Director's Notes, Part Two: When Low Audition Turnout Becomes Surprisingly Rewarding

Grieve cast member Melody Tarver
Grieve cast member Melody Tarver
Katie Toohil

Director's Notes documents, from planning to performance, the challenges of local artist Katie Toohil as she mounts an original, independent theatrical dance production.

Shortly after I decided to go forward with this Grieve project, a nagging question poked its head to the surface: "Will anyone want to dance in this show?"

I had precious few leads. I publicized the auditions in every way I knew how but still only managed to net six people at the auditions.

They ranged in skill from a competitive ballroom dancer to a Zumba instructor to a yogi with Ecstatic dance experience. These six people quickly became very precious to me for their willingness to come out and give something completely new a shot. However, my choreographic plans were for at least eight dancers, hopefully more.

So, what to do?

I began to panic a little at this point. That irritating pissant of a voice in the back of my head started to say things like, "How did you think you could pull off a show of this magnitude? You don't even know any dancers in Dallas! Did you really think things were just going to fall into place?"

Then, it seems, the universe (fate? chance? dumb luck?) stepped up to the plate for my Grieve team. Slowly, I found myself being contacted by people asking if there might be any room in the show for them. My immediate answer was, "Yes, yes, yes!"

Experience wasn't as important to me as a desire to confront grief head on through movement. Auditions brought in a handful of people and others were just offered up by some unknown force, as if by magic.

To my extreme delight, I was treated to the news that a dear friend of mine from college would be quitting her job in Massachusetts and traveling to Texas to take part in this journey. Additionally, people with prior conflicts came forward with the exciting details of schedule changes that now allowed them to participate. I kept adding these gorgeous creatures to the cast until we hit 13 dynamic, spirited and enthusiastic dancers. I must say, fate knocked one square out of the park for me.

What I love most about the cast is their sheer eagerness. I've mentioned some of the people with dance training in their backgrounds but I also have a group of people who have never really danced before - certainly not in the style I've presented.

Grieve cast members Jonathan Shields, Ashley Ammons Wolfe, James Grinnell and Melody Tarver
Grieve cast members Jonathan Shields, Ashley Ammons Wolfe, James Grinnell and Melody Tarver
Katie Toohil

Everyone has been so willing to step outside of their comfort zones and give something new a shot, whether it's an ecstatic dancer trying to learn choreography, a yogi trying to figure out how to turn out her hips or a girl packing her bags and moving to a place she's never even been. I love the vivacious spirits of the cast members and I love the challenges that their diversity of talent presents me as a teacher.

All the technical details aside, so many of the people in the cast have expressed a need to release past and present griefs. For our little tribe, it's not so much about the steps as it is the meaning behind the steps. It's not just about my grieving my father, it's now become something much bigger. This experience is actually helping me to keep my grief in perspective.

My story pales in comparison to some of the pains suffered by my friends in the cast. I can't help but feel we've been brought together to lessen the weight each other is carrying.

Being able to play around with the dance and the concepts behind the movement has already helped to clear my heart a little. I've also had a few cast members come to me to express their gratitude to have this show in their lives. There's nothing better for me than to hear that the little actions I've taken are helping to make positive changes for others. I am deeply humbled by it.

The next phase is my favorite part of the entire process: rehearsal. This will be where Grieve transforms from an idea in my head to a living, breathing work of art.

More on that next time.

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