As you have probably already experienced, the shows at Dollywood are top-notch. (It’s Dolly Parton’s theme park, after all!) Performers come from all over to audition for the opportunity to entertain audiences on a Dollywood stage.
This year, as we all continue to make changes for COVID-19, it’s exciting that Dollywood will have shows in indoor theaters when the park opens, and in-person auditions for those have been held over the past few weeks. This is a big deal; most venues that employ entertainers either currently are closed (like cruise lines and Broadway), and those who are hiring primarily are holding virtual auditions. Performers will tell you—there’s just something special about wowing a live audience.
I spoke with Addie, a Dollywood stage manager, as she was checking in performer prospects. She told me that Dollywood had about 300 auditionees scheduled over three days. She said her team spent a full week just scheduling those audition appointments.
I have had the opportunity to observe Dollywood auditions in the past. You can read about my experience HERE when I was a fly on the wall at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa where the lobby was full of excited and nervous perspective entertainers. In pre-COVID years, they had large groups of performers entering a conference room together and cheering each other on, and a two-day try-out including a long all-call day. Then, the second day was for call-backs and dance try-outs.
This year, to accommodate social distancing guidelines, the auditions were held in the three largest theaters at Dollywood. Each performer submitted his/her resume, headshot and sheet music prior to the open call and then made an appointment for their audition. Each person auditioned in a socially-distanced group of six.
The first step was performing two, 45-second prepared songs in any genre; this was the first time the singers were able to show off their talents and personality. After all six finished, the performers might be finished for the day because the producer panel felt like they understood the auditionee’s talent level and didn’t need to see more. Or the judges might want to see more, and the performer was sent to the next stage.
At stop number two, the prospects once again performed their 45-second selection and also were taught a few bars of songs from Dollywood productions. This gave the producers a good idea of the different types of music the person can perform well. Once everyone in the group was finished, they changed clothes for the dance portion of the audition and moved to the third stage.
Tosha, a long-time choreographer at Dollywood, taught the group 16 eight-counts of a dance (though auditioning individually, they dance together). The group was able to practice several times before dancing twice for a panel of Dollywood producers. Tosha said that while dancing skills are important, it isn’t all she looked for. Dollywood performers typically have about three weeks to learn an entire show, so picking up dance steps quickly is a must. They’re also recorded, so if Tosha wants to go back and watch again, she can!
For the singing portions, these performers were not required to wear masks because Dollywood follows state guidelines that requires 15 feet between vocalist and audience members (or in this case, producers). During the dancing portion, they did wear masks though they were still spread six feet apart. I watched as the Dollywood team sanitized seats and high-touch areas between each group.
While the Dollywood auditions were adapted from previous years, entertainer interest and turn-out was very strong. Dollywood is a top-tier entertainment venue, and it is really neat to see the caliber of performers who come each year to audition. I wish a big “break a leg” to each person auditioning this year, and I’ll speak for all Dollywood guests by saying we can’t wait to see you on stage in 2021!