How does Dollywood find all of their talented performers? Open call auditions! I got to be a fly on the wall for their first round of 2019 auditions on Jan. 12. To say these auditions are a big deal is a bit of an understatement! Dollywood is the industry leader in theme park entertainment, winning 10 consecutive Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards for Best Shows and 26 IAAPA Brass Ring Awards for Live Entertainment (IAAPA is the global association for the attractions industry). Since I had no idea what happens behind the scenes, I thought I’d share with you what I learned.
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa (the location of this audition) was buzzing with hopefuls. Even for those who were not auditioning—it was an exciting Saturday at the resort as performers young and old showed up to try out for a spot with the park’s award winning shows and productions. As I enjoyed my coffee in front of the fire in the living room of the lobby, I observed many groups of performers working with each other, encouraging one another, and coaching each other. The atmosphere was electric.
During these open call auditions, entertainers have the opportunity to show what they’ve got for Dollywood show producers and Dollywood’s Entertainment Director. This particular panel was looking for vocalists and character talent. (Think of personalities like Harvey the Pumpkin from Great Pumpkin LumiNights and brand new characters who will be found in Wildwood Grove when it opens this spring.) I learned that one of the most important things they were looking for was the person’s ability to connect with the crowd.
Nearly 200 hopefuls registered for this audition. They came prepared to perform two pieces of music. I looked at the paperwork the entertainers were given when they checked-in. Dollywood wanted to know what vocal part they sing, what types of musical styles they have experience with, if they have any special talents, and more. It also asked the performer’s availability during the year. Dollywood has opportunities for both full-time and part-time performers.
After registration, those auditioning were assigned a specific audition time to return. The performers auditioned in groups of about 30. That way no one walked in alone. There was comradery and instant friendships as they cheered each other on.
I had the honor of talking to two performers preparing for auditions. These two friends, Cheryl and Corey, were both very excited about the possibility of working at Dollywood. Cheryl had experience performing at Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Celebration Dinner and Show, leading worship, and also being in a 13-piece band. She was a two-time winner of the International Talent Fest for country. Although she has loved every gig she has had, she feels like Dollywood is the premier entertainment venue in the area and wants to call it home. Corey agreed, but his desire to perform at Dollywood was based on having prior experience with the park. He was a performer in Dreamland Drive-In in 2017. He spoke very highly of the family atmosphere among the entertainment team and park hosts, and also loved working for a company with Christian values. He was unable to perform during the 2018 season due to vocal surgery. He told me that because of a program for Dollywood employees (Share It Forward), his surgery was possible. He was excited to be able to say thank you to those on the audition panel.
If the performer nailed their audition and received a call back, they were asked to come back the following day. When they returned, they got to go to Dollywood to finish the audition on stage. This is where the entertainers learned “a movement piece” (rather than call it a dance, Dollywood’s Entertainment team wants to see if these folks are able to move because not everyone is a gifted dancer). Those who were trying out for vocal performance also had a vocal call back where they learned selections from Dollywood’s shows. Calls back are a good chance for the Dollywood team to gauge how quickly a performer is able to pick something up, how hard they work, and if they work well with a team.
Dollywood’s show producers knew exactly which parts they needed to fill during this two-day process. They considered all aspects of the performer’s ability and their availability.
When Dollywood is ready to cast their 2019 entertainers, they contact the selected performers and offer them roles in shows that are scheduled throughout the entire season (oftentimes, these entertainers will appear in more than one show during the year). Even those who didn’t make the cut this year will hear something—so no one is left wondering.
More good news for the new cast–while I was there, I heard that the entertainment team is well-connected to the community and can help with finding housing for those who will be moving to the area for a stage job at Dollywood. Time to start looking for new digs!
If reading about auditioning for Dollywood piqued your interest, check this page for future audition information.
This was such an exciting weekend. I can’t wait to see these performers in action on the stage and around the park during the 2019 season!