In the large backstage room at Salado’s rustic Goodnight Amphitheater on Saturday afternoon, it was standing room-only — and these were actors, not an audience.

Anticipation hummed right along with the electric fans while parents watched as 30-plus hopefuls gave cold readings from the script of “A Christmas Carol,” the next big show at Tablerock Festival.

Shannon Ashe, a seven-year Tablerock veteran, is reprising her directorial duties for the second time. “I’ve been here seven years,” she said, “and I’ve played Mrs. Cratchit before, too.”

Surveying the packed backstage area, she noticed “a lot of new faces” at this open audition. “And that’s good, because we need 35 in the cast: men, women and kids.”

In addition to the actors required for “A Christmas Carol,” volunteers are being cast for Tablerock’s Halloween Fright Trail, held Oct. 26-27 along the site’s half-mile walking trail. Billed as “frightful fun for the whole family,” it will include scary stories from literature, legend, music and movies. The event has a proven track record with Central Texas thrill-seekers and many of those auditioning said they hoped to be chosen for the cast.

“This play is really a fun activity,” Ashe said. “For some of the kids it’s a way to get community service recognition and they’ll receive credit for participation.”

The children’s theater grapevine has hummed with news of the Tablerock audition, alerting parents and child actors.

“We were actually invited by one of the moms from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Temple Civic Theatre,” Alicia Phipps said. “My daughter auditioned today for Christmas Past and she had a great time.”

The children were handed scripts as their names were called to mount the modest raised platform that served as the audition stage. After a brief description of the scene by Ashe, each auditionee was cued to recite the role’s lines with one or more of the other characters chiming in. Some of the participants were area theater veterans, like Nick Lopez, fresh from last month’s “9 to 5 the Musical” at Killeen’s Vive Les Arts Theatre and male lead in Tablerock’s “Salado Legends” this summer.

Ashe gently reminded her young actors of theater fundamentals. “Go ahead, speak up,” she encouraged a petite 11-year-old girl. “You’re saying it fine; we just need to hear you better.”

The room is silent except for the air rushing through the fans, and after another try the lines are spoken more loudly. There’s an abundance of empathy in this audience and applause erupts.

“There are some seasoned actors,” Ashe said. “They know to come to both audition days because they get a second chance and the director will be likely to remember them better. But we always have newbies that are a surprise and wonderful.”

Jeff Sims, 11 and a sixth-grader, has a lengthy history on this stage and in this play. “He played Tiny Tim for the first two years,” his mom, Rayanne Sims, said. “Then he was too big, so he was a caroler his third year, Boy Scrooge last year and this time he tried out for Peter.”

Jeff has no reservations about being onstage: “Being at Tablerock is actually pretty fun. I like it here — it just feels like home.”

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