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Let Us Entertain You

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

Derby Dinner Playhouse Celebrates 45 Years


LEE BUCKHOLZ, producer and artistic director at Clarksville’s Derby Dinner Playhouse, surveyed the darkened theatre-in-the-round he’s called home for more than 30 years. “Forty-five years is a long time for any theatre to succeed,” he mused. “But we have not only succeeded, we’ve thrived.”

Derby Dinner Playhouse opened its doors in 1974, as part of a plan by area businessmen who wanted to build a convention, sports, and entertainment complex in Southern Indiana. Today, the sports complex is long gone, but Derby Dinner Playhouse remains and is more popular than ever.

We want to celebrate our 45th anniversary,” said Buckholz. “It’s exciting to think about the fact that of all the theatres that have closed in the last 10 years, it’s really remarkable how well we’re doing here.”

Derby Dinner Playhouse entertains approximately 220,000 people a year with a budget of nearly $7 million. With a record 10,500 season subscribers on the main stage and over 3,000 children’s theatre subscribers, Derby Dinner is now one of the most successful dinner theatres in the country.

While dinner theatre as a concept is more limited these days, in it’s heyday, dinner theatres drew large crowds, eager to see former stars in shows that featured light comedies, tried-and-true musicals and inexpensively produced shows.

In the late 1970s, Derby Dinner began the “Star System” – using retired TV and movie stars such as Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, Dorothy Lamour, Jerry Mathers, Bob Denver and Sid Caesar as cast members.

Those days are gone. Today, Buckholz and his company produce eight main stage shows, four Children’s Theatre shows, 12 concerts and offer a Performing Arts Academy and summer camps each season.

Caesar Romero

Caesar Romero


A key to the theatre’s success is how it adapted to the times and listened to its audience. “Things have changed,” said Buckholz. “In the last 10 years, we’ve doubled our season ticket subscriptions, and the show selection and production quality has gone up.  I travel to New York, Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago to bring in talent, and we utilize the incredibly strong arts talent base in Louisville.”

“This area is an attractive draw for performers,” he added. “It’s not uncommon for someone to come in and do a show and still be with us ten years later. It’s a surprise to them. They’ll sign a contract out of New York, then arrive here and like it and want to stay in the area. That’s an amazing opportunity for them because, as an actor or singer, the minute you start a show, you’re looking ahead to the next show and next paycheck.  The fact that we’ve kept a lot of our talent shows we’ve found a nice balance between our performers, our audience who gets to know them, and the high quality of our productions.”

Cary Wiger should know. He arrived at Derby Dinner Playhouse as a young actor and “Barnstormer” singer in 1985 and never left.  A fledgling career as a high school biology teacher quickly faded away once Wiger dove into his Derby Dinner life, which now includes acting, singing and working in corporate sales.

Dinner theatre in general has changed over the years,” Wiger said. “When it started it was a lot of the silly comedies, and smaller shows, but it built our audience. The joke was if a theatre was struggling, throw in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ because it draws an audience and fills the coffers.”

But over the years, Derby Dinner built that audience into a large subscriber base that allows the theatre to be more adventurous with its shows. “The audience knows us and trusts us to entertain them with quality shows,” said Wiger.

The intimate in-the-round setting and pre-show Footnote musical program (formerly called “Barnstormers”) allow actors to interact with patrons and get to know their audience. Wiger laughed, “A few years ago, I had Lasik surgery. When I’d take my glasses off on stage it was just a blur, but when I came back for the first performance after surgery, I could see faces and it scared me! It changed my perspective. Seeing and getting to know them made a difference.”

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney

Many of the positive changes at Derby Dinner came under the guidance and leadership of Bekki Jo Schneider and Carolyn Thomas, who purchased the theatre in 1985. The pair worked tirelessly to build the theatre into the success it enjoys today. Thomas retired about a decade ago, and Schneider died in 2018 after a long battle with cancer. The theatre is currently run by Buckholz, and Cynthia (Cindy) Knopp, general manager and co-owner.  Knopp is also Thomas’ daughter.

I’ve been here since I was 13 and I’m nearly 60 now,” Knopp said. “I followed in her footsteps through high school and after, then later came back when my mom was ready to retire. You can always find ways to do things more efficiently, but the basic principle works here, and we are good at it.”

Knopp is not sure what the magic potion is, but points to the family atmosphere among employees and even customers. “We genuinely care for our customers, our employees, and our community. One of the things my mom taught me was you always should learn as much as you can in every opportunity you’re given, and I try to do that. That’s what brings me joy.”

Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias


The 45th anniversary season kicks off in May with the southern comedy of manners, “The Savannah Sipping Society,” and includes special performances of “Shrek The Musical” in July, “Million Dollar Quartet” in August and a Christmas treat of “Elf the Musical” in November and December. Derby Dinner’s traditional mystery slot includes a new take on the classic “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” in October, and the hit Broadway comedy “Boeing, Boeing” will tickle audiences in January 2020. Buckholz is thrilled to round out the beginning of 2020 with “Saturday Night Fever” in February, and the well-loved “Anything Goes” to end the season in April 2020.

“We’ve wanted to do ‘Saturday Night Fever’ for years,” said Buckholz. “It is already selling like crazy, and sales for ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ are off the charts as well. Our 45th anniversary season is so exciting. There isn’t one show in it that’s ‘the’ show to see. They are all such blockbusters in their own way.”

The season will also include shows in the popular children’s theatre, summer classes and the Performing Arts Academy. Tina Jo Wallace, another long-time actor, singer and now Children’s Theatre director, sees the results of decades of community support.

“These are often the children of our subscribers, who were themselves the children of our original subscribers. These kids have grown up around us and who knows what it could spark in their lives,” said Wallace. “We’ve had many children come back later as actors or staff, and we’re grooming the next generation of patrons and performers.”

“We show them what theatre is,” added Wallace. “So, if we show them non-professional schlock, then we’re failing them. If we show them great, focused, exciting work, they realize that and appreciate it. We might be a child’s first exposure to theatre, and that’s a great responsibility.”

Buckholz knows Derby Dinner Playhouse is one of many competitive players in the talented Louisville and Southern Indiana arts scene. “It’s not so much about being super competitive, because. we’ve all sorta found our niche and we fill that well,” he said. “The amount of theatre options we have for people in a city of this size is amazing. But, there are things that set us apart from the Louisville arts scene.  Of course, we are proud to be in Southern Indiana. We have free parking. We feed you. We entertain you.  Our price point is so remarkable and a great value. Derby Dinner Playhouse offers a complete experience and is a full evening for less than you’d pay just to see a show in downtown Louisville.”

“I’d put the quality of our actors, professional staff and shows up against anyone,” he added. “We’ve reached the point now that the quality you see at Derby Dinner Playhouse is the same as the quality at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, Actors Theatre, Pandora or anywhere in the area.”

The anniversary season will be bittersweet, following the recent passing of Bekki Jo Schneider. “One of the things she said to me before she died was, ‘I want you to take this theatre and move it forward,’” said Buckholz. “I took that to heart. While the 45th anniversary will be a love letter to Bekki’s life, it’s also Derby Dinner’s new steps forward.  It will be easy to celebrate her instead of being melancholy. She would want a good show. We’re not looking to change the world, we’re looking to entertain.  And, that’s what we are going to do.”

Gary Burghoff

Gary Burghoff


A minute with Lee Buckholz, producer and artistic director, on the 45th anniversary season at Derby Dinner Playhouse.


LEE BUCKHOLZ: “This show is so funny and harkens back to good, old southern women.”
A laugh-a-minute comedy about four Southern women, all needing to escape their day-to-day routines, who are drawn together by fate – and an impromptu happy hour.
MAY 22 – JUNE 30


BUCKHOLZ: “How fun is this? This is a show for kids and kids at heart. Everyone loves Shrek.”
Everyone’s favorite ogre is back in the hilarious fairy tale adventure based on the Oscar-winning, smash hit film.
JULY 3 – AUG.18


BUCKHOLZ: “This will be fantastic. It’s a bit of a jukebox musical but plays so well and brings back so many great memories.” 

Broadway’s hit rock n’ roll musical inspired by the electrifying true story of four young musicians who gathered at Sun Records for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions ever.
AUG. 21 – SEPT. 29


BUCKHOLZ: “Everyone loves a mystery, and this one has great, smart writing and comedic moments. It’s a fun take on a classic story.” 

Sherlock Holmes is on the case and must crack the mystery of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” before a family curse dooms its newest heir. A murderously funny adventure!
OCT. 2 – NOV. 10, 2019


BUCKHOLZ: “Elf is going to blow the doors off this theatre. It’s a huge, fun, show, with a big cast. If you loved the movie, you will love this show. It’s a blockbuster.”

Based on the hit movie, “Elf” is the hilarious tale of Buddy, a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole.
NOV. 13 – DEC. 31


BUCKHOLZ: “It’s been about 10 years since we’ve done this show, and we have many cast members returning for this super fun show.”

This hit Broadway comedy is filled with chaos, matchmaking, and mayhem!
JAN. 8, 2020 – FEB. 16, 2020


BUCKHOLZ: “We’ve wanted to do this show since it became available several years ago. It has been rewritten several times as it was performed across the country and we’re at a point right now where the rewrite is great. And, the music in it – just, wow.”

This energetic musical adaptation of the ’70s classic film is the story of a talented, streetwise kid from Brooklyn who attempts to escape his dead-end life through dancing. Featuring many disco-era hits by the Bee Gees.
FEB. 19, 2020 – MARCH 29, 2020


BUCKHOLZ: “I just love a great big, classic musical and this is one of my favorites. There’s so much in this Broadway revival: great costumes, fantastic tapping, and, you can’t go wrong with Cole Porter.”

Music, dance, laughs, and the age-old tale of Boy Meets Girl. A hilarious shipboard romp wrapped around one of Cole Porter’s most magical scores. Critics call it “A delightful, delicious and de-lovely Broadway musical!”
APRIL 1, 2020 – MAY 17, 2020

Derby Dinner Playhouse

525 Marriott Drive

Run for Your Wife

Run for Your Wife

Web of Murder

Web of Murder

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid


More than OK

More than OK

On a cross country road trip, just wanting to get through the state of Oklahoma on a trip out west, we randomly pulled off the highway and into a state park to sleep. We had no expectations of the state and was in a hurry to get through it painlessly. Upon waking we were met with the most beautiful and wonderful surprise. Red Rock Canyon State Park was the first of many incredible sights in Oklahoma. I had similar expectations about the musical, set over a hundred years ago and wondering what relevance it could have for me. Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production of Oklahoma was similarly full of beauty and surprise. The seventy-eight-year-old Pulitzer prize winning Rogers and Hammerstein musical is timeless in its universal themes of love and jealousy, intrigue and danger set in the Oklahoma territory in the time leading up to statehood. The director addressed the audience before the play began relating the themes of warring cowboys and farmers in Oklahoma to the world today at large and the need for people with different backgrounds to find common ground and work together, regardless of what you believe or who you love. That statement resonated through the cornfields and the prairie in the love story of Curly and Laurey (Ryan Skerchak and Kaitlyn Sage), and the anger and rage of Jud (played menacingly by Bobby Conte), whose powerhouse voice filled the playhouse. Aunt Eller (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) is the elderly, wise matriarch of the little town outside of Claremont, Oklahoma. Played with wit and humor expertly by Mandi Elkins Hutchins, last seen as a gorgeous and flamboyant divorcee in Mamma Mia. Derby Dinner Playhouse consistently does so many things right from the plentiful salad bar and delicious buffet to the dessert selection. Southern home cooking featuring fried chicken and fish, turkey tetrazzini and carved ham and turkey with all the fixings was almost enough to fill us up, but the temptation was too great to not partake of a new dessert item, the pecan pie cake. The theatre attracts amazing talent as servers who double as footnotes, opening the show and showcasing desserts, drinks and future shows. Some of the servers pull triple duty as footnotes and cast members and never miss a beat in any of them. Oklahoma is chock full of traditional folk type music, Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, square dancing and even lasso tricks all performed exceptionally well. Combined with authentic period costuming, the viewers are transported to a different time in American life. Aesthetically, my favorite part of Derby Dinner Productions are the creative uses of space and set design. Theatre in the round presents unique opportunities for set pieces. The audience was literally on Aunt Eller’s porch and in the blink of an eye (with the help of creative lighting and dropped set pieces) we found ourselves transported to Jud’s frightening and steamy smokehouse. Corn stalks appeared and disappeared from the ceiling and lighting let us know that Laurey was having an intense, dark dream about Jud and Curly. One of my favorite moments came just as Laurey inhaled the smelling salts that would give her the answers she was seeking. Illuminated by a spot light as the rest of the stage slowly melted away in darkness, Laurey reaches back before sleeping. Her pose struck me as an exact replica of a favorite famous painting, Christina’s world by Andrew Wyeth. It was either an incredible coincidence or a bit of directing brilliance. I tend to

think the latter, as so much of Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production was brilliant. Like the diverse and wonderful state, the musical astonishes and delights from one end to the other.

Oklahoma runs through May 27, 2018 For show times and ticket information visit https://derbydinner.com

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive, Clarksville IN 47129

Derby Dinner Does It Right

1By JD Dotson | Photos by Christian Watson & JD Dotson

Open for nearly 45 years, Derby Dinner

Playhouse remains the only dinner theater of its

type in the Louisville/Southern Indiana region.

The theater in the round setup immerses the

audience in the action. There is not a bad seat in

the house, with actors entering and exiting the

centrally-located stage through the audience.

The shows range from huge Broadway mega-hits

to children’s programming, holiday favorites and

lighthearted comedies and musical acts.

I recently had the great pleasure of seeing

“Mamma Mia!” this season, a musical set to the

infectious music of Abba and was completely

amazed at what a brilliant production I witnessed.

The music and dancing had me singing along and

tapping my feet the whole time. Some of those

Abba songs are still stuck in my head.

I brought my hubby along, and we started out

with dinner, which is served buffet style with a

salad bar. I felt it was my duty to try everything for

the sake of being thorough. My spinach salad was

fresh and delicious, and the salad bar was loaded

with toppings as well as broccoli and tomato/

cucumber salads. I have a strict rule to not fill up

on salad when a buffet is involved but made an

exception for the sake of journalism. The buffet

was equally delightful on my second trip. Fried

chicken, pasta, carved turkey, broccoli and rice,

and a baked potato, and being a serious member

of the clean-plate club, I filled up. Luckily, we held

off on dessert until intermission.

The pre-show entertainment, or FootNotes,

consists of a group of men and women serenading

the audience during their meal with classic

Broadway show tunes and dancing. Then: There’s

my server! He was just here at our table taking a

drink order and – all of a sudden – he was singing

and dancing on the stage.

Derby Dinner Playhouse 525 Marriott Drive Clarksville 812.288.8281 derbydinner.com

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive

The FootNotes are made up of talented

performers doing double duty entertaining and

simultaneously serving. Our server did such a

great job at both. In between songs, the FootNotes

introduce new dessert items on the menu and the

cocktail of the day. The preshow ends with plenty

of time for a run to the buffet one last time before

the main event.

The first act began, and the audience was

immediately thrown on the docks of Greek Isle,

or a prairie, or a battlefield, depending on the

production. You feel as if you’re in the middle of

the action. Oh, and there’s my server again! He

was just here a few minutes ago getting my drink

order. He was everywhere – a super talented singerdancer

and still right there if we needed anything.

Intermission came and so did pecan pie ala

mode and hummingbird cake. I am a fan of dessert

in general, and this dessert did not disappoint.

Fresh and delicious, my sweet tooth was satiated

just in time for Act 2.

I have driven cross country and through the

state of Oklahoma. Thanks to Derby Dinner

Playhouse, the musical (“Oklahoma”) is so much

more entertaining than the state.

Thanks to this local – albeit nationally-heralded

theater – I have watched it snow inside for the

stage version of my favorite holiday classic “White

Christmas,” relived my young adulthood singalongs

to Abba and been transported to a Greek Isle with

“Mamma Mia!” and went back to my childhood

with the “Sound of Music.”

Derby Dinner Playhouse continues to bring the

best performances to our community and beyond.

The acting, singing, dinner and dessert all combine

for a perfect evening.3

Derby Dinner Playhouse continues to bring the best

performances to our community – and beyond.


Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “OKLAHOMA!”

oklahoma-photo-2018Derby Dinner Playhouse will present Rodgers & Hammerstein’s timeless musical OKLAHOMA!, opening April 11 and running through May 27, 2018.  For ticket information please call 812-288-8281 or visit


OKLAHOMA! is set in the Western Indian Territory in 1907 and tells the romantic tale of farm girl Laurey and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly and the sinister and frightening farmhand Jud Fry.  This Broadway musical favorite brings the west alive with jubilant dance numbers, enchanting songs, and features some of the most memorable music ever written.  Musical highlights include “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin”, “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top”, “People Will Say We’re In Love”, “Kansas City”, and more!


OKLAHOMA! is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. It was Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first collaboration and remains their most innovative, having set the standards and established the rules of musical theatre still being followed today.  OKLAHOMA! debuted on Broadway in 1943 and the popular film version debuted in 1955, starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.


OKLAHOMA! is under the direction of Lee Buckholz with choreography by Heather Paige Folsom and Musical Direction by Scott Bradley.  The cast will include DDP newcomers Kaitlyn Sage as Laurey and Ryan Skerchak as Curly.  Other cast members are Matthew Brennan, Cami Glauser Bibelhauser, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Bobby Conte, and more!

Mamma Mia, Here I Go Again

Mamma Mia, Here I Go Again
By JD Dotson

It is, simply put, impossible to resist Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production of Mamma Mia, the 1999 hit musical set to the songs of ABBA. Everything about this production, including dinner, was perfection.

My husband and I started out with dinner – buffet style – and the salad bar. I felt it was my duty to try everything for the sake of being really thorough. My spinach salad was fresh and delicious, the salad bar was loaded with toppings as well as broccoli and tomato/cucumber salads. I have a strict rule to not fill up on salad when a buffet is involved but made an exception for the sake of journalism. The buffet was equally delightful on my second trip to it as it was on my first. Fried chicken, pasta, carved turkey, broccoli and rice and a baked potato, I worried that eating a huge meal like this would lull me to sleep. Mamma Mia is a musical that promises falling asleep is impossible. Also, we had dessert or pecan pie and hummingbird cake in our future during intermission.

It is fascinating how the songs of the Swedish pop band from the seventies combine together to tell a cohesive story. Mamma Mia tells the tale of the upcoming wedding of Sophie and Sky (Kayla Eilers and Nate Willey) on a tropical Greek Isle. Sophie’s mother, Donna (Jillian Prefach) runs the Taverna Resort, building the resort from the ground up while being a single mother. After finding Donna’s diary, Sophie invites three potential fathers, men from Donna’s past, to her wedding, unbeknownst to Donna.

In addition to American architect Sam (Stuart May), British banker Harry (Bobby Conte) and Australian adventurer Bill (Matthew Brennan), the wedding guests include Sky’s buddies/resort employees, Sophie’s girlfriends, and Donna’s best friends and former backup singers, the Dynamos: wealthy divorcee Tanya (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) and single, carefree Rosie (Elizabeth Loos). The men, all former lovers of Donna, were all under the impression they were the actual father of Sophie. Single Phil, former wildman turned banker Harry, and Donna’s true love Sam wove their stories and their loves through the songs of ABBA.

Being a longtime fan of ABBA, it was hard not to want to sing along and dance, but I wouldn’t want to take anything away from these amazing performances. Each actor did a great service to my memories of the band with wonderful voices. Sophie and Sky were perfectly cast, young, attractive kids in love and spent the pre-wedding nights in bachelor/bachelorette island partying amidst Sophie fretting about which invited guest was her father. The friends and islanders were such good energy, flipping and dancing all over the stage, popping in and out of windows set around the theatre and generally acting like young people celebrating upcoming nuptials, it was hard not to smile and sing along. Part of the magic of Derby Dinner Playhouse and theater in the round is the action is happening all around us, stage entrances and exits and every seat is a good seat in this theater. Derby Dinner does a phenomenal job of remembering where their audience is and playing to everyone. All of these performances were spot on, wonderfully acted, the choreography and stage direction were wonderful.

The main gist of the story is about the young kids getting married and finding out which man is giving the bride away. However, the scene stealing trio, the original Girl Power Group of Donna and the Dynamos, chewed up every scene they were in together. Donna, Tanya and Rosie had such great chemistry and comedic timing together, you really were transported to that Greek Isle and easily believed these women were the best of friends and realize the story is about much more.

I’ll refrain from sharing any spoilers, but I will say after everyone has taken their final bows and disappeared off the stage, the audience is given an enjoyable, unexpected surprise.

Whether you’ve never seen it or have watched the show in various forms a zillion times, you haven’t seen it like Derby Dinner does it.

Mama Mia runs through April 8. For show times and ticket information visit: https://derbydinner.com/show/mamma-mia/

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive

Press Release | Derby Dinner Playhouse will present the smash hit Broadway musical MAMMA MIA!

mama-mia-logoPRESS RELEASE
Clarksville, Indiana                                           FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Derby Dinner Playhouse will present the smash hit Broadway musical MAMMA MIA!, opening February 21 and running through April 8, 2018. For ticket information please call 812-288-8281 or visit derbydinner.com.

On a small Greek island, Sophie dreams of a perfect wedding — a dream that includes her father giving her away. The problem? Sophie doesn’t know who he is! Sneaking a peek in her mother’s old diaries, she discovers three possible fathers. She secretly invites all three to the wedding, convinced that she’ll know her father when she sees him. But when all three turn up, it may not be as clear as she thought! Told through the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs, MAMMA MIA! is a worldwide sensation that has audiences everywhere dancing.

MAMMA MIA!, with a book by Catherine Johnson and music and lyrics from Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, is a musical based around the music from the band, ABBA, of which Andersson and Ulvaeus were both members. Active between 1972 and 1982, the Swedish pop/dance group is one of the most popular international groups of all time. Memorable songs included in MAMMA MIA! are “Dancing Queen”, “Money, Money, Money”, “Take a Chance on Me”, “The Winner Takes It All”, and many more.

MAMMA MIA! is under the direction of Lee Buckholz with choreography by Heather Paige Folsom and Musical Direction by Scott Bradley. The cast will include Jillian Prefach, Kayla Eilers, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Elizabeth Loos, Matthew Brennan, Bobby Conte, and more.

This enchanting tale of love, laughter, and friendship features explosive dance numbers and a trip down the aisle you won’t soon forget!

Not Throwing Away My Shot

My experience auditioning for Derby Dinner Playhouse

BY REMY SISK | PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN WATSONscreen-shot-2018-01-31-at-4-22-05-pm

AS A MUSICAL THEATRE ACTOR in Kentuckiana, I have often wondered what it would be like to be on the stage of Derby Dinner Playhouse, the region’s preeminent dinner theatre.

The quality of Derby productions is always top-notch, from their technical production value to their supremely talented casts.

I’d thought about auditioning at Derby’s periodic open calls on multiple occasions, but for whatever reason – I thought I wasn’t good enough, I thought there wasn’t a role for me, etc. – I had backed out each time. However, at their recent January call, one of the auditionees was a semi-awkward 26-year-old tenor whose palms were sweaty and water bottle was almost empty upon arrival…in other words, it was me.

I have a problem that many musical theatre performers can likely relate to: I am not great at auditioning.

I can sing my song well, do my monologue proficiently and look natural the whole time while at home, with a coach or in the car, but the second you put me in front of a table of individuals judging my ability, I overthink the song, fumble the monologue and look uncomfortable doing both.

But this audition wasn’t for a smaller local company; it was for Derby Dinner Playhouse, a professional theatre where, if I were to be cast, I would be able to call myself a paid, working actor. With that knowledge, I resolved to make this audition my best in years.

Derby’s criteria for an audition is a one-minute monologue as well as 16 bars of music or one full song – both fairly standard.

My monologue choice was easy. I have one that I’ve used on a few different occasions, and I knew it was the one I wanted to perform. It’s from the groundbreaking play “The Laramie Project” and is spoken by a college student who recounts getting into an argument with his parents when he tells them he’ll be auditioning for “Angels in America.” The monologue fits me, as it’s meant for a younger actor, is a little awkward and goofy and also deals with some deep subject matter. I re-read it a couple times, made some new choices and it was ready to go. The song, on the other hand, was a much trickier selection.

Any musical theatre actor has their “book” or catalog of songs they’ve collected over the years that fit their voice well, show it off or are just particularly right for them.

I started looking through my book and couldn’t make a choice. “I’m Alive” from “Next to Normal” is usually my go-to, but I felt it wasn’t the fit for this audition. “Moving too Fast” from “The Last Five Years” was another option, but it also seemed wrong. “This World Will Remember Me” from “Bonnie & Clyde” almost became my selection, but Derby actually did that show not too long ago and I wanted to avoid comparisons. After further deliberation, I settled on “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin.” My only hesitation was that it can often be seen as an “overdone” audition song, but I knew it fit my voice and was an appropriate choice for the venue. Right or wrong, the decision was made.

I worked with a friend of mine who is also a vocal coach a few days before the big day, and we selected the portion of the song I’d be performing at the audition. Derby asks for 16 bars or one full song, and we both thought it safest to go with 16 bars to save myself from the possible embarrassment of being cut off mid-song. We tweaked a few things here and there, and the cut – the last minute or so of the revival version of “Corner in the Sky” – was as ready as it would ever be.

I started audition day at Please & Thank You (a coffee shop in Louisville) reading over my monologue and trying to keep my nerves from getting the best of me.

I swung by FedEx to pick up my resume and headshot before heading home to make possibly the hardest choice of the day: my audition outfit. I looked through button-downs, t-shirts, dress pants, jeans and, at long last, settled on an open-collar henley (Google it) and dark, skinny jeans. My “type” in musical theatre is usually on the edgier or rock side of things, so I wanted to give that off while also not looking like an actual rocker (my torn-up black jeans did almost make the cut, however).

Driving to Derby, I sang “Corner of the Sky” once, but knew I was just going to psych myself out if I beat it to death. So, as I crossed the Second Street Bridge in 30-degree weather, I threw the windows down and blasted David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise,” singing it all at the top of my lungs. Maybe not the most conventional audition prep, but it weirdly put me at ease.

I pulled up to the theater and walked into a room of about 30 other people, some of whom I knew. Many had traveled from hours away for the audition, and the ages spanned from teenagers to older adults. We were eventually ushered to Derby Dinner’s rehearsal hall, where Associate Producer Lee Buckholz and Director of Children’s Theatre/Performing Arts Academy Tina Jo Wallac were waiting for us.

Everything from there on was executed in the most professional manner with all instructions and information relayed in a manner that was both clear and kind. With an affable smile, Buckholz let us know that we would be coming in 10 at a time to sing 16 bars (if auditionees had prepared a full song, they now needed to select their best 16 bars) and then possibly perform their monologue if he and Wallace wanted to see more. The first group of 10 went in and, with almost no service on my phone, I was left with only my thoughts for 20 minutes or so.

I could’ve looked over my monologue or my song but decided to just trust that I had prepared all I could. I would go in and give it my best shot, knowing all the while that there’s nothing I could have done differently in advance. And even if I was going to mess up and botch the audition completely, the experience of auditioning for a professional theatre and putting myself out there would be gratifying enough.

They called the next 10, and in we went. We all took a seat and handed in our resumes. With that same genuine affability, Buckholz called us up one by one to show the accompanist our music cut and then do what we came here to do. I was called maybe seventh or eighth, so I had plenty of time to watch as several extremely talented individuals performed their songs and, in some cases, their monologues.

When he called my name, I handed my music to the pianist and took my spot on the X in front of Buckholz and Wallace. The room was massive with mirrored walls and high ceilings, and there I was alone in the middle of it with two people watching from 15 feet away. My only hope in that moment was that I wouldn’t mess my song up enough to not get to do my monologue. Admittedly, as someone who’s been in theatre for years, I understand that not being asked for the monologue doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want you – it just means they’ve seen “enough.” Nonetheless, I was confident about my monologue and very much wanted to be able to perform it.

The pianist gave me my starting note and off we went. Bizarrely, I actually felt comfortable singing the song. It went well, and – as far as I could tell – my high note at the end was on pitch. I finished, and by the grace of God heard the words, “Do you have a monologue?” I sure did and launched right into it. I thought I did it justice, and I even got some laughs from the other auditionees in the room. I finished that as well, sat back down and suddenly noticed my heart was racing. The adrenaline was surging strong, and I was thankful there were only a couple more to go in our group. While the next person was going over their music with the accompanist, a woman next to me leaned over and whispered, “That was fantastic!” It probably meant nothing to her, but her compliment made me feel so tremendously relaxed as I waited for us to be released.

Buckholz told us that as the choreographer was ill, there would be no movement call, so we were free to go. I walked outside across the snow-covered lawn to my car. Ordinarily, leaving an audition, I feel down on myself, frustrated with myself and annoyed with myself for my inability to do better. But, I left feeling positive, knowing that possibly for the first time in my life, my audition went as well as it could’ve gone. Now, that doesn’t mean I gave a Broadway-worthy audition, but I performed at a level I was proud of. I gave it my best shot in a supportive environment after preparing as much as I could without overdoing it, and whether or not I get called in for a show, that feeling made the whole experience more than worth it.

Interested in auditioning? 

Derby Dinner’s next open call is 1 p.m. Aug. 24 and no appointment is necessary. Just show up at the theater at 525 Marriott Drive in Clarksville and have a one-minute monologue memorized and 16 bars of music or one full song prepared (bring sheet music for the accompanist!). Be sure to bring a resume and headshot and be prepared for a dance combination to be taught. As Derby Dinner is a professional theatre, previous theatrical experience is required, and you must have availability to rehearse in the day and perform at night. 

For more information visit derbydinner.com or contact Annie Myers at amyers@derbydinner. com or 812.288.2632 ext. 114.