It’s a centuries-old theatrical tradition: On Mondays, the house is dark. But at Temple Civic Theatre, Monday evening finds the lights on, the lobby warm and the auditorium alive with more than 20 animated women as open auditions for “Steel Magnolias” begin.

“I really appreciate everyone coming out on such a cold night,” said Leon Perkins, director. A retired librarian with a degree in theater, Perkins is pleased with the turnout. “We had 15 actresses last night, too, and with 20 here tonight — that’s good.”

Six roles will be cast for the durable Southern-based comedy-drama — all women.

“The only male voice heard is the DJ on the radio,” Perkins said.

The play tells the story of three years in the lives of Louisiana friends and is set in the local beauty parlor where they gather.

Though the main storyline focuses on Shelby and her medical trials, her mother, M’Lynn, and the group’s underlying friendship form the dramatic arc of the production.

The women vying for roles are a study in contrasts — the characters vary in age from 20 to 60.

Perkins and stage manager Sam Wilds arranged the sign up sheets and distributed scripts to each auditionee, and it’s apparent that most of the women have a familiarity with the book.

“Many come tonight with a specific role in mind,” Perkins said, “and that’s OK. I’ll listen to them and we’ll see how it goes. This is a charming play with wonderful lines.”

Casting roles

What does this director look for at auditions?

“First, if they can relate to the characters and show their emotions. Second, stage presence — does the actor fill up the room, get your attention? Third, technique — body language and vocal projection. We won’t be using body mikes or any amplification.”

Playwright Robert Harling’s original off-Broadway staging used only one set — the beauty parlor — and the solitary set along with simple lighting design helped “Steel Magnolias,” with its minimal technical requirements, become a staple on the community theater circuit.  Of course, the play’s Broadway run, numerous international productions and two feature films didn’t hurt, either.

“I follow along watching the movie with my script in hand,” said Marissa Hunt, 25, from Harker Heights, who’s a first-timer at the Temple theatre. “A lot of it’s the same, but it does veer off at times.”

A Baylor grad, Hunt originally majored in vocal performance, switching to nursing for more economic security. As for the audition: “I have my sights set on Shelby.”

Kathryn Hermans, of Temple, said her decision to try out was spur-of-the-moment. “I did ‘Bye, Bye Birdie’ a few summers ago, my friends were coming tonight and I thought it would be fun.”

After working in onstage ensembles, smaller groups rehearsed in rooms off the lobby until called back into the auditorium. Winning the audition also means a considerable time investment — six weeks of rehearsals and performances with opening night on Valentine’s Day — all at volunteer pay scale — free.

But that didn’t seem to matter to the hopefuls at the theatre on Monday.

Hunt sees it as a matter of destiny: “I am a Shelby at heart. I love pink and I have that Southern sass and spark — I am ready.”

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