Filichia Features: A Different Way To Audition

Filichia Features: A Different Way To Audition

By Peter Filichia on November 23, 2016

It’s not every day that you get an e-mail that says “How would you like to direct a show in Fargo, North Dakota?”

Yet that’s what happened to Shannon Hill, artistic director of Festival ’56 in Princeton, Illinois. Her friend Kody Jones, who’s artistic and education director of the Fargo Moorehead Community Theatre, had seen her work and offered her the job of directing Peter and the Starcatcher at his playhouse.

“I jumped at the chance,” says Hill. “I’ve loved Peter Pan since I was a kid and saw the Mary Martin one on VHS. Then I saw a friend play Peter in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I’m from.”

Only a comparative few haven’t responded to The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up since he made his New York debut in 1905. Peter Pan has been on Broadway in every decade except the ‘40s. He’s been the title character in three different treatments as well as mere walk-ons in such musicals as Shrek.

In 2012, Peter and the Starcatcher, Rick Elice’s adaptation of a Dave Barry-Ridley Pearson novel, gave us a prequel to Peter Pan. When Hill saw a friend do the show at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, she was entranced. “I love when simple objects are used to portray something magical – like what happens when a woman is supposed to rise in the air. She sits on a board that functions as a seesaw. So once she gets on one end, she puts her long dress over the board so no one can see it. Two actors behind her don’t let the audience see that they’ve put their feet on the board and raise her. That’s magical!”

Although Hill was hot to direct the show, there was a problem – which in the world of theater usually means money. Neither the theater nor Hill could afford to spring for two trips to North Dakota. “They’d fly me out to direct,” she says, “but that would have to be it.”

So how did she do that casting if she couldn’t be on the premises?

Welcome to the world of web-video auditions.

Jones used his video camera while having the performers read sides from the script. Once he had about three hours of auditions, he sent a link to Hill who started watching.

Truth to tell, because Jones knew the local actors, he was the one who cast James Cavo as Black Stache (who’d later have good reason to change his name to Captain Hook), Amanda Leftridge as Molly, the 13-year-old Starcatcher-in-Training and David Triptow as The Boy Who Would Later Become Peter Pan.

That still left 13 actors to be cast – all of whom needed the versatility to perform more roles than players found on most sports teams.

Says Hill, “I knew the type of cast I wanted -- wildly different body shapes, sizes and ethnicities. One of the best things about Peter and the Starcatcher is that it lends itself to that kind of casting because men sometimes play women and women sometimes play men. There are the Lost Boys, too – and Nana the dog.”

Out of the dozens of hopefuls, a few stood out. Says Hill, “I loved Drake Aasen, a 13-year old seventh-grader. He was so very talented for his age, so I was excited by his self-assuredness.” As a result, she cast him as Prentiss, the self-proclaimed leader of the orphans.

Hill also was much impressed by David Brunsvold. “It was refreshing to see how much fun he was having.” That made him a natural for Mrs. Bumbrake – usually played by a male – who gets the chance to throw a cat into another character’s face.

The web video, Hill says, wasn’t at all misleading: “It really represented who these actors were. What I saw is what I got when I arrived in Fargo.” There she chose her Ensemble, and, after the first rehearsal, made her selections and e-mailed the performers to let them know what parts they had.

Although Hill admits that nothing can take the place of actually being at auditions -- “There you can give feedback and get something more out of the actors right away” -- she wouldn’t discourage anyone from casting this way.

“Without the videos, I wouldn’t have been able to do the show. And,” she adds with genuine joy in her voice, “I would have missed meeting lots of wonderful people in North Dakota.” Says the Chicago resident, “They’re so nice there!”

Read more Filichia Features. 

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at

Photo credit: Perry Rust