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Program aims to prepare actors for theater productions

Farmington Civic Center supervisor Randy West, second from left, addresses the cast of the show “Disaster!” during rehearsals for the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company show in February 2020. (The Daily Times via AP)

FARMINGTON (AP) – Randy West has implemented an ambitious series of changes since taking over as supervisor of the Farmington Civic Center in summer 2019, namely the booking of dozens of musical, theatrical and comedy acts and the launch of a professional musical theater company designed to serve as a regional attraction.

Those elements have been slowed down, but not sidetracked, by the COVID-19 pandemic, which left the Civic Center shuttered for a year and four months. Last year, as soon as he got the green light from city officials, West began scheduling nationally touring shows again and got his musical theater troupe back on its feet.

But another important item on West’s agenda – the cultivation and training of a group of local actors to augment the professionals in the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company – has had to wait, the Farmington Daily Times reported.

Now – as the company prepares to enter the busiest time in its two-and-a-half-year history this spring and summer, when it will stage four shows in five months – West is finally ready to begin a program that will address that goal.

The Four Corners Musical Theatre Company will hold two audition workshops over the next several weeks, one for children, and another for teens and adults, who are interested in appearing in the organization’s productions of “Gene Kelly’s Lost Musical,” “The Music Man,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “Annie.”

The workshops are the first step in what West envisions as a training program for local actors that will allow them to slide seamlessly into supporting roles for the aforementioned lineup of shows. West envisions developing a crew of local amateur actors so well trained and professional that “nobody will see any separation between the people who do this for a living and those who do it during the summer because they love it,” he said.

It’s an ambitious plan, and West knows it won’t be realized without a lot of hard work. Those who commit to the program will be expected to begin rehearsals for their show or shows months in advance, but he says they’ll be rewarded with a performing experience that likely exceeds anything else they’ve been involved in up to this point.

He believes the benefits of such an experience extend well beyond the theater world.

“I want to see younger people find confidence in doing this in the summer,” he said. “Maybe they’ll discover confidence in themselves that they never knew existed. They may not go on to a career in musical theater, but this might help them get a law degree and have the confidence to plead a case in front of a judge and jury instead of doing contract law.”

West has used local amateurs in most of the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company productions up until now, but he said their integration into those productions has been limited.

This spring and summer, he wants to see those local performers emerge as full-fledged cast members who can hold their own next to the professional actors from New York and California who make up the permanent company.

Much of that training, he said, will consist of teaching them the choreography basics that are such an important part of any musical theater production.

“They won’t have to be put in the back (of the stage) on a box waving their arms,” he said, describing the modest presence many of those local actors have had in his productions thus far.

“I’ve been planning to do this for two years and couldn’t get it done,” he said. “But the plan going forward is to do three musicals every summer so that the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company is one of the things that defines what Farmington is about.”

West said the aspiring actors who audition for the upcoming slate of productions can commit to doing as few shows as they like.

“You don’t have to do three shows,” he said. “In fact, most people won’t. I’m assuming most people will do one or two. But I am holding open a lot of slots for locals.”

The auditions themselves will be as painless as possible, he said. He explained that the traditional, nerve-wracking process of a lone performer reciting lines or singing under a spotlight on a bare stage while a director judges their performance from the back of the darkened theater is not the way he does things.

“You’re pulling them in, putting them in the worst possible situation and seeing if they can survive,” West said, describing how legendary musical theater director Hal Prince once described that approach to him.

West said he prefers a more relaxed, informal, face-to-face setting in which he chats with the performers and gets to know a little about their personality before he puts them through their audition.

“That way, I have a much better idea of what they would bring to a project,” he said. “The audition process is not meant to be scary at all. The idea is, we’re going to nurture them through unlocking their potential.”

West said he understands his goal of building a reliable group of seasoned, well-trained local amateurs is something that won’t happen overnight. But he is committed to getting it done over the long haul, and he believes the program will help his company sink its roots into the community.

“I’m not claiming we’re going to get there 100% this summer,” he said. “We’re taking steps. And I guarantee that everybody who comes to these shows will have a good time.”