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Auditioning for plays is a job in itself

March 1, 2019

PITTSBURGH — The corridor is long, the carpet well-worn, the walls adorned with enlarged prints of musical extravaganzas. Along one wall is a line of frayed chairs with their centers sunken from repeated use.

At the end of the corridor a door leads to a mirrored room dominated by ballet barres worn smooth from use for warmup exercises and perfecting dance techniques. One wall of mirrors reflects “the piano man,” his fingers ready to run the keys to accompany actors auditioning for a chance to perform at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown.

Throughout the day, people of various ages, races and hometowns strive to show off their vocal range and acting chops for producer Teresa Stoughton Marafino and director Larry Tobias. They sit behind a folded table at the far end of the room watching, judging and taking notes. A lone chair with a loose back completes the room’s furnishings.

No one stays in the chair long enough to lean back.

One actor after another comes through the door, stopping first beside the “piano man,” Douglas Levine of Levinemusic in Pittsburgh, to discuss their number before greeting the two people at the folding table. They carry sheet music and, occasionally, an instrument that they plan to play during the 10-minute audition.

These actors were fortunate. Those that the producer and director viewed in New York City earlier that week had only three minutes from when they entered the room to when they exited.

Sunday’s auditions were held in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera building in the city’s cultural district. The CLO presents musical theatre classics rather than opera, which is apropos for the Mountain Playhouse because most of the plays for the 2019 season are musicals.

The oldest professional stock theater in Pennsylvania, the Mountain Playhouse employs actors who must be paid and housed according to their contracts as members or prospective members of the Actors’ Equity Association. Equity is an American labor union representing the world of live theatrical performance.

So far, there have been nearly 300 auditions by equity actors in New York City and Pittsburgh for less than two dozen positions available for this season’s productions at the playhouse. Stoughton Marafino said they plan to make offers of employment next week.

Stoughton Marafino grew up at the Mountain Playhouse, which was founded by her father, “Jimmie,” and her aunt Louise in 1936. For Tobias, an actor and director, this will be his 13th season at the live theater, where he has been connected to more than 25 shows.

The playhouse’s first musical production of the 2019 season, “The Irish and How They Got that Way,” will be directed by Tobias and performed June 18-30.

So, at the auditions he has specific things he is looking for from the actors, specifically those who can play a variety of instruments. Stoughton Marafino has “residency” in mind, and she is looking for actors who are versatile enough to take on various roles in two to four shows over the course of a season. Those actors will live somewhere near the theater during the season. Their living quarters, among other things, are provided by the Playhouse as part of a residency program.

Both want the type of actor who can connect to an audience. Both said they look at the people who audition as “brave,” especially those whose talents are not quite what is needed on the stage or for the types of plays that will be performed during that season.

A gray-haired actor came in during Sunday’s audition and told Stoughton Marafino that he auditioned in New York City for a role at the Mountain Playhouse in 1994 and 2012. He is a dramatic actor who recently moved with his wife to Pennsylvania. She and Tobias seemed awed by his performance and discussed the possibility of offering him a role in a drama about the Johnstown flood.

“Directing was sort of a natural extension of my career, starting as a child actor,” said Tobias, who could not imagine doing anything else.

Stoughton Marafino agreed.

“I’m very happy where I am,” she said as she turned to greet the next actor.

As for the casting, the producer and the directors have “been actively thinking about it for months,” Tobias said. They are deep into the schedule for the next season and plan to have it done by the end of March.

She looked up as another actor walked in and she smiled. “I see you have a guitar.”

(To learn more about auditioning and the Mountain Playhouse’s 80th year, pick up the May edition of Somerset Magazine.)