Kyle Aarons’ voice was strong and steady, and he added a flourish of choreography at the end in hopes of making a favorable impression on director Joshua Chard and the rest of the creative team at Lyric Music Theater.
The 27-year-old health care professional joined 40 other singers vying for a handful of roles in Lyric’s production of “Little Women,” opening in January.
Held over two weeks in mid-October, the auditions drew huge numbers, continuing what local theater people say is a recent uptick in interest in community theater. More than 40 people auditioned for 10 roles; 29 got called back for a second audition.
For aspiring actors and people who just like to sing and dance, community theater offers the best way to get in front of audiences and directors, and auditions are the only way in. You get one song and a few lines of script.
For some, auditions are like final exams, excruciating and stressful. For others, they’re a challenge to embrace. If you fail this time, there’s always another chance.
Aarons arrived a few minutes before 6 p.m. on a Wednesday night, 30 minutes ahead of the start of auditions.
Despite opening in another musical 48 hours after this audition, Aarons came through the doors at Lyric singing “Take a Chance on Me” under his breath. “Little Women” is one of his favorite contemporary musicals, he said, and he knows most of the music by heart.
He said he wasn’t nervous. Eager, yes. Anxious, maybe. But not nervous, he said, despite a right foot that he couldn’t keep from pumping as the minutes passed.
“I’m ready,” he said, his confidence buoyed when he learned he would be first up on the stage that evening. “I like to be the first. Everyone else is compared to me.”
Aarons knew many, if not most, of the people there and was friendly with everyone he encountered. They offered encouragement and talked about the songs they were singing and the roles they wanted. It’s competitive but friendly.
“Oh yeah, of course it’s competitive,” Aarons said. “A lot of the people here are my friends. We all know someone is going to get it, and we’ll all be happy for them. The winner buys the drinks.”
Aarons grew up in Pennsylvania and caught the performance bug in high school. He graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia in 2011 and spent two years on the road with a traveling children’s show. One of its stops was Portland.
Aarons loved what he saw of the city and was impressed with the number of theater companies and opportunities to act and sing. He moved here in 2014 “because it was just the right vibe,” he said. “I had a gut feeling this was the right place at the right time.”
He’s appeared in 15 shows since he arrived in Portland and is a regular at Cast Aside Productions, where he just performed in the “The Cradle Will Rock.” He also works as company manager at Cast Aside. His day job at Martin’s Point Health Care supports his theater habit. He auditions five or six times a year.
Aarons’ goal is to move away from community theater and work only for theater companies that pay their actors. He wants to put his college degree to use and working without pay is not his long-term plan. He’s making an exception for “Little Women” because he loves the musical, and he if gets the role he wants it will be a chance to showcase his talents, he said.
The audition lasts just a few minutes.
“Very nice, Kyle,” director Joshua Chard told him after Aarons finished “Take a Chance on Me,” sung by one of the male leads in the show, a character named Laurie. “But you know that I subscribe to the idea that less is best? This time, make the beginning a little tentative. Start small, so you have someplace to go with it.”
Standing on the theater’s bare stage, Aarons absorbed the advice, paused briefly to compose himself, and began again, singing to the mostly empty theater with the accompaniment of pianist Bob Gauthier, the show’s music director.
A few bars into the song, Chard waved at Aarons to stop. “OK, that’s great. Stop right there.”
In the lobby afterward, Aarons was hopeful. “I am pretty happy,” he said. “With the voice I had today, that was as good as I could have done.”
He found out later that he passed the first round. The callback would be at 6:30 p.m. the following Monday, but there’s was a caveat. Chard asked Aarons to prepare another role in addition to that of Laurie. He wanted to hear Aarons try out for Professor Bhaer, a more prominent role than Laurie but not one that Aarons knows as well.
The following Monday, Aarons was back in the Lyric lobby. The room on this night had a very different feel than a few days ago. There was less banter and small talk, and Aarons seemed more studious. He ran lines with another actor, away from the rest of the group.
Aarons spent what little free time he had over the weekend listening to the original cast recording of “Little Women.” Because he had the Laurie part down, he prepared almost exclusively for the role of the professor.
He debated incorporating a German accent to reflect the heritage of his character but decided not to do it.
He counted the room: Six men trying out for four roles. He liked his odds.
This time, he had to wait more than an hour to get called.
When he did, he was on stage with most of the other men. Chard addressed them as a group.
“It is not our plan to mic the show,” he began. “Bob and I are not big fans of big belts. We like to hear the quiet moment at the back of the house. We’re looking for people who can carry the house. I’m looking for the interpretation of the song. I’m looking for tonality, and I’m looking for you to project.”
He also told them the competition was fierce. Usually, only a handful of people get called back. This time, Chard had asked 29 singers to return.
“We plan to be here all night,” he told them.
When it was time to sing, Chard asked everyone for just a few measures of music. He’d heard them all sing before. He knew their talents. He just needed to hear them all again, up against each other.
Aarons sang a few lines from “Take a Chance on Me” again. As a group, the men were on stage only for about 15 minutes.
The rest of the evening involved learning some dance moves so choreographer Jamie Lupien Swenson could evaluate their movements, and delivering a few lines of script. Chard asked Aarons to read for the professor – and threw a curve by asking him to try a German accent. He did, and it came off much better than he expected.
Chard sent everyone home at 9:30 p.m., and for the next 90 minutes, he and his creative team went back and forth, talking about their options.
By 11 p.m., they had made their decisions, and Chard began writing personal notes to every actor who was called back, thanking them for their time.
The process was difficult, he said, because the talent level was so high.
“I’m excited about the cast, but this was very hard. Monday night was a hard night,” he said. “We have a lot of really talented people in our community who are really eager to perform, particularly contemporary pieces. This show brought a lot of people out.”
Aarons was offered, and accepted, the role of Professor Bhaer.
“It’s not the role I had my heart set on,” he admitted, “but it’s a bit larger of a role with some fantastic opportunities for great acting and beautiful music. I’m very excited to tackle a new role and discover even more things about a show I care so deeply about.”
Rehearsals start Tuesday.
So you think you can act?
Community theaters across southern Maine want you. Several theaters host open auditions and encourage newcomers. Here are some theaters in the area that hold regular auditions:
Windham Center Stage Theater
8 School St., Windham, is in the midst of casting “The Wizard of Oz,” which opens in March. There’s an audition workshop on Saturday, and auditions and callbacks are scheduled for Nov. 11, 18 and 20. Details at windhamtheater.org/shows/wizardofoz.htm.
The Portland Players
420 Cottage Road, South Portland. Auditions just closed for William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet.” Next up is “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” opening in March, and “Rock of Ages,” in May. Audition notices will be posted soon. Visit portlandplayers.org/audition-announcements.
205 Main St., Biddeford, also just closed auditions for “A Christmas Survival Guide,” which opens in December. There are no auditions for “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” opening in March. The theater is looking for five women for “Steel Magnolias,” on stage in May. Auditions are March 20 and 21 at the theater. Specific roles and other details are available at citytheater.org/auditions.
L/A Community Little Theatre
30 Academy St., Auburn. The theater just wrapped up auditions for Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” opening in February. “Gypsy” opens in late March, and audition notes should be posted soon at