Rubrik: Campus Life
Casting for a leading part in the Jubilee musical
ETH search for a musical star
Published: 11.11.2004 06:00
Modified: 10.11.2004 20:59
Next year marks ETH Zurich's 150th anniversary. One of the many events to celebrate the Jubilee event is a musical contribution from the ETH Personnel Commission called "ETHeater". Co-produced with theatrical experts, the musical aims to promote awareness and feelings of "belonging" and has a serious side to it. A casting was organised to find actors and actresses willing and capable of singing the main parts.
By Jakob Lindenmeyer
A Saturday in late autumn. In front of the GEP pavilion on the Polyterrasse candidates for the ETH musical blink lazily in the warm sunshine. They appear calm and composed. But appearances are deceptive–because there is a lot at stake. Inside the pavilion contestants are already fervently raising their voices in song in the hope of getting a part in the musical ETHeater "WELCOME TOMORROW“ (1) . Twelve women and nine men are competing for one of the star roles.All-important first impression
Participation in the casting process is short and–for some–brutal. The stress factor is high. The mostly young amateur singers have only a couple of minutes to convince the professional jury, comprising director, choreographer and musical director, of their talent. "It's not easy," as even the ETH musical director, Mathis Kramer-Länger, admits, "because minds are usually made up following the first impression." During these first few short minutes, candidates are under enormous pressure to succeed.Less dogged
"Still, there is less doggedness with an amateur casting," says author Roman Ricklin, soothingly, "because it's not as though the contestants need the work to survive, as professionals do." Notwithstanding, interest in the two leading parts is keen. Although most of the contestants are ETH students, they are not all entire novices when it comes to the music business. For some of them, it's not the first time they've taken part in a casting event either.
For example, Anna O., a 22 year-old pharmaceutics student in her third semester. "I've always been interested in musicals and my hobbies are singing and dancing," says the native Canadian from Mesocco Valley. She says she finds the public exhibition at castings titillating because she was a very emotional person and self-confidence was not always one of her strengths. In addition she failed a few weeks ago to reach the second stage of the casting procedure for the Swiss TV contest "MusicStar" (2) . This only adds to her nervousness for today's casting.Fighting for dreams
"In contrast to this ETH casting, the competitors for MusicStar showed far more airs and graces and the competition was greater," says O. On top of that she had to agree beforehand that, in the event of failure, her attempt in front of the running MusicStar casting camera can be broadcast next year in the programme "Sorry, no" for the amusement of hundreds of thousands of TV viewers all over Switzerland. But the attempt was well worthwhile: "I believe in fighting for my dreams."
The road to a singing career is hard. For Anna O., no less than for the others. Her first song begins hesitatingly. The German version of "Think of me" from O.'s favourite musical "Phantom of the Opera" actually suits her soprano register. But the director prefers to use an accompaniment with the musical coach instead of with the taped playback, which O. has rehearsed. The accompanying electronic keyboard mercilessly reveals any nervous slips."Not the chat-up type"
Anna O. is also unlucky with the dramatic test. "We're in a bar," is how the director describes the setting. "I want to you to make a casual overture towards André [the coach]." O. tries the most obvious chat-up lines like "Would you like some company?" and "What do you do?" But her acting ability fails to engage the interest of the somewhat sober repetiteur. "Chat-ups are just not my scene," says O., laconically.
At last, in the key test, Anna O. gets her breakthrough. The show song "Mama" of the MusicStar winner Carmen Fenk went down well with the jury. A simple but rocking song with a catchy chorus. This is where Anna O. can fully demonstrate her talent: Over the din of a loud chorus playback tape, in a dark, soul-fed voice, she gives "Mama won't you listen to me" her all, using a pile of disposable beakers as an imaginary microphone. At last, a success! The jury is nodding: she has shown that she can sing.
Another casting contestant catches the attention of the jury on this Saturday afternoon. 31-year old Gregory P. completed his sports instructor studies at ETH some years ago. "But I come back to ETH once in a while for the ASVZ dance classes and I heard about the ETH musical and the casting event." P. is one of only a handful of men who put his name down for a dance role–more than two dozen women did so. This is why, before P. takes his turn in front of the jury, Christine Enz, the choreographer, says, "I hope he doesn't sing too well," because she still needs a few men for the dance numbers.Show and passion
Unluckily for the choreographer, alumnus Gregory P. turns out to be a real find for the singing casting. With his performance P. proves that he doesn't merely have a sure pitch and a strong attractive voice. He really warms up in the show part: from hard rock to a wild playing of an imaginary guitar all the way to a gentle and a convincing love scene, P. demonstrates a wide range of acting talent.
In fact the director wants to hear the melting performance of a Billy Joel love song again, this time in a love scene with the assistant director (female) stretched out on the sofa. Gregory P. acts the lover with a very convincing show of sentiment during his warm and tender tenor rendition of the song. A real bonus for the ETH musical, in which the story revolves–as in all musicals–around true love surrounded by lashings of show and passion. The fact that he somewhat shies away from the very high notes and can't always carry them through is probably due to nervousness that a little training can put right."A footnote at ETH"
In addition to the dozen or so students, two long-serving members of ETH staff are also taking part in the casting. Even though the 60-year-old caretaker Heinz L. has worked at ETH for twenty years he describes himself as simply "a footnote at ETH." In preparation for the musical casting he rehearsed the popular song "Die kleine Kneipe" (The Little Tavern), because he thinks that the slow song with its fragile text is the best way to tell a story in song.
Softness and sweetness
Another contestant, who has worked at ETH for some time, is Willy M. from the Institute of Machine Tools and Manufacturing. This bass with operetta experience has decided on a duet with "All I ask of you", also from the "Phantom of the Opera", "because I'd hoped to find a suitable soprano at the casting event," he says. Although he hasn't found one, it was a good choice–it suits his powerful bass. And Willy M. manages to hold the notes and floods the room with reverberating sound. The softness and sweetness required in a love song, which is somewhat lacking, could easily be rehearsed.
Who will get the star part? How will rehearsals go? We'll have to wait and see. The première will be on 28th June as part of the Jubilee year celebration programme. ETH Life will be reporting on rehearsals and the author over the coming months.Footnotes: