What was lacking in talent was replaced with enthusiasm last week as some 200 college students from Northern Virginia and other communities competed in auditions at American University for a chance to spend the summer performing at Disneyland and Disney World.
"It's our big chance, Katy. The lights, the stars, Los Angeles, Miami," a University of Maryland coed teased her roommate.
"Lights my eye," the roommate grimaced. "We should be back studying for our history exam."
And one more time the slightly chubby college freshmen ran through the next five minutes.
Most college students have dismissed the world of Disney as part of their past, tucked away in the attic with the plastic mouse ears. The students auditioning Thursday regarded Disney productions as an opportunity to break into the entertainment field at best; a ticket to an exciting summer, at least.
The halls of the music department at American University were packed with young college hopefuls anxious to attract the eye of the Disney scouts, on the lookout for talented kids who could hold a note, whip through a fast-paced musical comedy type dance routine or perform a clean riff on bass, horns, drums and piano.
"Do you hear that, he's making him do a drum roll," whispered Mike Azzara, a George Mason freshman, ear against the audition room, a bit pale after four hours waiting for a chance to show his stuff on the drums.
"So what, you can do a drum roll, can't ya?" said his companion, Jim McGiffin, another George Mason freshman who had come to audition on bass guitar.
"Sure I can, no problem. I just didn't practice that particular kind of roll." He sat down on the cement floor, batting his drum sticks against the cinderblock wall.
"No. 51, on the stage please. No. 52, prepare for performance," droned Larry Boye, the music coordinator of the Disney audition team. "One minute for your song, then on with the dance number."
He appeared to be steeling himself for hours more of evaluating these three-minute song and dance combinations in rapid-fire succession.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, freshmen, sophomores and juniors from colleges and universities in virginia, Maryland, the District and elsewhere displayed their talent, or lack of it, for the Disney team.
Some drove for hours from places like Pennsylvania State in State College, Pa., or Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. For others it was only a hop to AU from Georgetown University, George Washington University, Northern Virginia Community College or the University of Maryland. Regarless of the time spent travelling, all faced hours of waiting before they could perform individually.
By the time they had their chance, some ran from the stage in fright, others stuttered through long-practiced songs like "Promises, Promises," "Born Free" or "Singing in the Rain." A few glided through their numbers with barely a flaw. Despite the varying quality of the performances, the Disney evaluators and other auditioners gave each a ringing round of applause.
Why the attraction for performing in Disney productions, hardly what some aspiring to the stage would compare to a chance at summer stock, or taking to the road on a night club circuit?
"I'll probably end up being an accountant," said Mike Azzara, who is majoring in business and a member of the school's jazz ensemble. "But I sure wouldn't mind a shot at being a drummer in Vegas, and a chance to perform anywhere is just that - a chance you can't afford to miss."
Jim McGiffin, who is a music major at George Mason, added: "If nothing more, this is a chance at auditioning, an opportunity to see how you stack up against others like you. Even if the Disney people didn't look at me twice, I'd come away today with something."
"Yeah," Azzara snickered, "Your guitar."
For those students lucky or striking enough to be chosen by the Disney representatives, (none will know until they receive form letters in March) the payoff in Anaheim, Calif. or Disney World near Miami, performing for thousands of visitors to the entertainment centers and studying the entertainment field under professional actors, directors, producers and musicians in the Disney Entertainment Work Experience Program.
But their chances are extremely slim, as all knew all too well.
The auditioning team, from the entertainment and educational divisions of Disney Productions, Inc., is touring 14 major cities through March 8, auditioning more than 3,000 college youths for 84 positions in the Disney All-American College Marching Band, the All-American College Singers and two eight-piece backup rock bands.
The team began auditions Feb. 11 in Chicago for two days, then went on to New York for two days. Washington was the third stop on the tour, which also will cover Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Kansas City, Houston, Provo, Utah, Seattle and Los Angeles, among other cities.
"We call it gold mining," explained Disney choreographer Marilyn Magness, who herself started with Disney through the work experience program. "You go through all these kids then all of a sudden one shining star steps out and makes your whole day."
"Sometimes it's really sad to have to turn away so many kids," she continued. "They try so hard; they put everthing they have into the auditions."
"That's right," added another Disney representative. "It's a real shame, some of these kids have gorgeous voices and they're real klutzes on their feet.We need both."
Those chosen for the program will be given a $1,000 stipend and free lodging for the 10-week period and divide their days into five hours performing and three hours studying under professionals, a Disney spokesman said. Former teachers in the program, in existence since 1971, have included actors Jack Lemmon and Paul Winfield, director Edward Champion and producer Joe Csida.
"If nothing else, I'd meet a lot of contacts at Disney," said an 18-year-old pre-med student from George Washington University. "Some of these college performers now are going to be professionals later and it doesn't hurt to get your name known around those circles in this business."
He sounded a high C on his French horn and took another long gulp from the water fountain. "No, it certainly doesn't hurt at all."