What I Did For Love

Img 835Here's the second of two articles on the upcoming production of A Chorus Line, opening next weekend at the Des Moines Playhouse. While the first piece was all about getting the show ready for its journey, now it's time to see how the performers are going to take the voyage. And, like their characters, this incredible cast truly feels theatre is their one true love. And they've worked more than you know.

Img 839Mitchell Nieland plays one of the aspiring dancers in A Chorus Line. Like many of the characters in the show, Mitchell caught the “theatre bug” as a youth, and has set the goal of making it all the way to New York and Broadway someday. With six mainstage shows at Iowa State University during his recent college days, plus three shows with ACTORS in Ames, he's had lots of different experiences with the audition process, which has more than prepared him for A Chorus Line.

I Hope I Get It

“I grew up loving music, and especially musicals,” says Mitchell. “My audition experiences have varied since I began performing. In college, the faculty understands that (with the rare exception) all cast members are students, and are still learning the process. During my time, it was tailored to the show, with the auditioners expected to sing cuts of songs from the show being cast.”

“Post-graduation, and into the professional realm, the complete opposite is expected, where you never sing a piece from the show. One skill I have really developed well is doing thorough research on the show, in order to help me decide what characters to try for, what music to sing, what style of dance to brush up on, and find if I'm a good fit for the show.”

Also in A Chorus Line is Maddie Sell, currently a student at Drake, where the auditions there are even more different. Literally this past week auditions were held for their entire year's worth of shows, with multiple callbacks and casts being determined for shows that aren't going to be performed until next May, eight months from now. She was Dance Captain for Drake's production of Heathers-the Musical last year, and has also worked with StageWest and theatres around her hometown of Minneapolis.

“With Drake auditions I spend a lot of time preparing a song and monologue because those are not my strongest aspects of performance,” says Maddie. “In auditions I usually rely on what I know I'm good at or have been good at in the past, for me that is usually comedy. I feel safe doing comedy, so I use that in approaching unfamiliar situations. In my callback for A Chorus Line I made many jokes throughout the process to cover up my nerves, and ended up being cast as Bebe, a character known to use comedy to cover up some of her insecurites. So it worked out this time, but sometimes I'm not so lucky....”

I Can Do That

Img 833Both of these talented young performers have faced more than their share of situations similar to all of the dancers in A Chorus Line. And their individual characters present their own tests of their abilities. A Chorus Line is unique in the way it features everyone at different points in the show, and in different ways.

Maddie continues, “This piece is challenging because usualy when I am in a show where I dance a lot, I am in the chorus and therefore don't have to sing individually. In this show, I have to sing 'At the Ballet' which is a beautiful and iconic song, so I'm a bit scared to sing it especially after dancing and standing for a while before. We are onstage basically the whole show so we don't have a lot of breaks for water and have to stand most of the show. My legs are going to be seriously toned after this production. It is, however, one of my all-time favorite shows. Because I have been a dancer all my life, I've always dreamed of being in this show. It is a LOT of hard work, but the experience of being in one of my dream shows is worth all the blisters, ice packs, and long nights.”

Mitchell echoes the sentiment when it comes to the lengthy and arduous rehearsal schedule, and the standards the cast is striving for. “A Chorus Line is one of the most difficult shows I have had the pleasure to work on, primarily because of the choreography, but also because it provides new challenges for me vocally. First, the choreography has become iconic in its synchronicity and precision, and that is a high expectation to place on a new cast. But our company is definitely up to the task, and we are confident we will pull it off with flying colors. Second, the juxtaposition of singing while solos are sung or dialogue is spoken means the rest of the cast must pay extra attention to all the elements going on around them in the moment, which can be a bit overwhelming at first.”

“The vocals have also been a great challenge, providing moments that I've been able to apply the techniques I learn in my vocal lessons to the songs in the show. It has been so satisfying to see just my personal growth since beginning rehearsals (applying proper vocal technique to my singing, mastering the choreography with extra rehearsal time, character research, etc.) for it will all become a more natural part of the process in future productions.”

Music and the Mirror

Img 837Mitchell, Maddie,and the rest of the cast have been working almost non-stop, through flu bugs, and weekends, and late, late nights, to create the best show they possibly can. And while director Megan Helmers has expected a lot of her charges, she's also wanted everyone in the audience know just how hard this group has worked all along the way.

“I love to give people behind-the-scenes access and let them experience what it's like putting together a show,” says Megan. “I think lots of theatre-goers simply have no idea how many hours the cast and production team put into making a show like this look effortless. Sometimes we're in rehearsal 15-20 hours a week – it's like a part-time job! [Ed. It's even more in the week leading up to the show!] So I've been posting rehearsal clips on the Playhouse's Instagram and Facebook accounts, and I'll continue doing that through September. I think once audiences know how much effort and energy has gone into creating the performance they're attending, they're a lot more likely to respect and value that experience. Not to mention it creates buzz and gets everyone excitied for the show, which is good for all of us!”

Lots of work. More work than most people realize. “One of the reasons A Chorus Line was so revolutionary at the time,” says Mitchell, “was because it shed light on the true audition process for Broadway. One thing I hope the audience will take away, especially for those unfamilar with the world of theatre, is that becoming an actor is NOT as easy as they think.The endless cycle of working a menial job to make ends meet while going to auditions and callbacks, only to not get a part, takes a heavy toll.”

Maddie adds, “Talent doesn't always get you a role. All of the characters [in A Chorus Line] are amazing dancers and delightful people, but not all of them get the job in the end. Even if you give the director everything they want, you still may not get the job. I think that this show really helps provide audiences with what the reaity of being an actor is like, and that it is a real job that requires a lot of hard work, determination, and heartbreak.”

You have to love theatre to be involved with theatre. And to reach just the chorus, you still have to give more than most would ever realize. And why do Mitchell, and Maddie, and Megan, and all the rest of the performers, both in real life and the characters in the show, continue against all odds to be part of this theatre world with no regrets? Like the title of this article, it's what THEY do for love....

A Chorus Line opens at the Des Moines Playhouse on Friday September 8, and runs through Sunday October 1. Tickets are available at the Playhouse box office, or online at their website.


A Chorus Line Megan Helmers Maddie Sell Mitchell Nieland Des Moines Playhouse