I'm Arabella, I am 16 years old, a student at St Cuthbert's College and I live and breathe musical theatre. I am not alone. Along with 320 other young people, I am in the National Youth Theatre Company's production of The Wizard of Oz. The highlights of my years are being a part of the NYTC shows. It's an opportunity to extend myself as a performer, gain show experience, make new friends and have fun performing and being on the stage. Here's a glimpse of how I felt as I approached the auditions back in August…
July 28 – Cast Captain/captain submission:
I applied for the role of cast captain. I've seen cast captains in action; it's a busy role. We attend all the rehearsals, assist staff and students when needed on all aspects of the show – the singing, dancing and acting - we take warm-ups, teach dances and songs and generally work with younger performers. I've never really had the chance to experience a role like this and thought it would bring me new skills and the chance to experience all aspects of the show. I also thought it would be a great chance to give back to NYTC. I was quite nervous but once I completed the application, I was really excited. It felt like I was applying for a real job, having to list my experience and qualifications. I've never really had a part-time job before but I reckon this will be more fun than lots of the work my friends do because I'll be doing what I love and working with younger kids.
August 3 – interview for cast captain:
I had my interview with NYTC staff members James Doy, Rebecca Robins and Barbara Taylor. I was quite nervous and worried about what I would say but once I got in, it wasn't as stressful as I imagined. I talked about my passion for theatre, how I wanted to experience the whole process of a show and help others have the best experience doing it. I finished up and felt slightly relieved it was over but also happy with how it went.
Then I headed into early rehearsals with "team purple". Working with so many kids means coming up with a way to organise us all, so NYTC students are put into groups based on age and given a colour (red, 7-9-year-olds; yellow, 10-11s; green, 12-13; while purple is everyone 14+). There are about 80 kids in each group and, as things progress, a blue group, made up of strong dancers to perform in extra dance sections, forms too.
That night, I got the phone call I was waiting for … I am going to be a cast captain! I was thrilled and grateful. I rushed to tell my family and they were also very proud and excited. We had a special family dinner, which included icecream, then I texted a load of friends from NYTC to let them know.
August 10 - first round auditions:
We all get the chance to audition for a lead role; it begins with a first round of auditions. I learned sections of two songs (one of Dorothy's and one of Scarecrow's) so I know the tune and lyrics off by heart. We also had to learn a small scene to perform. I wanted to learn everything needed off by heart so I could perform without the burden of a script. I also did lots of research about the show - this meant understanding it as a whole and getting an idea of the character I was auditioning for. When my name was called, I felt extremely nervous but also excited to show the panel (NYTC staff involved in the production, including director Jonathan Alver) what I'd worked on.
Naturally, I hoped I would perform my best so I could walk away feeling confident I'd given it my best shot. One of the worst parts of musical theatre for me is coming away from an audition knowing I could have done better. This has happened to me before; when I auditioned for a St Cuthbert's production of Suessical, I felt I could have done better and then I felt down on myself. I knew if I'd been more mindful with my prep and calmed my nerves, I could have done more. Since then I've made sure to be extra prepared with the right mindset so nothing can throw me off. All those auditioning walk into the room in a line and when our names are called, we step forward to sing and say the words.
August 11 – call backs:
After refreshing the NYTC page non-stop for a few hours last night, the call back list was live. This has the names of people staff want to see more of or in a specific role. There are lots of reasons for whether you get a call back or not - some that have nothing to do with your talent or how well your audition went. It's tense waiting to see whether you're going to get called back but it does give you an idea if the casting panel might want you for a certain role. I was grateful to be called back for the roles of Dorothy and Glinda so I spent the morning frantically learning new songs and dialogue for that evening. The call backs meant more singing and dialogue but we also got thrown a new piece to sing which was hectic but also fun and rewarding.
August 12 – first cast announced:
One of the most stressful parts about doing theatre is the constant waiting for the list to come out. Have I got a part? If so, which one? Who got the role I wanted if I missed out? The time between auditioning and waiting for the cast list seems to go on forever. I spent the whole day refreshing the page over and over and when the list came out it was a relief to finally know. I was sad to not get cast as a lead in this round of auditions but became even more excited about starting to prepare for the final round of auditions. There's another round because three people play each lead role (at different performances) so it means more chances to get bigger parts.
I was proud of my friends who received roles in the first round; I instantly bombarded them with messages. I also got feedback from NYTC who told me my performance was good and I was confident in the room but needed to work on the subtleties of each character. This feedback is always helpful and constructive and as well as general audition tips, they let you know something they want to see from you in the next auditions. Getting feedback helps me make improvements in the next round.
August 25 – first day as cast captain:
Nervous but excited and keen to get going! The day started with a briefing from NYTC – where to stand, what to do and advice on leading by being confident and setting an example and the importance of signing kids in. When you're dealing with so many people, you need to keep track of who's in each group, where they are and, if there's an emergency, everyone is accounted for. The first group of the day was Red Team – the youngest performers – and I admit it was a little bit stressful. I had to lead students and think of things on the spot; sometimes I had a complete mind blank of what to do but it's all good experience and, as the day went on, I began to feel I was getting into the rhythm.
August 31 – second round auditions:
Like the first round, I prepared songs and dialogue needed. I felt like it went well, I gave it my best shot and tried not to get too hung up overthinking it. NYTC auditions are similar to a professional environment meaning it's a great space to learn things about yourself and how the industry works.
September 5 - final cast list announced:
Once again, I spent the last few days nervously and compulsively checking the website to see if the list was out. I was cast as the Scarecrow! When it was announced, I was at school and instantly rushed to find friends in my class who were doing the show as well (there are six other girls at my school). Feeling thrilled, I got started pretty much straight away by highlighting my lines in the script. It's one of my favourite parts of the early stage of a show because who doesn't love highlighting?
The Wizard of Oz, performed by the National Youth Theatre Company, is at the Aotea Centre's Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, November 29-December 1