Characters Welcome

Source: Press of Atlantic City
Published: 1/20/09

CAPE MAY – At the Emlen Physick Estate on Monday, Tom Celandine spoke of his first and only jump from an airplane.

In 1964, with the U.S. Naval Air Reserve, he packed his parachute and was told the rip “wasn’t bad enough to make any difference in your jump.”

Celandine wasn’t being nostalgic as he told the story to employees at the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts.

He was auditioning.

The MAC held auditions Sunday and Monday to fill 20 slots for characters to tell historical stories to crowds on the streets of Cape May later this year.

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Geoffrey Berwind, the storytelling stage director for the new program, asked actors to tell their personal stories or historical stories for their auditions.

Berwind tried to get a feel for how they will tell a story and captivate an audience.

He looked for energy, friendliness and confidence without cockiness for the acting assignments that will place thespians almost in the roles of town criers who will encourage passers-by to explore the attractions of Cape May.

It’s an unusual acting job because the audience might not even know they’re an audience at first.

About 45 people tried out for the roles, which include pirates, rum runners, auto racers and historical characters from the 17th century to World War II.

Their stages will be at the Cape May Lighthouse, Emlen Physick Estate, Washington Street Mall and the Cape May Welcome Center.

The job combines acting with hospitality, customer service and marketing, Berwind said.

Through two days of auditions, Berwind saw actors from the young and nervous to seasoned and steady.

Celandine teaches at Atlantic Cape Community College and acts as a hobby. Jamie Evangelista, an acting student, told a story of an encouraging nun she had as a teacher.During her interview, Berwind asked her to act like a pirate and to elicit “arrghs” from an unenthusiastic audience.

Terry Harris, an actor and educator who teaches at Atlantic Cape Community College, recently returned to the area and said he wanted the opportunity to tell stories. His audition involved telling about the life of American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Other actors told true stories of pirates, a trip to Punxsutawney, Pa., and a wilderness experience of being stuck between a mother bear and her cub.

There has been heavy interest in the roles, which continue through the fall and pay $10 to $12 per hour. When selected, the actors will begin rehearsals in March and will be out on the street April 25.

The program is modeled after the “Once Upon a Nation” series in Philadelphia’s Independence Park and is funded by a grant from the New Jersey Cultural Trust.

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