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Tag Archive | "Sutton Foster"

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AYT USA: Can an artist take the ‘wrong path’ to stardom?

Posted on 16 July 2012 by Lauren Twombly

Continuing the AYT USA blog series is Lauren Twombly, who has just graduated from Bryan College with a degree in musical theatre. Part of her aspirations as a singer-actress and blogger is to use her experience to encourage fellow artists. As a New Jersey girl who attended school in a small Southern town, she discusses her unique path as an artist thus far; how she is using her current resources to continue pursuing her dreams and why it’s important to fight insecurities about “making it”.

Do you ever wonder if you have done enough or made the right decisions to have a successful and fulfilling career in the theatre?

In America, as far as I can tell, many people who succeed in the business have been going at it for several years already. When you learn about how they started out, you discover that they were touring in some follies show in high school (Sutton Foster), or that they attended a prestigious theatre programme but dropped out because they were good enough to pursue a career already – the case for Matthew Morrison (Glee, South Pacific, Light in the Piazza). These people were successful at an age when I hadn’t even discovered the depth of my passion for theatre. My story is quite different from what many consider to be normal for those who become successful. And this is, at times, terrifying.

I received a degree in music with a concentration on musical theatre from a small Christian college in a small, almost unknown town in Tennessee. This means that my focus can never entirely be music or theatre, having been pulled equally in both directions, while also taking various courses in religion, math, languages, and science. It also means that I have been in a less-than-desirable location for establishing connections in theatre (other than attending the 2011 SETC Conference in Atlanta, which proved highly beneficial). However, having had hardly any previous formal education in acting or music, it was certainly an excellent training ground. It provided me with the basics of music and theatre, a huge support system of faculty and friends, and several opportunities to pursue an art that I had so little experience in but such an overwhelming passion for.

So sometimes I feel hopeless, that I’m not even close to being in a position to pursue a career as a professional performer. I know that I can’t pursue a full throttle career as a performer right away. I can’t afford to live in New York, get an agent, hire an acting coach, and spend all my time preparing for and going to auditions. But that doesn’t mean I can’t ever be a professional actress. As an artist, I have a responsibility to do what I can in my situation.

What does this mean for me, exactly? I’ve started eating better, exercising; keeping my body in shape. I’ve started taking lessons with a phenomenal voice teacher. I read Wicked in three days. I plan to subscribe to Backstage and I’m always on the lookout for local community theatre auditions. I’m working full time as an administrative assistant for a family-owned shipping company. No, I’m not getting paid to do what I love – not yet – but this job will enable me to pay for lessons, headshots, a car, moving out and possibly acting school. I’m doing what I can at this point in my life.

No one can give you a formula for success. I’m constantly talking to other theatre people, trying to figure out how to eventually make my way to Broadway. But my story will not be like anyone else’s. It never has and it never will and that shouldn’t be discouraging. Why would you want your journey as an artist to look just like another artist’s? Isn’t being in this business about what makes you unique and about what you have to offer the artistic community?

But what if I miss the perfect opportunity? What if no one ever sees what I have to offer? You seriously can’t worry about any of that. Know that you are doing everything in your power to put yourself out there and be the best artist you can be. And who knows? Unknowns are becoming famous everyday. Not that I strive merely for fame, but it literally happens overnight. So I should enjoy my anonymity while I can. I should be content to develop my craft during this period, when I am only being criticised on amateur levels.

So I cannot spend so much time worrying about whether I made the right decisions for my career. I have no regrets about my short history as an artist because I know that right now, I am exactly where I am supposed to be. And so are you. I have developed my talents and also my confidence in them. It doesn’t matter where I went to school and how prestigious my theatre programme was. I am working towards pursuing my dreams. It is frustrating when you cannot dedicate every moment of your life to what  you are most passionate about, but listen: when they say, “it’s not going to be easy”, they aren’t joking. And I’m finally starting to learn exactly what that means.

To read more from Lauren, check out her personal blog.

If you are an American reader of A Younger Theatre and would like to contribute to the AYT USA blog series, please contact blogs[at]ayoungertheatre.com.

Lauren Twombly

Lauren Twombly

Lauren is an actress who aspires to use her unique journey to encourage and inspire her fellow artists. Her favorite things are watching Broadway musicals, performing complex and dramatic theatre roles and singing the music of Sara Bareilles. She grew up in New Jersey, attended college in a small southern town of Tennessee, and is now working as an administrative assistant while doing community theatre and trying to figure out how to pursue a career she is truly passionate about.

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The Wicked Stage: Is it enough to be a ‘triple threat’ performer?

Posted on 30 October 2011 by Sarah Green

A key term in musical theatre training is learning to be a ‘triple threat performer’, which means the ability to act, sing and dance to a high standard. An example of this is Sutton Foster’s performance at this year’s Tony Awards, where she performed the title song from the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes – she belted out the song whilst also performing a tap break.

Now, as good a performer as Ms Foster is, there is debate about whether it is enough to be able to just do the three elements – maybe there is even the need to be a ‘quadruple threat performer’. The Lion King requires you to learn puppetry and even stilts for some animal characters, Starlight Express required performers to be on roller skates, and many shows now require you to be both an actor and a musician. It is this last group of performers, those who are both actors and musicians, that I want to focus on.

In 2008, Craig Revel Horwood directed a production of Sunset Boulevard where everyone except the characters Norma and Max played instruments on stage. In 2004 there was a production Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street which didn’t use an orchestra, but had the 10-piece cast playing instruments on stage instead – an idea that also transferred to the 2005 Broadway revival of the show. So the question raised is: do performers need to have an extra trick up their sleeve to secure work?

Katie Pritchards, who graduated from the same university as me and is currently working as a swing (someone who is an understudy for chorus parts in a show) in the West End show Dreamboats and Petticoats, tells me that “It wasn’t until I left uni that I realised that I could make a career out of doing my two loves – playing instruments and musical theatre. I saw it as a way into the industry. I figured that I only had a degree from Buckinghamshire, which is not a drama school, and that there couldn’t be that many actor/musicians out there, so I should be in with a good chance!”

This goes back to another age-old problem of making yourself stand out from the crowd. One of my close friends got the lead in Mack and Mabel during our second year because she is brilliant at tap. Even so, in the dance call she messed up, but did it in such a funny way that the director gave her the lead anyway. It’s not to say messing up puts you onto a winner, but in that moment she stood out and was perfect for that character. In a similar way Katie identified a way to utilise her extra skills to forge a path into musical theatre: “Once I had left Uni I used my music skills as a means to getting into the industry. I knew I was going to have a hard slog if I didn’t get some credits soon after I graduated, and I was struggling to get musicals because my training and agent weren’t considered the top of their game, so I snuck my way into the industry via the actor/muso door, and it worked – now I’m working as a swing in a West End show!”

Before I get too carried away with saying how four is the new three in terms of amount of skills needed, there is a cautionary tale. I asked Katie if she thinks it is required to be a ‘quadruple threat’ nowadays: “I’ll be honest, I don’t think it is required at all. There are some days I wish I didn’t play instruments, because then I would get seen for more leads, as the leads even in actor/muso shows don’t tend to be musicians, and bigger companies will save good musicians for the ensemble and instrument tracks, no matter how good they may be for a leading role.” Katie goes on to mention that there are only two actor/muso shows on in the West end at the moment, Dreamboats and Petticoats and Million Dollar Quartet, and the latter is closing in the New Year. So whilst there are shows requiring the actor/musician combo, there are more shows that don’t require it, so it isn’t a completely essential skill to have.

So to answer my title question, I believe it is enough to be a ‘triple threat’ performer, especially as the bulk of the musical theatre back catalogue doesn’t require you to do more than this. However, I also think it wise to heed Katie’s advice that having an extra skill such as musical instruments can open unexpected doors.

Image by rickz.

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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