NRT Presents: ‘The Audition Nightmare’
No Refund Theatre is back again for the spring semester. This week, the organization opens its season with “The Audition Nightmare”.
Directed by second-year student Muggs Leone, the play sheds light on a silent struggle: the stability of self-concept in a consistently changing world. A combination of two one-act plays including The Audition and The Actor’s Nightmare, The Audition Nightmare reflects comedy, tragedy, and everything in between in just under two hours.
Starting off with The Audition by Matt Thompson, the production begins simply with actors in the audition room. Ordinary people, albeit a bit eccentric at times, the auditioners each present their prepared material one by one. Utilizing the location, the setting becomes interactive as performers emerge from the audience to perform for the director. With a dedicated and extremely stressed stage manager at the helm of the production, it seems as if the individuals auditioning are in for a bit more than bargained for.
Intentionally overlooked as nondescript within the audition room, technician Sam appears in the scene. Much to his own surprise, he is greeted by friendly auditioner Jules as he completes the meager task of handing out scripts for callbacks. Overjoyed and amazed at the small act of kindness, Sam is revealed as lonely and humble, but extremely meek in his role within the production and outside life.
Just as Sam’s character is featured, the second act takes a dramatic turn, representing the often hasty and drastic shifts of life’s changes. In a dream sequence, we now see Sam as a man lost, both metaphorically and physically. Finding himself backstage at a production, Sam is utterly confused as he encounters a laundry list of individuals giving him directions, calling him by different names, and discussing a variety of shows. Worst of all, rumor has it he’s about to take the stage having never rehearsed, as he can no longer even recall his name, true occupation, or how he even arrived backstage.
Within this act, “The Actor’s Nightmare” by Christopher Durang shows Sam’s attempt to fill the role live on stage. Confused yet comical, Sam expresses his distress and grapples with his own struggles as the show itself shifts and changes. A complete testament to the ever-changing environment of mental health and the individual struggle to maintain it, this second act represents human nature in a way relatable to any audience.
To combine these stories into a cohesive message was no easy task, and director, Muggs Leone, elaborated on how they first discovered both works to make their vision a reality as The Audition Nightmare.
“I like to collect books,” they explained. “And then, I was looking through them for something to be inspired by.”
Digging deeper for original inspiration, Leone discovered The Actor’s Nightmare by Durang and was immediately intrigued. Impressed by the show’s meta elements, they wanted to bring complexity and creativity to the NRT stage as the first production of the spring season. Elaborating on their own inspiration, the director revealed a truth that guided his decision in choosing both The Audition and The Actor’s Nightmare.
“In well-written shows, I think anyone should be able to find a little bit of themselves in at least one character,” Leone said.
After prioritizing representation for the audience, the director and psychology major found another desirable aspect within these materials and worked hard to magnify the fantastical elements of the story as surreal theatre.
“You’re seeing inside the mind of a character that’s intentionally overshadowed,” Leone explained. “You get to see how his perceptions of the people he sees in the first act… might be exaggerated.”
In telling this story of the self-concept struggle, the cast strived for honesty and integrity in the representation of mental health. With complex themes to challenge the actors, the cast grew closer as they worked together for meaning and depth within both acts.
“It really helped to have a small cast,” said third-year and assistant director Mikey Totten. “We did a lot of character work and the rehearsals are all tight-knit, so they helped everyone get to know each other and get to know their characters.”
With a small but mighty cast, the production team pulled together to create their commentary on staying true within a changing world. Creating meaning yet enjoying the process, Totten commented on his own anticipation for show weekend.
“I am super excited,” he shared. ”This is actually my first time being involved in NRT and it’s a really neat introduction, being behind the scenes like this.”
Working with Leone to finalize the details, Totten shared his own advice for the audience when viewing the finished piece.
“Have fun,” he said. “These are crazy characters and crazy storylines, and theatre is just that place to let go and laugh.”
Emphasizing the comical aspect of the show, fourth-year and biology major Blake Pierson acknowledged another theme within the production: life’s changes as unexpected yet ultimately rewarding.
“There’s a chaos to life,” he said with laughter. “…and I think that no matter what you think things will be, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll end up that way.”
Building upon this idea, third-year and secondary education major Joshua Sanville revealed a gentle solution to enjoy even the tumultuous moments of life.
“It’s okay to feel like you’re up the creek without a paddle,” he commented hilariously. Acknowledging this universal feeling with ease, Sanville emphasizes the show’s message for the Penn State community.
“Especially as college students, we’re expected to know everything we want to do right when we get here- our life path,” Sanville explained. “But, this show is showing that even if you don’t know what you’re going to do, it’s going to work out and you’re going to be okay.”
Echoing similar sentiments, third-year (and Onward State’s own!) Sam Fremin emphasized the relatability of this message. Rising to the challenge of playing the role of technician Sam, Fremin explained how he channeled his own experience for artistic expression.
“My character is kind of confused,” Fremin said. “He’s tossed into this world that he doesn’t understand, and that means a lot to me because I find myself in that position fairly often.”
But within this complex message of self-reflection and acceptance of change, the show remains at its core a comedy. With eccentric characters and audience involvement, there’s no doubt that the resulting bubbling confusion is hilarious, especially as technician Sam jumps between identities and even scripts within the second act.
As technical tricks fill the stage with snow and the aura of night, fantastical elements of the show also lighten the mood as inherently funny and imaginative. With the inclusion of a ten-foot prop tree and mime character, standout aspects add to the comical nature of both acts.
Explaining why the tree boldly dominates the stage as comically stable behind absolute chaos, director Muggs Leone revealed its role as a time-marker and indicator of just how lost technician Sam really is. As the large prop’s leaves change, so does the character’s mood onstage.
“Changing the seasons represents each of the different scenes we are in,” said Leone. With summer representing happiness yet fall indicating things falling apart, the tree demonstrates the variety of emotion presented onstage but stands humorously tall within the plot as another piece of comical chaos in the production.
“In my mind, it reflects progressing through life in really strange ways,” Leone concluded.
Additionally, the inclusion of a mime character played by Joshua Sanville adds a hilarious dynamic to the first act as each auditioner struggles through their prepared piece. The third-year explained his use of physical comedy to tackle the challenges of the role.
“I do have no lines, so it was easy for me to get off book,” he commented with a laugh. “But it was definitely a lot of nights in rehearsal and outside for me, making sure I can get the facial expression down, making sure I know what hand movements I’m doing if I have to dance or if I have to try and act anything out.”
Comedy elements included, the production tackled complex issues of self-concept as lively and laughable. Appealing to the nature of life, the consistent chaos within the script remained relevant and intriguing. But like with any production, achieving this result was not without struggle.
With a casting change just this week, Leone was left with no choice but to join the actors onstage. Playing the part within the show, the director jumped into the role with less than a week’s practice as the ultimate example of the show must go on.
“That was unexpected, but Muggs is a pro,” said Sam Fremin. “And there’s always a little improv in every show.”
With this attitude of action and committed perseverance, director Muggs Leone stepped into the role quickly. Taking on the challenge of playing a female character, Leone maintained the diversity of characters within their production and challenged preconceived gender norms.
A queer and non-binary director, Leone explained his philosophy for building an inclusive environment within his production. “A theatre is always one of those communities that has a lot of diverse people in it,” he said. “I definitely think it has been and should be a very accepting place of all people, of any identity.”
In tandem with classic NRT values of inclusion and acceptance of all, free self-concept and reflection prevail in The Audition Nightmare. Comical yet complex, the story conquers consistent change, revealing the undeniable truth that while life shifts quickly and chaos can be scary, our own self-concept will prevail if only we are bold enough to express it.
Three performances of The Audition Nightmare will be presented in Forum 111 at 8 p.m. on January 27, January 28, and January 29. In true No Refund Theatre tradition, all performances are free of charge.
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