#MyFirstMuniAudition(s)-Mary Kate Smith

So, like you, I have been so inspired by the recent stories of first time auditionees that I just had to share mine. Because Muni magic is real. And it’s catching. But…it doesn’t always look the same.


When I moved Springfield as a pre-teen, I literally never felt like I would fit in. If you’ve read my previous blog posts and Muni moments, you know a little bit more about that journey.  That I was lucky to find Muni and sink my teeth into and bury my feet in a community of like-minded people out to change the world with their art!! And as a young adult who just couldn’t believe that this small Midwestern town had something so wonderful to offer young thespians as The Muni (growing up a stone’s throw from Broadway) I could not WAIT to be a part of it.

Toe pointed, knee popped-God I hope I get it!


My mom first discovered The Muni and we ventured out one evening to see my first show there…Show Boat. We saw several others, and like so many young people in theatre audiences across the globe, I dreamed of being a part of it. I begged my mom to find out all she could about auditions (how DID we do that back then?!) and I even coaxed my brother and sister to tag along since I was terrified and knew no one. 


I remember spending weeks working on a song. An equal amount of time fine tuning the perfect outfit. Smiling in the mirror to see what I looked like when I sang. Praying that things would go right. I remember rolling up to Lincoln Land Community College (back when auditions were held there) and getting my first exposure to “bubble guts.” (Not going to elaborate on those in this blog…but find me sometime. They are real and yes I still get them.) I remember walking in and seeing people piled in hallways and rooms. Some with numbers pasted on their chests, some with rolled up sheet music. I remember caring so much and trying so hard at every turn to be JUST RIGHT. 


Lots of changes have occurred to the actual Muni audition process but one thing has not: you stand and you sing and a long table to faces stare at you: some smile, some cry, some are stone faced…and then, you’re done. You enter this void of time and space where nothing else seems to matter except what may or may not be being said or decided and that you no longer have any control over. 


I remember walking out and feeling great. Kind people stopped to say good job, everyone was happy and excited about the prospect of doing a show on the Muni boards. I hopped in the station wagon with my French rolled jeans and probably too big sweatshirt that I may or may not have borrowed from my mom and headed home. 


I remember sitting at home waiting for a phone call. Not a phone call. THE PHONE CALL. I remember, back in the days of land lines, sitting RIGHT by the phone and staring.


And then it rang.
It was for my sister. She had been cast.


It rang again.
It was for my brother. He had been cast.


It didn’t ring again. I remember falling asleep staring at my mom’s old school mauve phone…fully dressed and laying on her bed, sure that any minute now it would ring one last time. I woke up the next morning still dressed. No phone call. No Muni show. No summer under the stars. And more bubble guts.


And you know what else? This happened several years in a row. SEVERAL LONG YEARS. At the time I thought about giving up on the idea of trying again. I blamed the fact that I was a squishy and awkward teenager, or that maybe I sang a way that no one liked, or that I didn’t know the right people. 
When I was a senior in high school I decided I was going to major in musical theatre. Even though I hadn’t been cast at Muni I was active in my high school drama department and I was slowly building my confidence. I would go away to college and then back to NYC but before I did…I wanted to give it one more try. 

I’m coming for you Muni.


I auditioned for Godspell directed by the incredible Georgia Dirksen. I sang Someone Like You from Jekyll and Hyde (horrible choice, but that’s another blog, too.) I was still squishy and awkward and I didn’t sing like everyone else but the second my audition cut ended there was a clock tick of silence and then Georgia said, and I’ll never forget it, “I don’t know who she is but we are taking her!” From the table that is usually silent. When you usually have to wait days to know for sure. I left and cried in my car for probably longer than I care to admit.

And she did take me. And it changed my life. I did wind up going to school. And I spent the next decade in Chicago and Los Angeles performing. I stayed in touch with that theatre community I had only just dipped my foot into. And because of it, in the summer of 2005 when I lost my dad to cancer and came back to Springfield…I went back to the place that made me feel welcomed, after all that time. I auditioned for Laurie Barnes who not only cast me, but cast me as one of my dream roles: Amneris in Aida. I made friends during that show that I now consider family…who introduced me to my now husband, Jake (who also always gets cast, but that’s another blog.)

“This is a story of love that flourished….”

Since then I have had the incredible honor of playing some of the best roles ever written for women on the Muni stage: Fantine, Mary Magdalene, Mary Poppins, Eva Peron. But you know what? I still have years I don’t get cast. And now that I have been on both sides of that long table I know why: the Muni moment. Sometimes it’s yours…and sometimes a bigger moment is waiting around the corner and you just have to be patient. Take those bubble guts and make them work for you. Because if I had decided it was too hard or too sad, I would have missed out on sooooo much magic. Figuratively AND literally (see also: flying over the stage.)

Practice and never giving up can make you “Practically Perfect”


But guess what? I’m  still that awkward and squishy girl, who spends weeks picking out an outfit and months working on an audition cut. And some years I’m just what they need. Other years? Not so much. And it’s not easy. And ya cry either way.


But you know what else? The great stories of musical theatre are of people persevering and not giving up. Rising to a challenge and overcoming obstacles. So if you’ve auditioned before and not been cast? If you’ve never auditioned but you don’t know if you’ll make the cut? Get out there and audition. Write your own story. Maybe this year will be the hurdle, or the challenge. But maybe…just maybe…it’ll be YOUR moment. If you never try then you’ll never know. 

Be like Eva Peron and never give up until you’ve gotten everything you ever wanted.


Oh, and Steve Kaplan…at some point in our lives you WILL direct Big River again and even if I am 87 years old and need a walker to get on stage…I WILL be Mary Jane Wilkes in Big River. (Some hurdles are harder to get over than others.)


Thanks for reading. I’ll see you at auditions where this year, for the first time, I’ll be on both sides of the table. Hoping for my Muni moment…and yours.

Mary Kate Smith

#MyFirstMuniAudition-Laurie Barnes

It was 1975. I was 22 and in my first year of teaching.  I was in “Carousel” at Theatre Center that year where I met a lot of Springfield theater folks. I was invited to join SMOYAAB (Springfield Municipal Opera Young Adult Advisory Board). This organization was composed of young people who wanted to have a voice in Muni’s governance and who felt that the Muni board could benefit by listening to a younger perspective (can you believe it?). SMOYAAB was allowed to send a representative to board meetings and all of them were active at Muni. They also had a lot of great parties! (It is ironic that we exSMOYAABs have become the “old fogies” of today!)  Everyone told me “Oh, you’ve got to try out for Muni. It’s the best and the most fun theater in the area.” So, I did.

Auditions were held at that time in the huge ballroom at the Holiday Inn. The room seemed to go on forever.  There were sparkling chandeliers shining lights into my eyes everywhere I looked. It was terrifying. When I walked in, the room was chockful of people. There was a platform with a piano at one end and in front of the platform was a long row of tables filled with scary-looking people I didn’t know (the show staffs). I signed up for an audition spot and sat down to wait.  Auditionees were called up in the order in which they signed in. Sometimes auditions went on into the evening.

Somebody once said that Muni auditions were “the best show in town”. It was so true!  Back then, anyone who wanted could come and watch. Auditions were held before a huge audience and could range from the ridiculous to the sublime. It was obvious when someone was really good, because all the talking and hustle and bustle stopped. The audience and the show staffs sat up on the edge of their seats and listened.  Some people came with fully choreographed, rehearsed, and costumed auditions while others just got up and sang “Jingle Bells” or “Happy Birthday” acapella. There was no enforced time limit and some people performed for 5 minutes while others heard that dreaded “Thank You” after 30 seconds.

People cheered, applauded, laughed, critiqued and sometimes sang along with the auditions.  But everyone was also encouraging, friendly and welcoming. I felt like I had found a new family of friends. The family is not limited to performers.  Hundreds of volunteers in every capacity work at Muni every year and they are all indispensable. I have been especially proud to watch many of my “Muni children” grow into fine actors, directors, designers, choreographers, vocal directors, builders, stage managers, techies, publicists, and all around talented, amazing adults. I am proud to be a part of this wonderful organization.  

See you under the stars,
Laurie Barnes

#MyFirstMuniAudition-Jacob Deters

For three seasons, I enjoyed coming to Muni. I was mesmerized by the talent, the spectacle, and the crowds that came to see these community theater productions. My parents took me to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, then the next season Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The following season I made it a point to see every show . Around that time I started to get involved with my high school productions and Theatre in the Park. I knew I wanted to audition for the big stage, but was I talented enough? Did I have what it takes? A few of my friends in high school had been involved with Muni for years and told me that I needed to audition. I decided to give it a try… little did I know I was about to walk into an experience that would help shape my whole life.

March 2007 Muni was casting for Miss Saigon, Peter Pan, Grease, and Oklahoma!. I was absolutely terrified walking in. These were days of cattle call auditions where anyone and everyone could sit in on auditions. It was up in Theater 3 of the Hoogland and walking into the room was so overwhelming… but I had been training for this, this is why I had been doing other shows: to prepare for this moment. I was late, so had a high number. I waited, and waited, hearing people who had loads more talent than I did. Some of these people would later become some of my closest friends and mentors. It was my turn: I brought my sheet music up-“Alone at the Drive In” (I really wanted to be in Grease that year), took a deep breath, and sang my heart out in front of the crowded room. Later I got called back for the Grease ensemble and made the show! 

I don’t remember all the details of the experience, I wish I did, but like I mentioned, little did I know 13 years later I would want to remember this moment. This was the moment that I took a step out of my comfort zone and “took a chance on” the Muni (see what I did there??) This was the moment that I found a part of me that was missing: the love for the stage and the family of people that work year round to make the Muni so special. 

If you are new to this whole experience, I implore you, give it a try… lean into the discomfort, because if you do, if you find that ounce of courage, you’ll find that your Muni family is there to cheer you on. We want you to succeed, we want you to use your talents to create something so magical. If you don’t get cast your first audition, that’s ok. Find another way to help out, and keep trying. There is always a place for you somewhere at the Muni. Just remember to breathe and give it your all. And take in every moment you can! See you this March at 2020 auditions!

#MyFirstMuniAudition-Reggie Guyton

My Muni Audition experience was kind of wild looking back at it! I felt so out of place and had no idea what I was doing, but I remember so many people being around and just generally cheery! If you asked me WHO was there I could definitely say Craig Williams and Anna Maisenbacher (I was auditioning for Hairspray) but there were SO MANY PEOPLE that I would come to know and really like. 

I was SO NERVOUS. I never auditioned for community theater outside of my college, Let alone in a GROUP setting. It was a little intimidating to not know anyone, except  the friends who told me about the Muni (Thanks Dan and Lauren Nichols!). Realistically, everything was okay. Breathing helped– Or remembering to breathe rather. As we all walked into the basement, Everything seemed light. There was a little bit of nervousness in the air, but the directors introduced themselves and again told us to breathe. They explained what would happen and then we started. A few people went before I did and after their audition was done, people were courteous. No one was rude or mean, people often applauded after people sang. Some even were asked to read.


SO… I get called up to sing for the Muni staff for the first time. I’m nervous as hell, but kind of giddy and ready to get it over with. I can’t remember who was accompanying my audition (I think it was Dave Barnes, but I literally was in and out of consciousness-I was that scared), but thankfully they knew exactly what I meant when I was whispering about what tempo I was aiming for. When that was all said and done, I gave it my best go. I was shaking and trying not to let the nerves get through, but I made it, DID NOT vomit, and was able to breathe again. Again people were supportive and I felt good about what I’d just done.


After that was a dance audition where I felt like I could cut loose a little bit. I was determined to make up for anything that I didn’t necessarily give in my vocal audition. Plus, this gave me some place to shove the nerves. Even though it was PACKED, there was still a lot of camaraderie (and maybe a little friendly competition) in the room. I knew that choreographers generally look for three things in an audition: personality, how well you pick up choreo, and what you do when you mess up. At the very least, I was gonna give it a little bit of personality. I wanted to have FUN. 

So we learn the choreo and it was like 45 seconds or a chorus of a song or something along those lines… And I’m feeling kind of good at some parts, kind of okay at others, but pretty soon it was time for the group I was in to audition. We went in and I of course stumble a little bit but I keep going. Right as the end of the song happens, I was thinking about trying to do SOMETHING to distinguish myself and COMPLETELY stumbled over myself and fell into a FULL SPLIT. Be careful what you wish for right?” 

Reggie Guyton

The rest is history…. thank you so much to Reggie for sharing his first experience with Muni. We are so excited to see how he distinguishes himself behind the scenes.

#MyFirstMuniAudition-Anna Maisenbacher

We hope you enjoyed President Greg Donathan’s walk down memory lane! Continuing on with #MyFirstMuniAudition Anna Maisenbacher, director of The Addams Family, shares her first whirlwind summer. (Exclusive photos attached!) 

My first Muni audition took place at Congregational Church in March of 1995.  I only have a vague memory of going to a Muni production one time prior to auditioning.  My Godmother’s daughter and close friend of our family, Courtney, was the lead in a production of Me and My Girl in 1992.  We went to support but we were by no means avid Muni attendees.  My mom suggested I audition for Muni because I enjoyed singing at church.  So we stood in the very long line of children auditionees in the church parking lot and filed down the stairs to get a number.  At this point in time, there were no scheduled auditions. Everyone showed up at the same time and waited in line together. We went up to the front of the room in groups of 10 and sang “Getting to Know You” for the directors.   I had practiced with my voice teacher (the lovely Sue Hamilton) a few times prior to the audition. I remember wearing this oversized yellow sweater with a pair of black leggings and white Keds. Hair was in my signature half up, half down, sponge rolled curls and sausage rolled bangs.  Classic 90s. I remember someone reading the list of numbers that needed to stay for callbacks. There were three shows that had roles for children that year: The King and I, Meet Me in St. Louis, and GypsyI had callbacks for the latter of the two.  I distinctly remember the warmthness of Phil Funkenbush during Gypsy callbacks.  They look place in the upstairs of Congregational and he leaned over the piano as we took turns singing and dancing “Let Me Entertain You,” always offering his encouraging words and compliments, frequently saying, “Oh you’re all just so wonderful!”  I had absolutely no idea who he was at the time, but remember thinking, “I want to do a show with that guy at some point.”

Following Gypsy callbacks, I went back downstairs to complete a callback for Meet Me in St. Louis.  I had seen the Judy Garland movie previously, but I’d never read scenes for anything before.  I remember one by one reading for roles of Tootie and Agnes and then doing a dance choreographed by Marj Berchtold.  It was to the song “Banjos”, and I loved it so much. I can still do it to this day because I practiced it so many times after the audition.  The following night, I received a call from the director, Steve Kaplan, casting me in the role of Tootie, and my life was never the same. That’s probably a bit dramatic of a statement, but theater, and specifically the Muni, has become such a HUGE part of my life.  I cried so much, my mom had to take the phone from me and finish the conversation with Dr. Kaplan.  

Token picture on the stage with the Smith Family living room. 

First Muni orchestra rehearsal (the best rehearsal)

First Muni bio…very well rounded. 

Everything about my first Muni experience was magical, largely due to the fact that the “adults” in the show were so incredibly caring and wonderful to me.  They truly embraced the concept of “Muni Family,” took me under their wings, and guided me through the process. I knew every line in the show, watched every scene that I wasn’t in from offstage, and memorized every dance step.  I idolized the featured dancers and leads of the production and remember thinking, “if I know every step of Skip to My Lou I could fill in if they needed me.” I was 10. That wasn’t going to happen.

Featured dancers…obsessed.   Also can we appreciate her trendy velvet dress?? They were just the best. 

My legit idols during the show.  I remember being upset that they weren’t actually dating.  Sorry Kevin. 

Apparently I kept props from scenes I wasn’t in. Yay scrapbooks!

Impatiently waiting for my mother to take my photo next to the headshots…and a garbage can.  Please note the LTD2 attire. 

I’ll never forget Micah Josephson graciously dancing backstage with me every night at intermission over and over again, even though he had just finished dancing on stage.  It was probably exhausting and annoying, but he never complained. At least not to me. I remember thinking Missy Homa (now Cartwright) was SO COOL because she did the Dirty Dancing lift in a dance break with Tony Thrasher. I was in awe of everyone’s talent. My sister and I can still do the choreography to “Under The Bamboo Tree” because I made her practice with me in my bedroom. If you ask us to perform it for you after a few cocktails, we typically oblige.  So to Paul, Barb, Angie, Susan, Tony, Lou Ellen, Don, Kevin, Missy, Elizabeth, Micah, featured dancing girls whose names I cannot recall 25+ years later…thank you. Thank you for being so kind to the new kid. Your kindness truly changed my life, and you were such incredible examples of how seasoned Muni people should welcome newbies into the Muni family. The Muni family truly is a gift and my family has come to include hundreds of new members. I hope you consider joining in any capacity this summer.  

Examples of the incredible kindness from my “siblings”
First review mention.  I remember being confused that the title of the review didn’t match the content, but she said I was charming, so whatever!

Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me!   Anna (Bussing) Maisenbacher, Muni’s 1995 Tootie Smith signing off from under the bamboo tree. 

#MyFirstMuniAudition-Greg Donathan

We are just 20 short days away from the official kick off to our 2020 Muni season with the Audition Workshop on February 15th! The workshop is a fantastic event for those looking to learn about the Muni audition process, meet the show staffs, and to get a glimpse at what #MuniFamily is all about. Auditioning for any show can be intimidating, and auditioning for up to four Muni shows all at once can be a whole new level, but our workshop aims to ease any fears a new auditionee may have. To start off our 2020 blogging season for The Muni Moment, we asked our 2020 President and each director to share their first Muni audition story. Every person who has been in a Muni show has that first audition experience, filled with nerves and anticipation of receiving that casting call. So this week, take a trip back in time with five Muni veterans and experience how they made it through that first audition and have come to return year after year.

To start our week, President Greg Donathan shares his experience. Greg auditioned 20 years ago for the first time, and a lot has changed! In those 20 years since he first auditioned, Greg has become the epitome of #MuniFamily as you will soon read: 

My first Muni audition was in what is now the Hoogland Center in 2000. At the time, the space was still the Masonic Temple and as I remember, the entire building was under renovation. At this time, you physically signed up (no online system) and waited for your number to come up to sing. It was an all day event (just a little anxiety provoking).  I remember stepping onto the stage and being oh-so-nervous. I recall the accompanist having to hit my starting note twice as I didn’t seem to want to start singing! The auditions were also an open event at that time and even though I was new to town, I already knew it was tagged “the best free show in town.” I sang my song and was happy to have gotten through it!  I did two shows my first summer, Cinderella and Children of Eden. It was a wonderful summer and I made lifelong friendships that I maintain to this day. The audition process has become SO MUCH BETTER since my first. You can register online, spend an hour in a CLOSED audition with a few other auditionees, and then spend an hour dancing. It is incredibly efficient and worth the time. 

Over the past twenty years, my wife, four children and I have made incredible memories with our Muni family. The relationships and bonds you develop from spending your summer under the Muni stars are so strong. I can’t imagine life without the Muni and the Muni family. If you have never auditioned, auditioned a hundred times or want to be involved in another way, you will not be regretful!  Come join the family!  

Stay tuned for more first audition tales from all four directors!

See you under the stars,

Greg Donathan

Muni President

#MuniFamily

Hi all! Lindsey here, your Muni Moment lead blogger. It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Hallmark has started their Countdown to Christmas, Black Friday ads are starting to come out, but best of all the 2020 Muni season has been announced! Last year Muni’s season theme was #WhatsYourWish, taking you on journeys filled with magic, determination, love, and dreams. This year’s theme centers around family, reminding you that family is wherever you feel at home. For me, there was no one better to kick of this season of Blogging Under the Stars, than my own family, and exiting Muni president, Mr. Jim Leach:

#MuniFamily

The four shows that make up the 2020 Springfield Muni Opera season have one thing in common, and that’s why our theme for this year is #MuniFamily. Families are all very different: some are creepy, kooky, and altogether ooky (The Addams Family); some are swept up in the fast-moving events of history (Ragtime); some are filled with question marks and uncertainty (Mamma Mia!); and some are more difficult to deal with than others (Matilda).

But whatever your family’s shape and size, there is a place for you at the Muni. It’s obviously a wonderful place for families to spend time together on a summer night, enjoying a picnic meal or one of the delicious treats from our concession stand before taking in an entertaining and dazzling show. But for those who bring our productions to life, Muni is a family, too.

I learned this quickly the first time I tried out for a show, back in 2003. I had never done theater of any kind before, and I was nervous about auditioning. What I found was a lot of people who were welcoming, encouraging, and supportive. And after I was cast, I found countless new friends, brought together by our love of performing and our joy in sharing our talents with the audience.

My first year at Muni was also my daughter’s first year, as we were both cast in “The Wizard of Oz.” I learned quickly that Muni is a family affair in more ways than one. Lots of families spend quality time together on-stage in Muni productions. Or perhaps a child is in the show, while mom and dad help out backstage or at the front of the house. And sometimes while a parent is in the spotlight, a child or other family member is taking on other duties to bring the Muni magic to life.

A few years later, my son was also performing in Muni shows, as was the young man who would eventually become my son-in-law (and maybe someday, my grandchildren will be up there, too? I wouldn’t bet against it….). And while most of the family was clambering to get on stage, my wife Lisa – who suffered from one of the worst cases of stage fright on record — also found a family at Muni. Her volunteer work eventually earned her an invitation to serve on the Muni board and to become chair of the concessions committee. She also made lifelong friends and was thrilled to be a part of the Muni family. She passed away unexpectedly in 2015, but is now memorialized on the Muni site, along with many other members of our extended Muni family whose contributions will never be forgotten.

Later, I was honored beyond description to follow in her footsteps and join the Muni board; I recently completed my term as board president. With the constant support of our talented board members, I had the privilege of playing a role in helping our Muni family thrive, and grow, and bring enjoyment to families just like yours. That sense of family is probably the most important legacy of the Muni. And just like in this season’s shows, those families are all different – sometimes quite unconventional. But on our stage, on our staffs and crews, and in our audience, families find a place that is always welcoming, always happy to see you, and ready to go the extra mile to make sure you have a great time when you come to visit.

We hope you will enjoy our 2020 season! We are so glad to have you and your family as part of our #MuniFamily. Throughout the season we will be looking for guest contributors to share what #MuniFamily means to them. Memories are sure to be made this season.

See you under the stars,

Jim Leach