Students auditioning for Grasshopper Night this year may have noticed Erin Strong, Chair of the Theater and Dance Department, sitting in on auditions. This is a slight departure from previous years, when a panel comrpised only of students ran auditions.
Strong said that she decided to sit in on the auditions in order to better support the choices made by the student directors.
“In the past, if acts that were turned away asked for an explanation as to why they weren’t accepted, it was hard for me to help the directors articulate their decision if I had no sense of what the act looked or sounded like,” said Strong.
Strong said that she did not intend to make the decisions, but to discuss the student directors’ choices with them.
“At the end of the day, it was ultimately up to the student directors on how acts were evaluated and who was selected,” she said.
“By sitting in on the auditions as a silent observer this year, I was able to pose informed questions to the directors to help guide them to articulate their reasoning behind the difficult decisions they had to make,” Strong continued.
Strong took over as faculty member for Mark Efinger, Instructor in Theater, as the faculty mentor to Grasshopper Night due to Efinger’s involvement with fall term Theater 520 production.
Patrick Brady, a DramaLab Producer and a judge in Grasshopper Night auditions said, “In the past, with Mr. Efinger, it was more of a student run show. With Ms. Strong, it’s more of a step down the road to a student-faculty run show. There’s never been a faculty presence in the auditions or decision making of the show.”
“[Sitting in on auditions is] just one step that Ms. Strong brought in as her new role as advisor to Grasshopper and is a good decision that should be continued in years to come,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s taking away much from the student’s ability to put on the best show possible.”
Grasshopper Night is an annual variety show incorporating theater, dance and music that takes place during Parents’ Weekend.
Brady said that the change made the decision process a lot easier for the producers since they were no longer the only authority in the auditions.
“She’s more of the person that people go and complain to, which is nice for students like me. It takes a bit away from our job, but in the end, the decision process of Grasshopper Night is a really small portion of what Grasshopper Night is in the grand scheme of things. But, since it’s so competitive it becomes amplified to these personal attacks of favoritism and things like that,” said Brady.
“Her presence at the auditions might alleviate some of the immature concerns that come with students choosing other students,” he continued. “Even though it really was, this time, still students choosing other students to be in the show, it was under the supervision of the quiet presence of Ms. Strong, who is now the person that people can go to and complain.”
The student producers released a cast list of 11 acts on October 6.
Strong also sent the cast lists to the house counselors of students involved in Grasshopper acts. Although it was common practice for the chair of the Theater and Dance Department to notify house counselors the week before rehearsals, Strong released the list a week earlier than usual.
“I sent the list out earlier so that [house counselors] would have a two-week notice,” said Strong. “My thought was that it would give them time to have conversations with or give advice to the students, which I think is a change for the better.”
Strong said that she encouraged students with heavy workloads who were in Grasshopper Night this year to discuss time management with their house counselors and advisors and plan how they would work rehearsals in to their schedules.
She said that the house counselors appreciated getting the list earlier, since they would previously only receive it last minute before rehearsal week.
Rehearsals last for one week before the actual production. The time commitment includes about an hour every night of that week.
Strong said, “The other thing about me passing the cast list to the house counselors earlier is that so the students can’t use Grasshopper as an excuse for not doing work. You can’t say that you didn’t do your paper because you were at rehearsals. Grasshopper doesn’t excuse you from things.”
“Ms. Strong isn’t over our shoulders for everything. She’s a valuable resource for the decision process,” he said.
Strong said, “My hope and approach as a mentor is that I am here to guide the directors to conduct auditions fairly and thoughtfully and then ultimately aid them in producing a high caliber, cohesive show.”
“Producing a show is not an easy task. There are many unexpected bumps that come along the way so I’m here to make sure they know how to navigate those bumps,” said Strong.