For many people, the beginning of a new year kicks off with a fresh start. Some invest in gym memberships while others aim to learn a new skill. However, some make it their goal to reignite the flame of their old passions. For junior English major Haley Brandt and graduate student Jack Nichting, the new year brought an opportunity to get back into theater with an impromptu trip to New York City to audition for “RENT."
Brandt and Nichting’s love story began at Menchville High School in Newport News, Virginia, where then-freshman Brandt met then-junior Nichting through show choir. They’ve been a couple for almost six years.
Jennifer Jarrett, the choir director at Menchville, got to see the relationship unfold and has fond memories of teaching Brandt and Nichting. Arriving at Menchville when Nichting was a junior and Brandt was a freshman, Jarrett had the opportunity to work alongside them, watching them both as soloists in show choir and Brandt as the lead in the school’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“They were two great students,” Jarrett said. “Jack has a huge personality and Haley grew into a huge personality.”
Both Brandt and Nichting developed a passion for performing at a young age. Brandt did theater throughout high school. For Nichting, theater was a way he bonded with his mother as a child, from playing soundtracks to shows around the house to attending performances in London while they lived in Europe.
While theater has always been something Brandt and Nichting loved, the idea to head to New York to audition for a show didn’t enter their heads until recently.
“I was looking online on Backstage, which is this website that has auditions and stuff, and I saw this,” Brandt said. “I think I told [Jack] as kind of a joke, ‘Hey, there are ‘RENT’ auditions on Jan. 3. We should go up because anyone can go,’ and he was like, ‘OK, let’s actually do it.’”
The couple found out about the auditions Dec. 28, and after discussing the possibility of making the trip, they made plans on New Year’s Day to head to the auditions.
“I really wanted to go, but Haley wasn’t sure if she was able to go,” Nichting said. “And then on Monday, Haley was like, ‘You know what, let’s do it,’ so we just planned it, booked it and went.”
The couple’s audition for “RENT” marks their first big audition for any show. They decided to make the trip to begin 2018 with adventure.
“We wanted to start the year off doing something, like, kind of fun and just crazy for ourselves,” Brandt said.
That night, Brandt and Nichting booked a pair of bus tickets and made the overnight trip on Jan. 2. Brandt had her audition the following morning and slept on the bus in a valiant effort to rest up for the important day ahead. Arriving without any expectations, the pair decided to shoot for any role they could get.
While Brandt says stepping into the audition as a first-timer in a room full of seasoned actors was certainly nerve-wracking, she maintains that everyone was supportive and the experience wasn’t at all as menacing as she first believed.
“Everybody I talked to was really nice and I even said to some people, ‘Yeah, like this is my first audition like this of any sort,’ and they thought it was so cool,” Brandt said. “But yeah, it was kind of fun like listening to people talk to each other about like all the things that they do … It really wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be.”
The spontaneity of the trip made for a whirlwind week for Brandt and Nichting. While stressful, being together made the audition process extremely special for them.
“I think it’s a lot easier knowing that I have somebody here with me,” Brandt said. “I think it’d be a lot scarier by myself, just because Jack is really good at calming me down when I get worked up about things. And it’s just funny because we’ve been together for almost six years ... we did show choir together — it’s like coming full circle almost.”
For Nichting, being with his significant other gave him plenty of opportunities to practice, and he appreciates Brandt’s patience throughout the process.
“It is definitely really nerve-wracking, and with Haley, I always forget my words a lot,” Nichting said. “I just always forget words, and so throughout the day, I would just stop Haley and just sing the words to her. She would [hear it] probably 30 times. She’s really the only person that would embrace the same thing getting sung in her face 30 times.”
While the trip seemed daunting to make in such a short period of time, Brandt was surprised by the simplicity of the process. Rehearsals for the show don’t begin until May, and Nichting believes they should hear about callbacks by April. After going through this crazy experience, the couple committed to doing things like this more often.
“I always thought about things like this as being very difficult to go do, but I mean, we got a bus overnight for like $50, and we just showed up,” Brandt said. “It’s definitely way easier than people think it is and it’s really fulfilling knowing that you’ve done something for yourself and something you really enjoy.”
CORRECTION (1/15 at 1:37 p.m.): Brandt and Nichting auditioned for the "RENT" Nonunion National Tour through Work Light Productions LLC. A previous version of the article said the couple auditioned for a Broadway production of "RENT."
Contact Abby Church at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.