Lessons and coaching sessions are great ways to gain new performance skills and audition material, but for a variety of reasons it might not be feasible for an individual to undertake a consistent regimen of one-on-one work.
When circumstances dictate that you must be away from your teacher, coach or class for a period of time, the good news is that your productivity doesn’t have to come to a halt. There are a multitude of ways for musical theatre performers to continue developing their skills and material in their own little corners. Read on to discover five of my suggestions, which are listed here in no particular order:
- Set aside time for “critical” listening/viewing of others’ performances. When watching musical theatre performances or listening to cast recordings, most of the time we’re probably entering into the activity with little more than the well-earned desire to escape into the experience. Obviously, taking in performances for sheer enjoyment is a big part of what gets performers hooked on musical theatre in the first place and should never cease as a pursuit. What’s equally important, though, is to set aside a predetermined amount of time each week to watch and listen to others’ performances with an analytical ear and eye. Scheduling these sessions for yourself at specific times (as one would do with lessons) is often helpful. You might even choose a predetermined theme for each analysis session. For instance, one sit-down might focus on different performers’ use of breath, while another could be geared toward physical acting choices. In all instances, it’s advisable to consider an overarching question with each listening/viewing: What factors contribute to making this performance engaging (or how could the level of engagement demonstrated by this performance be expanded upon)?
- Video your audition cut as you rehearse, then play it for yourself. The fact that you’re reading this article probably means that you have a phone, computer, tablet, or other device with video recording capabilities. Use it to your advantage! When you’re at a point with your audition cut where you feel it might be “ready for the room,” set up your device to record your performance. Play it back while you observe with critical ears and eyes. The idea is not to criticize your performance within an inch of its life, but to become better aware of the choices you’re making and their clarity. There’s something special about one’s own brain processing one’s performance. The only way for this to happen is to record yourself, watch it back, become aware of how, if and when your choices are being communicated clearly, and repeat the process. One fun and interesting variation is to play the recording on mute for a friend who’s unfamiliar with your cut, then ask him or her to describe your character’s traits, circumstance and situation. This can prove a particularly helpful step in discerning whether one’s actions are indeed communicating what is intended.
- Audiate daily. Audiation is the process of imagining sounds that aren’t actually occurring. Musicians are often taught to audiate both phrases and entire pieces of music, focusing their energies on creating the most vibrant and realistic aural images they can achieve while doing so. Lots of exercises for audiation can be found online, in addition to those featured in Bruce Adolphe’s fantastic book The Mind’s Ear: Exercises for Improving the Musical Imagination for Performers, Composers, and Listeners (2nd ed., published by Oxford University Press). As with the other suggestions for on-your-own work listed here, it’s helpful to set aside dedicated time for audiation in one’s day, and to incorporate the process regularly in learning new material.
- Listen to genres other than Broadway. Many MT performers can rattle off long lists of obscure Broadway shows and songs. But as the tides of musical theatre styles have shifted with the sea change brought about by jukebox musicals in the past couple of decades, it’s more important than ever to have a good amount of “radio songs” under your belt. You might even dedicate each month to a different decade of popular music — both listening to the songs of that era and identifying a cut from that decade for your rep book. Continue to stay up on both the latest musical theatre offerings and the the Broadway scores of yesteryear, of course — but don’t neglect popular radio — the latter is now providing the core material of many musical theatre rep books.
- Identify and pursue a variety of creative outlets. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we all know that it can be hard to find time for projects that provide creative fulfillment. But whether it’s performing in a musical, taking part in a weekly jam session, painting a piece of art, writing poetry, or any number of potential creative outlets, be sure to keep your creative juices flowing. Many creative types find Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (now in its 25th anniversary edition, published by TarcherParagee) to be an especially helpful resource for this pursuit.
And remember: even from your own little corner, in your own little chair, you can productively continue your growth toward being whatever you want to be.