By Cindy McKay
“I learned a lot about myself and learned to handle criticism on a whole new level. I was shot down a fair bit and the feedback was harsh…” Winnipeg Over the Rainbow candidate Colleen Furlan says, reminiscing about CBC’s ‘Dorothy’ competition.
Millions of Canadians spent Sunday and Monday nights in November last year watching Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Over the Rainbow in the quest to find the next Dorothy. Webber has produced other television shows to find leading talent for stage productions in Canada, the United States and Europe. His goal, to raise the profile of live theatre productions in front of a television audience and showcase upcoming talent by involving the public in this pursuit, has resulted in dreams that come true for some of the competitors.
“I read about the contest online and there was a big social media drive on Facebook. I have brown hair and Dorothy is about my age so I decided to see where this would take me,” says Winnipeg talent Colleen Furlan in a phone interview from her home.
No stranger to the Winnipeg arts community, Colleen has performed in many plays under the direction of Steven Schipper of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. She has also starred in numerous roles with Up Front Productions and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Auditions for Over the Rainbow were held at the Fairmount hotel in June and, since the performing community is fairly small, she knew several of the other hopeful candidates in the room. At the end of the day, six Manitobans and one Saskatchewan contestant were chosen in the top 100. Auditions continued across the country and the top 20 contestants were invited to the Dorothy Farm where, Colleen says, the competition came to life.
“It was important to make a good impression. Up until that point, we weren’t sure what we were up against as we had never heard each other sing. We didn’t really know who our competition was,” Colleen says.
The competitors settled in for an intense three-day training session at the farm, and well-known voice coach Jeannie Wyse and choreographer Sean Cheesman put the girls through their paces. The final 10 were chosen for the live television show that would be broadcast over a period of eight weeks. Colleen says the experience was exciting but it also involved a lot of hard work.
“I remember the first live show. As the crew was counting down the seconds I stood on stage thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, my life is going to change in 10 seconds and there is nothing I can do about it! Too late to run off the stage now!’ ” she says. “You couldn’t let it overwhelm you.”
The daily schedule was packed. The girls were taxied from their Toronto “Dorothy” house to the CBC broadcast centre in the morning where rehearsals, wardrobe fittings and interviews would occupy most of their time. Every day was different and you never knew what was around the corner, Colleen says, as celebrity guest appearances and other surprises could come along at any time.
This was a reality TV show and the Dorothy competitors realized very quickly that the crews were on the lookout for drama both on stage and off. The girls developed a strong bond of friendship and made sure the drama was kept to a minimum. As the weeks of elimination went by, the atmosphere became in Colleen’s words, “almost depressing”. The once lively stage, with its many voices and dancers, dwindled down to the final four.
“I learned a lot about myself and learned to handle criticism on a whole new level. I was shot down a fair bit and the feedback was harsh toward the end of the show,” Colleen says. “The show was streamed online and therefore very public where it became almost a case of cyber bullying, I had to stop trying to analyze it. I couldn’t take it personally. In some ways it was harder on the ones who didn’t get kicked off the show than on those who did get to go home to the real world. The whole process was more tiring mentally than physically.”
Colleen’s professionalism and experience helped her keep focus. She says the support from her family, the city of Winnipeg and the arts community was unbelievable. The city was abuzz with excitement as friends, family and mayor Sam Katz rallied around Colleen. While she was unaware of the extent of the support, she says CBC Toronto was very good about carrying clips of the fan base here at home. Sadly, her dream this time was not realized. In the final show Danielle Wade, of LaSalle, Ontario, was named to take the sought after role of Dorothy. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Wizard of Oz opened in December 2012 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto and was scheduled to close last month.
Colleen had scaled back her classes at the University of Manitoba to accommodate the Over the Rainbow competition, later returning to classes three days a week. She resumes full-time study in the music program this fall. Meanwhile, Colleen is continuing to pursue a stage career. She auditioned for a role in the August production of Mary Poppins at Rainbow Stage, and was part of the ensemble. She is optimistic and excited about what may develop for her over the next few years. She reminds herself that fellow Winnipegger Samantha Hill competed in Webber’s “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?” contest in 2008 and went on to play Christine in the Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera.
“Never give up on your dreams, even though thousands of people will tell you that you are not cut out for that role. Don’t let it define your career as there is always another role out there,” Colleen advises others. “Work hard and know that constructive criticism is a good thing. It’s part of life. Performers live to hear that ‘yes’ when it comes to getting roles, and even though the role may only be a small part of something, you are gaining experience and building your confidence.”
Knowing the extent of your talent and limitations is also important. Colleen says if you try to push the limits with your voice during an audition, or execute a difficult or unfamiliar dance move, the result could be an injury or a set-back for your career.
Diversified in her talents, Colleen has received numerous accolades for her singing and is ranked as one of the best Highland dancers in the world, holding the North American and Manitoba provincial championship title for 11 consecutive years. She is also trained in hip hop, lyrical, musical theatre, ballet, jazz and modern dance.