Scarecrow: Finding His Confidence

With a boyish grin, Kevin Clay signed up for an audition slot for Westfield High School's production of "The Wiz".

"I'm just hoping to get in. Being a freshmen and everything you know," he said. "There are 70 seniors, so there's competition."

Many of the 105 teenagers who are auditioning today have intensive acting and dance training. Some can sight read a musical score, a skill they acquired taking choral class and private music lessons.

Others, like Kevin, even have professional experience on stage.

Eager Scarecrows are sprawled all throughout the auditorium, practicing their moves. In the original "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," by L. Frank Baum, the two-day-old Scarecrow tells Dorothy that he is desperately seeking the brain he lacks.

Each teen knows the back story, and has an intricate philosophy about what motivates the charming, but ostensibly brainless character.

When Gangly is Good

With his tawny hair and long, gangly legs, 16-year-old Russell Wagoner is the incarnation of the Ozian character.

"The Scarecrow is all about having naïve fun. He's a hard character to develop. There are two main dimensions," he said. "You have to realize that you have to be smart but you have to pretend you can't realize it. So I have to be clumsy and puppy dog still new on his feet, but there's actually meaning to what the character says."

And with that, Wagoner – who told ABC News that it's critical to always stay in character – staggered awkwardly away, practicing his best Scarecrow walk.

Nate Peterson, vice president of his class and Lion-wannabe, says he would never audition for the role.

"His song is really high so he's sort of effeminate," he said. "The scarecrow is the closest to girls in terms of sexuality. That's why he's so close to Dorothy. He's the metrosexual and, as such, is going to get along better with the girl."

That effeminate quality may be attracting some unlikely candidates. Two girls are interested auditioning for the role.

"It's a guy, but it's my favorite role," Kyla Waitt said. "I think because the Scarecrow is kind of like me. Like falls around and I like to fall on the ground."

Brittany Martin, a bubbly senior with a zany sense of humor, said that she doesn't have a chance. "I really wanted to audition for the Scarecrow. But I think Mr. Pafumi wants to cast a male," she said, pirouetting away.

Choices, Choices

Garrett Henson, a veteran with the Westfield High School theater department, is auditioning with the Scarecrow song "I was Born on the Day Before Yesterday," but still has not decided which role he really wants.

"I'm auditioning for a whole bunch of parts. I really want the Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tinman or the Wizard. I want a lead," he said. "It's my senior year and it's a big thing for me so I just really want a lead this year."

Henson is considered to be one of the "triple threats" at Westfield High with a trio of talents: an exceptional singer, a great dancer and a quick study actor.

In a corner of the "black box," the main theater arts classroom that is now being used as a dance studio, Clay, 14, practiced his dance moves. He was hoping that his voice would give him the edge in this fierce competition.

"Musicals are definitely my thing. I have a good voice to get by and that's good for a musical and usually I have a lot of energy and it's an energizing show and I have to show it in my audition," he said. "I like really high notes, 'cause I probably have the highest voice in this whole show, besides the girls."

Although his first choice was the Scarecrow, he admitted that "winged monkey would be cool."

Who is the Scarecrow?

When the boys walked in for their audition, Scott Pafumi, theater arts director at Westfield High, explained what he's looking for in the character.

"The Scarecrow to me is really funny. He has to be a clown. He has a cartoon-y quality. I've always thought of the Scarecrow as someone sensitive. You want to hug him, but you're afraid you're going to break him. A wind will blow him over. He's not strong, muscular or built. He's made of straw," Pafumi told them. "Above all, the Scarecrow is lacking self confidence. He doesn't feel like anyone has ever taken him seriously. He's the kid who had sand kicked in the face. He would be the kid you picked on in the playground."

Each contestant introduced himself: name, title of monologue and of audition song. The tension inside the room is palpable.

"The competition is intense -- I'm not going to lie," Henson said. "It's ridiculously intense. One thing I hate about auditions is when they take you from the resting room and you walk into the audition room and you're all in that line. You feel like you're walking to your death or something. You're like part of a chain gang."

The Auditions Begin

Henson is the first person to sing the audition song. Suddenly, the boom box malfunctions and he starts singing eight counts early. Later, he recovers in the post-performance interview with Pafumi as he describes why he's the perfect man for the role.

"I'm obviously a big guy, and the Scarecrow is typically lanky and gangly," he said. "Yet I feel the Scarecrow is such a bluesy character. I love the music he gets to sing plus I feel it would be a personal challenge if I was able to pull that off."

When Russell Wagoner steps up to the mike, he improvises a short musical riff before the lyrics start. All the judges scribble a note in their books. Pafumi seems concerned about Wagoner's commitment to the grueling 10-week process. "You have no conflicts, right? You're not doing anything else?"

With a smile, Wagoner answered, "Theater is my life!"

One of the last boys to audition is Clay, the youngest -- and the shortest -- boy to step before the panel. Between his stature and the splash of childish freckles, it will be a radical choice against type-casting if he wins the role.

Despite a polished performance, Clay got a tough critique from Pafumi who wasn't happy that Clay auditioned in shorts.

You're an experienced veteran and you dress like this?" he questioned. "Shorts? Sneakers? Not part of a professional look."

Once the boys leave the room, the judges start comparing notes. Should Pafumi give Clay, a freshman, a major role after his first audition? Does Wagoner really have the right stuff? Which of the four roles Henson applied for would best serve the production?

As for the contestants, they all leave feeling good about their tryouts.

"I thought I did well," Henson said, walking to his car. "I thought I could have done better in my vocal audition. But, hey, you got to leave something for your callbacks. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed."

Who do you think will be cast as the Scarecrow? Watch the audition clips and vote for your choice.

Watch Russell's Audition

Watch Kevin's Audition

Watch Garrett's Audition

CLICK HERE TO CAST YOUR VOTE.

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