,” says Travis. “In the future, this is going to help me think about the role I’m auditioning for, of course, but also make sure that whatever I’m doing is very much settled in the show overall, not just a singular character.”
It is very common for actors to get cast in roles they did not audition for. In fact, almost all roles at Heritage are cast this way.
“We, [the casting team], almost always ask people to say what their preferred role is and if they wouldn’t accept any specific roles,” says Director Kate Willers. “That helps us really narrow it down. In the end, we hope that the actors trust us to put them where they fit best, and sometimes that’s what they want and sometimes it’s not. Very rarely do people not accept roles. People just want to be a part of things and that’s good.”
Though there was an aspect of convenience to virtual auditions, Willers remarks on the emotional piece that can’t be replicated through a screen.
“It was difficult because the energy isn’t as fun when auditions are online as it is in-person. Even though in-person auditions are more stressful, it’s still cool to see people encouraging each other and working together,” says Willers. “I hope people still did it, safely and virtually, but there’s just less of that vibe. It’s not as fun in that way.”
Throughout the challenging circumstances of virtual rehearsals and the possibility of a fully virtual show, the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar is ready and excited nonetheless.
“Most of us were pretty skeptical about whether we’d even be able to do a musical this year. We had Guys and Dolls get shut down, which was a huge punch in the gut for so many of us, so I think we’re excited to go through not only performing but the process of rehearsals. It’s not just about performing it. It’s about doing something during these terrible, unprecedented, and quite frankly boring times,” says Ching. “I think that our cast is going to put in the work, not only because we have this standard that we’ve set from past shows, but we’re going to put in the work because we like it. We’re excited for this. We’re going to be willing to do it even if it is just virtual.”
Willers echoes this take and remains optimistic about the production.
“We’re gonna figure out something no matter what. Even if we have to do a recorded version or do it over Google Meet, it’ll be better than no theatre,” says Willers. “Hopefully, knock on wood, we can do it outside and live. Virtual theatre is great. It’s better than no theatre, but it’s not ideal. I’m hoping we can all stay safe and smart and be able to do a live show.”
Cast of Heritage’s Jesus Christ Superstar: Anders Ladow ’21 as Jesus, Oliver Hooper ’21 as Judas, Arwyn Travis ’22 as Mary Magdalene, Jules Harlow ’22 as Peter, Briana Gebhart ’21 as Simon, Max Ching ’22 as Caiaphas, Julian Harris ’21 as King Herod, Lars Lundberg ’21 as Pontius Pilate, Grace Hellman ’22 as Annas
Ensemble: Sam Garcia ’23, Avery De Jager ’22, Charlotte Andersen ’21, Charlotte R. ’21, Jordyn Schild ’24, Kathleen Allen ’22, Lauren De Geus ’23, Beth Ramsey ’21, Sasha Code ’22, Kyle Lowell ’23: Assistant Dance Captain, Sara Weaver ’23: Dance Captain
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