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Photography by Barbara Banks

 

Every season at our region’s community theaters, long before any costume is stitched or setpiece painted, many hundreds of our friends and neighbors step into the spotlight. This is the performance before the performance: auditions. For these aspiring amateurs, it’s a chance to memorize lines, rehearse for weeks—all without pay—and then stride onto the stage to take their shot at theatrical glory.

 

The prospective actors are as varied as the characters they seek to play, from jittery children to confident seniors with years of experience onstage. And although their ambitions and motives vary, they share a love of theater—and of each other. “The cast becomes very close-knit,” says Gayle Foster, an executive assistant for a CPA firm and an eight-year community theater veteran. “It’s like a second family.”

 

This fall, at The Players auditions for its 86th Broadway season, we got a chance to meet some of the characters behind the characters.

 

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Gayle Foster, 62, CPA executive assistant

 

“It’s almost like living two parallel lives. I love having my real life and then my life in the theater. It’s like using both parts of my brain.”

 

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Jacob Brown, 22, aide, Florida Studio Theatre’s VIP Camp

 

“All the characters that I’ve done start with the letter ‘J.’ In high school I did Jean Valjean [in Les Miz]. On the nights I wasn’t Valjean, I played Joly. In Grease I was Johnny Casino. We did Carousel here, and I was brother Joshua. And then I did A Christmas Story. There was no J character for that one.”

 

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Ryan Modjeski, 11, sixth-grader, Booker Middle School VPA 

 

“I want to be a professional actor. This is pretty much what I do.”

 

Nicholas Rich, 11, sixth-grader, Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences (above)

 

“I’ve been doing shows here for six years. I just like being up on stage.”

 

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Tory Bates, 10, fifth-grader, Sarasota Suncoast Academy

 

“You enjoy the applause [whether] you’re an ensemble [player] or the main character.”

 

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Daniel Pelissier, 33, liquor store clerk

 

“I’ve already played the devil, so that’s out. I have this sort of irregular gig that I do from time to time where I get thrown around by lady wrestlers. I found that on Craigslist.”

 

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Brett Johnson, 27, grocery store clerk

 

“I work for a grocery store—[I spend almost] all my time there. But there’s one thing missing for me, and that’s performing. I miss the stage, I miss the lights, I miss the applause. I just love musical theater.”

 

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Shelley Whiteside, marketing account executive

 

“People tell me, ‘You just have a passion for giving back.’ But the funny thing is, I do it for the applause.”

 

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Craig Engel, retired clinical social worker

 

“When you cry, you can’t pretend to cry; you have to access something that really makes you sad so that you can produce real tears. I bet it took me 10-12 years before I got adequate at it. And now I get better and better—I think.”

 

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Belle Babcock, 13, eighth-grader, Booker Middle School VPA

 

“Probably my favorite role is Annie, because I play her a lot. A lot.”

 

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