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Tue, Nov. 12

Actors bring the dead back to life in Readers Theater

PRESCOTT - It was not quite as nerve-wracking as a stage audition, and the actors did not have to memorize their lines, but nevertheless, 11 would-be performers who auditioned Tuesday evening for "Spoon River Anthology" were still on edge.

"I'm a little bit nervous," said Katie Stefanski, 33, before auditioning. "But I trust the process. I don't want to over-prepare."

Stefanski and the other 10 actors tried out for a part in Prescott Fine Arts Association's Readers Theater in partnership with the Prescott Public Library. In Readers Theater, the actor reads directly from a script or book, as opposed to a play, in which an actor memorizes his or her lines.

"In the readings, the actor has to have two personalities," said Herb Voss, who is directing the play. "I'm looking to see if what they say is believable. That's the basis of theater - if the person is believable to the audience."

"I read the script to myself first to get the essence of the stories," said Carol Fulkerson, who auditioned privately for Voss because she was unable to attend the scheduled audition. "Then I read it again out loud to try and develop the character. It's important to read out loud and hear myself."

"Spoon River Anthology" is a book of poems written in 1915 by Edgar Lee Masters. Each poem represents an epitaph of a dead person in the fictional small town of Spoon River, Ill.

Voss said that the set is simple: seven chairs (one for each actor) are lined up facing away from the audience; each chair has a cardboard tombstone with the name of a dead person, and he lights actors individually with a blue spotlight.

Masters starts his book of poems with "The Hill," which immediately takes the reader and audience to the cemetery.

"Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley," he wrote. "The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer the fighter? All, all are sleeping on the hill."

Some of the poems are sad, funny, insightful or serious, but all are intriguing stories that people in the audience may recognize as resembling someone they know or knew.

"I've never done this before," said Katie Dean, who recently starred as Gabe Dollie Wiley in "The Black Widow of Prescott." "I really like it. It's kind of like 'Prairie Home Companion.'"

Parker Anderson, who is well known in Prescott's theater groups, also auditioned.

"This is quite a bit different than a stage production," he said before reading. "There's not a lot of heavy rehearsals, and you don't have to memorize any lines."

Stefanski, who recently joined the faculty at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy, said she is an avid poetry reader and has some theater experience, but has never acted in a Readers Theater.

"What drew me to it is the creative use of poetry," she said. "It's a teaching technique that we use in the classroom. We take a poem or text and tell the student to find a creative way to perform it by just using words."

After the auditions, Voss gave the actors a second chance to read, which most did. He had planned to choose four people that night, but because everyone was so good, he said he needed more time to choose.

"You sure know how to make my job hard," he said after auditions ended. He decided to offer parts to seven actors and actresses.

"I'm amazed at how good everyone was," he said. "Everyone read extremely well."

"Spoon River Anthology" opens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Prescott Public Library, 215 E. Goodwin St. The performance is free and open to the public.

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