Fairfield under the spotlight
More than 30 people auditioned for a reality TV show Monday night at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center’s Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts.
The performers showed off their skills for the television program “Showville,” which will air on AMC this spring. The program features variety acts from small towns across the country.
Television camera crews were busy throughout the building interviewing the singers, musicians, dancers and other acts who came to perform.
The producers of the show selected four finalists after seeing all the auditions Monday. Those finalists will work with mentors from the show who will sharpen the performers’ skills during the next few days before the grand finale Thursday. That’s when the final four will perform in front of a local audience, which will vote on the winner.
Thursday’s finale will begin at 7 p.m. at the Sondheim center. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. No admission is charged.
The winner of Thursday’s competition will receive $10,000.
Richard Devinki, the executive in charge of the show’s production, said he was pleased with the turnout and the quality of the performers at Monday’s open audition.
“There is such a wide variety of talent in Iowa including singers, dancers, comics and variety acts,” Devinki said.
One of those dancers was Isaac Stauffer of rural Wayland. Stauffer is no stranger to the big stage. He has danced and tumbled for the past 20 years since he was 3 years old. His accolades include performing in the Bill Riley Talent Show at the Iowa State Fair and performing as a cheerleader for the University of Iowa.
Stauffer prepared a tap-dancing routine for AMC when the network came to town in October. At that time, AMC was testing the waters in Fairfield to see if there was enough talent to devote an entire episode to the town. It turned out there was.
Stauffer ran into a bit of a problem just before the weekend when he read the rules for Monday’s audition. He became concerned the network would not allow him to perform with his background music, because the music was not on the list of allowable songs.
“I emailed them because those rules usually apply to singers but not dancers,” he said. “They wrote back and said it includes all performers.”
That news threw a wrench in Stauffer’s finely tuned numbers. He had to come up with two brand-new routines in three days.
“I’ve got it down as well as I can at this point,” he said.
Stauffer prepared a tap and a tumbling number, which are difficult to perform in the same shoes. The tap shoes provide little traction, making their wearer prone to slip. It didn’t help Stauffer that the stage was mopped just before he performed.
“I wiped out on some of my tumbles,” he said. “[The judges] definitely caught that. They didn’t blink or anything.”
The first contestant to perform for the judges was Ann Stimmel. Stimmel performed an acrobatic routine involving drapes, or “fabrics,” hung from the ceiling. She hoisted herself up and wrapped herself in the drapes while executing a number of maneuvers.
“It’s kind of like dancing with a crazy amount of strength involved,” she said. “I’ve been working on one trick for several months, and I was really happy it worked today. It’s the hardest trick I’ve ever done. You have to hang there [from the fabrics] with one hand.”
Stimmel became interested in acrobatics after first considering gymnastics.
“When I was little, I wanted to be a gymnast, but my mom made me take swimming lessons and I never let it go,” she said.
Stimmel was born in Burlington but moved to Southern California. She sought adult gymnastics classes there, but quickly discovered what she wanted to do was perform in the circus.
Stimmel has produced her own circus and continues to demonstrate her talents as a freelancer, performing at award banquets and parties.
Fairfield native Astred Griffin Dowd did not have to worry about the network’s list of allowable songs because she wrote her own. Her piece is called “Buy Me the Blues,” which she sang a capella.
“I enjoy writing songs,” she said. “It’s not something I work hard at because it’s something I do easily.”
She started writing songs when she was in third grade, but those were solely for her own amusement and not for a general audience. Dowd wrote a song in fifth grade which she has continued to tweak since then and still performs.
Down began her career in music with the piano and then transitioned into percussion by the time she reached middle school. She played the guitar in high school, but then decided to drop all those instruments and focus on singing.
“When I sing, I lose track of everything else around me,” she said. “I’m working to get better at that so I can accompany myself when I sing.”
Dowd said her performance for the judges went well. She said they were very “sweet.”
“It always goes by faster than you think it will,” she said. “You’re always so nervous leading up to it, and by the time it’s over, you step back and wonder why you’re so nervous.”