On Saturday, Children’s Theatre of Charleston (CTOC) held outdoor auditions at Coonskin Park for its October production of “Sherlock Holmes and the First Baker Street Irregulars.”
With a leaden sky threatening rain, parents had to drive their children from Coonskin Park’s front entrance off Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to Shelter No. 1 tucked in the back of the park, just a few yards from the chain link fence surrounding the Air National Guard Base. Once there, they parked their cars and texted CTOC staff and waited for the go ahead to send the young actors up to the top of a steep hill.
Wearing masks, the kids went to their auditions alone. Parents stayed in their cars.
At the top of the climb, actors checked in with LeAnne Rheinlander, the general manager for Children, and got their picture taken by Belinda Mullins, but forms had already been filled out. The theater company already had each actor’s theater resume.
Groups of around six were then brought under the picnic shelter to read lines from “Paddington Bear” or “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” in front of the upcoming show’s directors, Tim Mace and Liz Swick.
Directors and staff all wore masks. Actors kept on their masks until it was their turn to read and no one got within 6 feet of anyone else.
Auditioning inside a picnic shelter on a rainy day wasn’t an ideal situation, but if you want to put on play during a pandemic, you have to expect to jump through a few hoops.
CTOC vice president Ariana Kincaid, whose daughter Claire Kosky auditioned Saturday, explained the company was doing everything it could think of to put on a show, while keeping the kids safe.
She said, “When you decide to do theater, you’re saying you want to take these chances to do this project, but when it involves other people’s kids, you have to take as many precautions as you can.”
Heather Miller was waiting in the parking lot for her daughter Alexis, a CTOC veteran, to audition. She said even before COVID-19, the company was all about safety.
“They’re a really good outfit,” Miller said. “They don’t take any risks with our kids. I trust them.”
Kincaid said the decision to move forward with a new production wasn’t something Children’s Theatre took lightly, but they felt didn’t have to sit out the entire year, if they took proper precautions.
Like virtually every other theater company, in March, Children’s Theatre’s 2020-2021 season imploded with the March shutdowns due to COVID-19. The group had been weeks away from presenting “Mary Poppins Jr.”
Optimistically, the company pushed back the production and then pushed it back again before the group presented an online version of the show in July.
Kincaid acknowledged that moving forward has been a challenge, but said they caught something of a break with this upcoming production.
“It doesn’t have a cast of thousands,” she laughed. “We’re looking at a cast of 20 to 25.”
Many CTOC shows have had upward of 50 actors. The company often tries to incorporate as many players as it can, to allow young performers to gain some experience and develop skills, but a smaller cast allows for them to stay within the governor’s guidelines and maintain a great degree of safety. Kincaid said they weren’t sure what they would be doing with their holiday show, “Mr. Scrooge” or the early spring production of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”
It was too soon to say, but CTOC had a good turnout. Rheinlander said 48 kids had signed up to audition.
Some parents were just glad to have the chance to get their kids back on a stage, even if it came with restrictions and conditions.
“We’re lucky to have it,” Krista Vannoy said.
Her son, Seth, was new to Children’s Theatre. This was his second audition with the company.
“For the creative kids, the performers, it’s crushing not to have an outlet,” she said. “Where are they supposed to go?”