Role: Understudy for Rolf
Project: Asian tour of ‘The Sound of Music’

Christopher Ketner

Christopher Ketner

Even though he was called in to audition for the wrong role, Christopher Ketner was cast in Troika Entertainment’s international touring production of The Sound of Music thanks to his savvy approach to auditioning, a winning personality, and a bit of deception.

Ketner, a senior at New York University, saw a casting notice for an Asian tour of The Sound of Music in a December 2007 issue of Back Stage, but he couldn’t attend the open call due to a scheduling conflict. He noticed that Dallett Norris, a friend and colleague of William Wesbrooks, the head of Ketner’s NYU program, was listed as the production’s director, and he decided to pull a few strings by asking Wesbrooks for a recommendation. “It was kind of stepping over my boundaries a little bit to go ask my program director if his friend would give me an audition,” Ketner admits. “And Bill was kind of like, ‘Yeah, sure, you would be a great Uncle Max — someday. But you’re not ready to play that role yet.’ ”

Sure enough, Ketner got a call from Dave Clemmons Casting asking him to audition — for Max. In the casting breakdown, Max Detweiler was described as a rascally impresario in his 30s or 40s with a baritone voice. Ketner, a then-21-year-old blond, blue-eyed tenor, saw himself more as Rolf, a German youth with Aryan features, but decided to go for it anyway.

“When he walked in the room,” says casting director Joy Dewing, “immediately I crossed off Max and wrote Rolf on his audition sheet. He had that sort of Nazi youth look that we were going for.”

Luckily, Ketner had predicted this and prepared audition material for Rolf as well. When asked to sing another selection, he pretended to be unfamiliar with the song “You Are Sixteen” — “Who doesn’t know that song?” he now asks incredulously — to buy himself extra time in the audition room, during which the director and casting director saw the talent and personality they needed to cast him as Rolf’s understudy.

Ketner took time off from school to tour China with The Sound of Music for about six months, from last March to August, and is now completing his senior year at NYU, where he is studying music theatre at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. As part of the curriculum, students are required to attend three professional auditions per semester. But being a student can sometimes get in the way of landing a professional gig. For example, Ketner had already auditioned for Norwegian Cruise Line and received a callback before his Sound of Music audition, but they lost interest when they discovered he was a student.

Thankfully, Dewing didn’t have the same preconceptions. She says a casting director’s job is to focus on finding the right talent for a role, then leave it up to student and faculty to decide whether the young actor is ready for the commitment.

“The reason I took this job,” Ketner says, “is because my two biggest passions are acting and traveling. So any chance that I have to get paid to perform and see the world, I’m going to jump on it. From now on, if I see anything in Back Stage that says ‘Asia tour,’ I’m going to go to the audition with my bags packed and be like, ‘I’m ready.’ ”

This “Who Got the Part?” column was published in the Feb. 26-March 4, 2009 issue of Back Stage and online at BackStage.com.

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