Fear and foreboding go hand in hand with the specter of Count Dracula, and in the darkened Temple Civic Theatre, 18 hopeful actors know that feeling only too well.

“It’s my first audition ever,” Melissa Anchando said. “It’s a little scary, but really interesting to see the other actors onstage.”

And that’s new for TCT, too: this audition for “Count Dracula”, the first helmed by new artistic director John Monteverde, is open — instead of waiting in the lobby to be called, all of the men and women are seated in the theater.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” said Martha Clark of Belton. “Everyone is watching, which was different, but you can steal ideas from the other actors trying out, too.” Clark, a self-confessed “theater geek since high school,” is familiar with both the Bram Stoker version as well as the Ted Tiller play being produced currently. An English teacher at Killeen High School, she has appeared on the TCT stage before and said that Monteverde’s auditions were “more professional, more intense” than her past experiences.

It’s obvious that empathy is one of Monteverde’s strong suits. Taking center stage just before the auditions officially begin, he smiles and addresses the participants. “We’re reading — you needn’t worry about a British accent,” and several actors release their breath in a relieved sigh. As the first scene opens with a blood-curdling, offstage “full horror show scream,” he cautions his female actors to “protect your voice — don’t overdo it.”

After a rather tentative run-through, Monteverde coaches the actors: “Gaze into his eyes, intently — and try it again.” The white-knuckle anxiety level drops, and TCT stage manager Jacob Duncan points out one of the director’s strengths: “John has that ability to put people at ease very quickly. You can see how engaging he is with the actors.”

“Auditions are odd animals,” Duncan said. “You never know who or what’s going to show up or how it’s going to go. We’ve gotten great talent from outlying areas: Cameron, Belton, Killeen, Salado.”

The parts to be cast are two females, age mid-20s and late 40s and seven male roles ranging from 20s to 50s. The final open audition is at 4 p.m. Saturday at TCT. Actors will be asked to read excerpts from the “Count Dracula” script. A detailed list of character descriptions is posted at www.ArtsTemple.com.

“When we speak about ages during an audition,” Monteverde said, “it’s not a person’s actual physical age, but how he or she could appear onstage with the proper make-up, costumes and lighting.”

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