Last night I had the good fortune of being able to sit in on the culminating event of a week-long intensive program, at a local arts academy, for high school students who were working on polishing up their musical theater audition pieces. I got to do this because a friend’s daughter was in the program.
One by one, twenty-six young persons stood and strode confidently over to hand the accompanist their music and speak briefly with him. Sometimes they tapped out a tempo on their chests, pointed to something here, something there. They returned to center stage and introduced themselves and their music. And blossomed briefly into evocative performers with gorgeous voices. Then they said “thank you” and returned to their seats.
Personalities emerged. The ensemble of choice for females was a shortish fit-and-flare dress, bare legs, and “character shoes.” Males were fewer in number and less sartorially aware.
There were a lot of songs I had never heard, from musicals I was unfamiliar with. That was interesting. So many of the songs were about transformation and identity: Why can’t you see who I really am? I am now going to become who I really am! I cannot be me right now, but I am okay with that, no, really, I have everything I need (but really, I don’t). So much see me, see who I am, who am I?
We also got to hear “notes” from a panel. They were very affirming, and asked questions like, “Who are you speaking to in this song?” “What do you want from them?” “What is happening right now?” By all accounts, those who continue in musical theater will encounter many less-than-affirming scenarios. They have already heard about all that. They are girding their loins with songs. “A smile and a shoeshine.” I think it’s as effective an approach as any.