Have you been to Dollywood and had a chance encounter with Flit and Flutter, the beautiful butterflies of Wildwood Grove? And how many of your vacation memories involve a conversation with Miss Lillian, the iconic Chicken Lady, as she visits her little chicken friends in Craftsman’s Valley?
For those of us who love Dollywood, we know the secret: it’s the amazingly-talented people of the Dollywood Entertainment Team who bring these characters and shows to life each year. Season after season, Dollywood prides itself on having award-winning shows and entertainment.
The best-of-the-best are working each day on stage—and off—just for you. Charming encounters transcend the stage and give guests the opportunity for personal memories with unique characters.
New Characters Coming Soon
In 2022, Dollywood is wanting to focus even more on bringing these incredible performers to you on the streets of Dollywood! In fact, there was a new element added to the entertainment auditions this year: character callbacks. In addition to evaluating the talent of singers, dancers and musicians, stage managers had their eyes open for more people to add to the team of Dollywood’s “streetmosphere.”
It’s going to be exciting to meet new faces throughout the year, but I hear we should be on the lookout especially during the summer festival (June 18 to Aug. 7).
I got a chance to take a sneak peek at the Dollywood audition process in January to find out about this growing category of entertainment and to learn more about the audition process that these hopeful entertainment hosts go through.
“As we expanded into Wildwood Grove, there was an added demand in a higher level of one-on-one entertainment,” said Brooke East, a character development expert for Dollywood and the host in charge of the new improvisational actor callbacks during the auditions this year. “We’re looking for a deep pool of talent that can make a connection not only with the guest but with the character that they will be taking on.”
East knows a thing or two about the character connection experience. She began her time at Dollywood during the 2007 Christmas season as Tinker the Tree. “One of the greatest things I value is connection—whether that be on stage to an audience or with a guest in the park.”
That emphasis on connection was a heavy focus throughout the character callback that East held. After auditioning on the main stage at the Pines Theater, select auditionees were brought to Dreamsong Theater where East conducted an hour-long audition session with groups of six consisting of improv challenges, on-the-spot thinking and one-on-one interviews. She said that the hour-long session mimicked some of the exercises that she uses in the two-day workshop she leads with hosts who step into the roles of Flit and Flutter in Wildwood Grove, Pumpkin Polly during Great Pumpkin LumiNights in the fall and other characters each season. With new characters planned, East hopes that no matter how they are cast, the hosts will be able to embody the role fully and make connections with each guest.
“Infusing the character with light and energy is what makes Dollywood character experiences stand out from other parks,” said East.
Getting to watch her coach those auditioning through the character callback was a joy. She spent time with each person in the group, asking them to recount stories and experiences, all while putting their improv skills to the test. “Improv is constantly thinking about your next move without letting the audience see. That’s what anyone who steps into a character role here at Dollywood will constantly be doing,” she explained.
The Original Flutter
For those selected to be one of these beloved Dollywood characters, it truly is an experience to remember. Addie Counts, now a Dollywood stage manager at the Pines Theater, spent 2019 as a “friend of” Flutter, the blue butterfly during the inaugural season of Wildwood Grove. She remembers her own Dollywood audition and how excited she was to step into Flutter’s wings. “The guests would remember you visit after visit. The kids, especially, would be so excited to know it was you and that they got a picture with you.”
Counts helped organize the auditions this year, which still had an emphasis on safety with Covid-safe practices and precautions. The stage was set up to provide six feet of distance between each auditionee, and appointments instead of an open call allowed for Counts and her team to ensure each person was given enough space to feel safe.
“Overall, whether it be a dancing role or on the main stage or for a character, the entertainment managers are looking for someone with that special something that sets them apart. That’s what makes us a little bit different here at Dollywood.”
As the plans for the 2022 season are underway, I personally can’t wait to see what new characters will be joining Miss Lillian and Benjamin Bear in roaming the park! And I know that whoever steps in to fill those big shoes will have some amazing training on making memories with guests every day Dollywood is open.