"The early bird gets the worm" may sound trite, but nonunion actor Savannah Frazier can attest to the truth of that cliché after her experience at an open call for "From the Fire," an hourlong oratorio dramatizing the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.
Frazier arrived at Pearl Studios in Manhattan around 4 a.m. on May 3 to sign up to audition for the nonunion national tour of "Fiddler on the Roof." She remembered reading in Back Stage that auditions for "From the Fire" were being held next door at Ripley-Grier Studios that afternoon, so she took advantage of the extra time before her "Fiddler" audition at 10 a.m. and made hers the first name on the sign-up sheet for "From the Fire."
Frazier was just days away from graduating from the two-year conservatory program at New York's American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where students are encouraged to audition in the morning before attending classes later that day. "I love auditioning," she says, "even if it's something that I know I'm not exactly right for. Maybe they're not going to cast me, but I love to audition. It's seriously one of my favorite things to do."
The young actor was especially interested in "From the Fire," because of its historical subject matter and the reputation of composer Elizabeth Swados. The show had a successful one-week run in April to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event, but some roles were being recast after the project was accepted to the 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Frazier impressed Swados enough to be cast as Alta, a character based on a 16-year-old seamstress who worked and died in the factory.
"I was excited to use the music and use Alta's voice to really define her," Frazier says. "I hope that I found the truth of her, because she was a real person. After I sang, [Swados] said, 'That's the first time I've heard my song sung the way I wanted to hear it sung.' That was super exciting."
"Savannah is very versatile, so we tried her out with several different roles," says musical director Kris Kukul, who worked with actors at the callbacks. "She did well with all of them, but in the end no other actor matched Alta's sense of ambition, practicality, and inner life quite like Savannah."
Kukul was looking for strong singers who could portray immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York City and trusted that Frazier would be a good fit with the rest of the cast. "Savannah had all of those qualities," he says. "She nailed it right away."
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