A lot of people come to the Southeastern Theatre Conference looking for one thing: work.
"If you need to get a job, you have to come here," said Ohio University student Cassandra Westover, 25, who was looking for employment creating props.
While stages around Lexington were filled with performances in the theater convention's four-play festivals, the ballrooms and meeting rooms at Lexington Center were filled with actors, designers, technicians and administrators looking to land anything from summer work to full-time positions.
"It's fun, slightly nutty standing in line and networking all day," said Westover, who got a gig working with Santa Fe Opera last summer.
More than 100 companies were at this year's Southeastern Theatre Conference, the first one held in Lexington since 1978. The conference was expected to attract 4,000 participants to Lexington for its three days, which wrap up Saturday.
After more than a day and a half of the convention, people were still talking up Lexington as an SETC site.
"This is one of the best SETCs I've been to," said Benjamin Soldate, 18, a student at Elon University in Elon, N.C. "I'm not staying in the convention center hotel, and in past years, that's been a hassle. But this year, it's easy to get in and out."
Former Lexington resident Marcus Morphew, who now works with Raleigh-area theaters, said he had been directing friends to restaurants such as deSha's.
"Lexington has treated us a lot better than some other cities we've been in," said Anna Katherine Moore, a student at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., For her, it was a chance to be part of a much larger audition process than she experienced at school.
"This is a real cattle call," said Morphew, an SETC volunteer coordinating the auditions.
Actors were herded into the Lexington Center's Bluegrass Ballroom in groups of 40, and they didn't have much time to make an impression. Actors had precisely 60 seconds to do a monologue; those who could sing as well as act got 90 seconds for a monologue and a song excerpt. If they went over, they got a stern "thank you" from a timer.
"Ninety seconds goes faster than you think," said Logan Troyer, a 19-year-old-student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
Katie Haeuser of Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., had to hit the stage cold as the first auditioner of the afternoon, but that's the way she wanted it.
"I loved being first," she said while surveying the bulletin boards where theater companies posted the numbers of auditioners they wanted to see again. "It was good to get it out of the way so I could relax and watch everyone else."
Prospective behind-the-scenes workers got a little more face time with potential employers. The tradeoff was that they had to stand in lines that stretched through the aisles of the meeting room where job contacts were taking place. Many companies had large banners over their tables touting names such as Georgia Shakespeare Company, Alabama State College and Lexington Children's Theatre.
"You just walk around and people say, 'Hey, you want a job?'" Chris Armentrout, a 21-year-old Radford University student, joked before marching into the room with his portfolio.
Those are the words it seems everyone wanted to hear.