The lobby of the University of Kentucky Fine Arts Building on Friday was filled with dozens of kids — kids stretching in ballet shoes, kids practicing show tunes, kids hoping to be the Miley Cyrus of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
An audition was being held to be one of 150 kids ages 8 to 16 to perform in the opening ceremonies of the event that runs from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10.
Once parents paid the $10 audition fee, Julie Kliner, associate producer of logistics for the opening ceremonies, told parents and children that performing will mean a huge commitment of time and money.
Parents must pay $225 to cover the costs of T-shirts, food, choreographers, theater professionals and experts to teach children to behave safely around horses. And the kids will need to attend 15 or 16 rehearsals, as well as a one-day camp.
Kliner said she expected some attrition because of the time commitment. Parents will be notified if their child is chosen about two weeks after auditions close, but they can opt out in June.
To Aubrey Dawson, 9, who sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, the attraction was not just performing, but performing with horses.
"I love seeing horses and I love singing. It's all my favorite," she said.
Aubrey's mom, Dawn Dawson, said many parents were surprised at the fee, but "I understand there are costumes, professionals and choreographers. If she can do it and remember it for the rest of her life, it's worth it," she said.
Everett McCorvey, director of the University of Kentucky's Opera Theatre and president of Global Creative Connections, the company overseeing opening and closing ceremonies for WEG, said that more than half of the $1 million the World Equestrian Foundation is spending on the ceremonies will go to the opening event.
The ceremonies will feature an orchestra, a 400-member chorus and 200 horses in the stadium. "On the stage and behind the stage, our number is something like 1,800 (people)," he said. "It's going to be huge.
"One of the challenges we have is that because we don't have funds, we have to find ways to be able to pay for some of the things we're doing. We're not making any money off this. We're just paying our costs"—including the cost of insurance for the kids.
Beverly Cox was at Friday's auditions with her 12-year-old daughter, Kate. She said the cost to participate is the same as the price of the average theater camp, and she thinks the experience will be just as beneficial.
The rehearsals will take place after school begins in the fall, but Paula Garr, who came prepared with a list of questions, said she was more inclined to let her 15-year-old son Patrick audition after she heard there was going to be a homework tent and quiet time.
"This gets me the experience with bigger audiences, to see every aspect of how a show comes together," said Patrick, who wants to be a professional performer one day.
Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman, arts facilitator for the Fayette County public schools' School for the Performing Arts, said that several SCAPA students have already auditioned and she thought the fee was fair. "It's important for people to think of this in terms of their priorities and how you spend your money," she said. "Everybody has to decide where their dollars are going to go."
McCorvey said that area businesses were being approached about sponsorships and that the $225 fee should not deter talented children from auditioning: "We want them to audition, and we want to identify them. There are businesses out there that want to help us."
Opening ceremonies for large athletic events are generally monumental stage productions. For the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, opening ceremonies cost an estimated $40 million, partially paid for by the Canadian government.
At Lexington's WEG opening ceremonies, students selected will be escorts for the parade of athletes, be part of the show when Wynonna Judd sings My Old Kentucky Home or enact scenes from Kentucky history.
In addition to Friday's auditions, more will be held Saturday. Applications for audition slots are available online at the Global Creative Connections Web site.
Jessica Berry, president of the 16th District PTA, said she was unaware of the auditions and called the $225 "a hefty fee ... particularly if he's looking for diversity."
Berry said that if McCorvey's organization wants to expand the search, she'd be happy to put it on the district PTA's newsletter: "We'd love to get more information out to our parents ... and to our schools, for that matter."
The Adult Performance Corps application does not mention a specific fee, although it notes that "costume fees may apply." Volunteers are also being sought for support positions helping stage the ceremonies.
Although it is common for organizations to charge families for extracurricular activities that include some element of instruction — such as youth musical groups and traveling sports teams — it's unclear how often families are charged for participation in community events.
Jim Clark, chief executive officer of LexArts, said that while he's glad that WEG organizers are trying to find a way to include young people in the opening ceremonies, "I would hope there are ways of providing scholarships or providing diverse representation."