It had the look and feel of a big-city audition for a Broadway show. But it was a Utah college town and the auditions were for Opryland, U.S.A., in Nashville, Tenn.
The walls of a spacious room in BYU's Knight-Mangum Building were lined with hopefuls - and some of their parents. Dancers in leotards stretched on the floor, touching forehead to ankle. Fiddlers anxiously clutched violins and bows. Singers sat with music in their hands and butterflies in their stomachs as they awaited their moment before the five-member audition team.And all 100 or so of them got their chance. For an average of one minute, singers, dancers and musicians became part of the 4,000-5,000 who will try out before January for spots in Opryland shows. About 400 will actually be selected for a stint at the popular theme park.
Provo was the second stop on a 24-city tour during which Opryland personnel will scout out the best talent for 1989's productions. The cities include the likes of Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Kansas City, Mo., and New York City, plus college towns like Arlington, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.
Provo is a fertile field, said to Barbara Earheart, office manager for Opryland's entertainment department, who was busy taking applications and photos at Thursday's auditions.
"We see a lot of good talent out of Provo because of Brigham Young (University)," she said. "That's one reason we keep coming back to Provo. For the numbers that audition, there's a lot of talent here. Brigham Young has an excellent music program."
Two 1988 Opryland veterans - Utah Valley natives and BYU students - turned out to audition for a second season in Nashville. Melinda Farnsworth, 20, Provo, sang and danced from February to August in "And the Winner Is. . .," a musical revue featuring award-winning songs. And she's anxious to return.
"It was an incredible experience," she said. "You learn as well as perform. We had classes, and people critiquing the shows."
Jenny Jordan, 19, Orem, was Melinda's roommate at Opryland and also performed as a singer/dancer. Thursday, she was serving as piano accompanist for anyone who needed one. "I loved the professional atmosphere," she said of last summer's experience. "They're great in helping you develop your talents."
She said the pay was enough to live on, plus save some. But it's the opportunity to perform, not the pay, that draws people to the auditions.
Laurie Behunin, a BYU senior majoring in professional dance, would like to get some professional experience after graduation. Even if she isn't chosen for Opryland, she said, auditioning is good practice.
Janine Lindsay, a former member of BYU's Young Ambassadors troupe, would also like to put her musical theater major to work next spring after graduation.
Twelve-year-old Vanessa Rich, Provo, wasn't that certain about her future. She simply showed up with her violin and Dad, Mom, and two sisters to do some family bluegrass fiddling for the panel. "It's scary," she said. She was glad when it was over.
Even though the audition was for Opryland, it wasn't necessarily all country and bluegrass. The audition team was looking for all types of music and all types of musicians. The dancing was decidedly interpretive - not a clogger in sight. And in callbacks, the dancers would do a prescribed routine. Applications and resumes were also being taken for stage managers, technicians and conductor/pianists.
John Haywood, director of Events and Entertainment at Opryland for many years, was ready to stay all afternoon and evening. The audition team was set with a supply of giant-sized cookies from a local restaurant and 32-ounce soft drinks.
College towns as well as big cities offer a wealth of talent, said Haywood between sips and songs, and "Provo's been an excellent audition city for us." He tried to put the performers at ease.
"Don't be nervous," he said. "We want everybody to enjoy yourselves, have a good time."
And he promised that every person who auditioned would be notified one way or the other, either by letter or phone. Now, all they have to do is wait.