Austin Colby (’11) sat outside an audition room in New York City, nervous and wondering if this would be his last time. He’d been here before — eight times to be exact — but this time felt different. He was auditioning for the part of Hans in the first “Frozen” national Broadway tour, and the number of contenders kept dwindling with each callback. While he didn’t want to get his hopes up too high, he was definitely starting to get optimistic.
“To make it to the eighth audition, I was thinking, ‘Oh man, I’m starting to get really excited about the potential of having this job, and it’s going to hurt even more if I’ve gone to eight auditions and don’t get it,’” Colby said. “But luckily, I did.”
He remembered one of his first musical auditions, for JMU’s production of “City of Angels.” He’d only ever done choir auditions before, where a full tuxedo was the standard attire, and assumed that musical auditions would run similarly. What he said he didn’t know at the time was that he was a tad overdressed.
On the other side of the “City of Angels” audition panel was Kate Arrechi, a JMU professor of musical theatre and the director of the show. Arrechi, now the acting dean for the School of Theatre and Dance, said she remembers that Colby made a strong first impression.
“When he first walked in, I expected that if he wanted to do this professionally, then he certainly had the talent, and then, as I saw his work ethic, the skills to be successful,” Arrechi said. “It’s just been really exciting to watch him apply all of that and just be so successful.”
Colby’s been singing from a young age, and as he got older, he began pursuing theater as a hobby. Once he got to college, he knew he wanted to become a vocal music education major. He performed in JMU choirs and, during his sophomore year, made that first step into the audition room for musicals. He loved it so much, he said, that he continued returning the following semesters — this time without the tuxedo.
David Newman is an instructor and voice teacher in the school of music. Colby was one of his first voice students at the school, and he remembers the work ethic and energy Colby brought to lessons every week.
“I definitely enjoyed him as a student,” Newman said. “He was one of those students who you loved to teach because they want to do it well so badly. I think less with the classical stuff, but he was one of those people who really wants to know how it works, wants to make it work as well as it can and knew how to work towards his goals.”
After graduating from JMU, Colby worked at regional theaters mostly around Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. He said he continued working on developing his skill because the world he’d entered is tough and full of rejection. The only way to be successful, he said, is to try to find the little victories in every audition and continue to work toward one’s strengths.
“As a musical theater actor, the job is auditioning,” Colby said. “The chance to do a show or perform is the reward. You really have to make peace with auditioning, getting used to rejection and learning from every audition.”
After about three years of performing on the regional circuit, Colby decided the next step in his career would be to make the big move to New York City. Before finding a permanent home, he spent about a month there, auditioning every day for new projects and agencies.
While each of those auditions may have ended with a “no,” Colby was able to secure a contract with Kazarian, Measures, Ruskin and Associates agency. It’s helped him find new auditions, one of which was the first Frozen National Tour set to take place later this month.
Colby began the audition process for the “Frozen” tour last year. After nine rounds of auditions over more than six months, he found out he was cast as Hans. While it was an extensive process, he said he’s seen the rewards in rehearsals as he’s worked with the rest of the cast.
“They took their time to collect this cast, and I think they found the best of the best,” Colby said. “The amount of talent in this production is pretty remarkable, and I think this country is in for a treat. I think this show is already good, but I think this cast takes it to a new level, and I’m excited to share that.”
Colby’s toured on a smaller scale before but has never been a part of a tour of this magnitude. One of the most notable aspects of the tour is that it’ll be the first time he’s in a production alongside his wife, Caroline Bowman, who’ll play Elsa. He said he felt eager to be able to grow alongside her in the upcoming production.
“Some people say actors shouldn’t date actors,” Colby said. “I think that’s up to you, but I find that it’s been so beneficial. Now, to work with her, we try not to talk too much about work when we’re at home, but I think I’m falling more in love with Caroline, watching her work, and I didn’t know that was possible.”
As the dates for the show creep closer, Colby said he’s thrilled to see all the cast and production team’s hard work come to fruition. He’s slated for at least a year of performing with the tour, landing in a new city roughly every month — including Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles — with Bowman and their dog, Kodak. After that year, the future is unknown, Colby said, but no matter what it brings, he’ll continue to always work toward that next audition.
“I had to learn pretty quickly; in this industry, you can’t make too many plans about the future,” Colby said. “You can put things out in the universe and hope for different projects and train and work really hard for those projects, but there’s only so much that you have control over. It’s just doing your training and being ready when the opportunity and that audition comes.”
Contact Camryn Finn at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.