Theater Parent Blogosphere
Here’s a look at some choice theatrical blogs, along with a few things to know before you go online. Seth Rudetsky’s “Sassy Blog”
Why to Go
Sirius satellite radio host, former writer for The Rosie O’Donnell Show
, and musical director for countless high-profile benefit concerts and Broadway shows Seth Rudetsky, chronicles his career as well as his thoughts on theater. Highlights include detailed video “deconstructions” of cast recordings in which Rudetsky analyzes everything from vocal placement to orchestrations. What to Know
Rudetsky’s self-proclaimed “sassy” editorial voice is not your usual reviewer’s style, and his opinions may not be for everyone. However, his theatrical knowledge and enthusiasm for the arts make him a Broadway staple, and he’s certainly a personality to watch if your child is interested in musical theater.
The Broadway Musical Blog
broadwaymusicalblog.com Why to Go
Run by actress Valerie Rigsbee, this blog is full of useful items regarding current Broadway musicals and all sorts of musical theater gossip. Need to know the lowdown on a particular show? The “Eyeing Broadway” section gives you a short blurb on what to expect for every musical on the Great White Way. There’s also info on casting changes, production rumors, and the latest Broadway recordings. What to Know
As a working actress, Rigsbee has admitted she can’t always post as much as she’d like. Plus, if you’re after in-depth discussions of musical theater theory, then this site probably isn’t for you. Think fun tidbits rather than lengthy debates. Also, Rigsbee opens the floor for reader commentary, a forum where, as Cole Porter says, “anything goes.”The Producer’s Perspective
Why to Go
These frequent postings by Broadway and Off-Broadway producer Ken Davenport are full of information on everything from how to audition for a show to the ever-fluctuating business trends of the theater world. There are also games and giveaways for the theater savvy. What to Know
Topics on this blog lean more toward the production aspect rather than the performance aspect of theater. Also, Davenport doesn’t always shy away from discussing popular plays, so some innuendo and language may not be “rated” entirely PG. Still, the contributions from Davenport and other theater professionals (including directors, designers, stage managers, and dance captains) are invaluable for the theatrical up-and-comer.
The Not So “Impossible Dream”
Once your child announces an interest in trying his luck at musical theater, the ballad “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha may seem like an appropriate anthem for your kid’s situation. Just think of the lyrics:
"This is my quest, to follow that star--
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far "
Sound familiar? If you feel like your kid is chasing an insurmountable goal, calm down. Yes, the reality is that show business can be a challenging vocation; but if your child is sincere in his love of theater and is truly committed to becoming a professional, there’s nothing you can say or do that will stop him. Don’t dwell on all the things that could go wrong. Instead, focus on helping him achieve his goals and be the best performer he can be. Take a look at the following pointers on offering support to your would-be star.
Keeping your own feelings in check
Before you say one word to your son or daughter about their musical theater dream, take a moment to consider your own thoughts. Be aware a huge part of your child’s future depends upon your reaction to his career choice. So…tread carefully.
Parents of musical theater hopefuls often fall into one of two archetypes: On one end of the spectrum, there’s the parental tyrant who forbids their kid from ever setting foot on a stage for any number of reasons (fear, disapproval, financial concerns, etc.). Then there’s the overbearing “stage parent” who relentlessly pushes their child to succeed, essentially taking all the joy out of it for him. Needless to say, don’t model yourself after these extremes.
If you find you have doubts about your aspiring artist’s decision, bear in mind those doubts may stem from your own personal issues rather than from genuine obstacles to your child’s dream. You may worry that your child won’t be able to support himself, you may find musical theater boring and ridiculous, or you may be secretly concerned your child isn’t talented enough, but these are your worries and your preconceptions––not your child’s. Resist the impulse to share these negative thoughts with him. Whatever protests you may make, however logical they seem to you, your child will only resent them and will probably be all the more determined to pursue a life in the theater.
If you find, however, that you’re absolutely thrilled at the prospect of your son or daughter following a career in musical theater, do a little soul-searching. Are you excited because your child has found a calling that inspires him? Or are you simply excited because you’re dazzled by show business? As you offer help and encouragement, make sure your enthusiasm for your child’s art is governed by their hopes and dreams and not by yours. Author and theater professional Michael Allen cautions, “Parents should realize that this is their child’s [desire], not their own.”
Whatever your immediate reaction, be supportive. Congratulate your child on finding something that makes him happy. Any harsh criticisms should be an internal monologue rather than a dramatic dialogue between you and your kid.
Learning the art of encouragement
Though it may seem like a no-brainer, here’s an important tip: When your son or daughter asks for an honest opinion regarding a performance, stay positive. Parents often make the mistake of thinking if they point out every little flaw in their child’s acting, singing, or dancing, this can only make the child try that much harder and succeed that much faster. Not so. The long-term emotional and psychological damage done by creating this type of perfectionist atmosphere outweighs any temporary improvements. There is a time for constructive criticism and, as a general rule, that time is never during the immediate moments after a performance.
No matter what a kid might say, he’s probably not interested in any nitpicking or negative reviews from his mom and dad. Phrases like, “Go on, I can handle the truth” or “Tell me what you really think” are often an elaborate bluff. While they may try to convince themselves they’re thick-skinned, most kids are simply looking for approval. Give it to them. Tell your child he did a wonderful job and praise all the hard work he put into his performance.
If, after a few days, your child reviews his work and decides he made a few mistakes, don’t jump to agree with him. Instead, concentrate on helping him acquire the skills needed to polish his technique. If he says, “Ugh, I was flat during that song,” a healthy response may be, “Oh really? I didn’t notice, but maybe you can ask your voice teacher if there’s something you can do to help correct that.”
Keep in mind that empty and effusive praise might be just as damaging as no praise at all. Avoid hyperboles such as, “You’re the greatest actor in the world,” as they can either give your child a distorted view of his own abilities or paralyze him with fear at the thought of never living up to your immense expectations.
“Children Will Listen”
Sharing your child’s goals and passions
Actress and director Jessica Stone (of Broadway’s Grease, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Anything Goes) notes that “Artists [should be] educated, trained, and most importantly, inspired.” Now that you’re aware of your child’s theatrical interest, take steps to cultivate it. “Take them to EVERYTHING,” Ms. Stone advises, “plays, musicals, Broadway, Off-Broadway, concerts, opera, dance…”
It’s important to invest in a variety of artistic experiences so your son or daughter can be exposed to different types of performances. Buy some cast albums to help your kid build an understanding of the music he’ll be singing. Encourage him to keep on top of the latest theater news by checking out headlines on websites such as playbill.com or broadwayworld.com, or by following musical theater artists on Twitter (Broadway legends Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, and Betty Buckley are all regular twitterers, to name a few).
Most importantly, try to make your aspiring artist aware that you respect and admire his passions. Nothing’s worse than when a parent says, “You sang well, but I never liked musical theater.” Put some effort into getting involved in your child’s world. Listen to recordings with your child or organize a party to view the Tony Awards® together (for the theater novices, these are the Broadway equivalent of the Oscars®). For those parents looking for extra credit, the Internet hosts several theatrical blogs (see sidebar) and YouTube channels to help you immerse yourself in the world of theater.
“Art isn’t easy”
Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim writes in his musical Sunday in the Park with George: “Art isn’t easy. Every minor detail is a major decision, have to keep things in scale, have to hold to your vision…” Here are a few more thoughts on staying grounded and helping your artist on the uneasy road to a musical theater career.
“Hard Knock Life”
Grasping the pitfalls of an artistic career and understanding the things your child will face
As your child embarks on a career in musical theater, keep reminding yourself that the business of theater is tough stuff. Author Michael Allen observes that parents often think “anyone” can participate in the kind of play-acting and performing a musical theater artist indulges in, but this simply isn’t the case. Musical theater performance is a kind of muscular schizophrenia; a discipline that requires the body to constantly shift in order to accommodate the task at hand (for example: Did you know that the same muscles that should be released during singing are often kept firm and constricted while dancing?).
What’s more, there’s the difficulty of conveying characters in a “believable and honest” way, which is an emotionally draining process. Not everyone can do what your child does, so treat your theater artist accordingly. Go easy on them. Remind them to take breaks, encourage healthy eating and sleeping habits (some tips for a proper musical diet can be found here), and investigate stress management techniques such as yoga or meditation to help your child when they feel overwhelmed.
“Brush Up Your Shakespeare”
Encouraging your child to stay in school and get a “well-rounded” education
Take a look at the season schedules for any repertory theater in the United States. Odds are, productions of plays by Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Chekhov keep cropping up. While your child may have a passion for all things musical, he may also have to find work in “straight theater” (plays without music) and a large portion of his career may hinge on his knowledge of the classics. Literature studies are, therefore, a must for any would-be performer.
Math is likewise important for securing your child’s understanding of musical rhythm. In addition, experts report that “well-rounded” students who apply themselves in several academic fields are considered more desirable by directors and producers. Be as vigilant about the “stay in school” motto as you would if your child had chosen to be a doctor or a lawyer. The more he learns, the more he can turn out informed and interesting performances that will catch the eyes of theater professionals who can offer him work.
“The Art of the Possible”
Going to bat for your kid…while remaining diplomatic
Politics are a given in show business. Seniority, friendship, and patronage always count for something. This is true at any level of performance, from high school to college, to community theater and beyond. Know that your child will face rejection and disappointment as a result of the decisions made by the powers that be. Difficult as it seems, your kid will have to get used to this if he wants to continue a life on the stage.
While your instinct might be to rush to your child’s aid, the sad reality is you probably can’t fix the system. No parent ever got very far by marching into the high school drama teacher’s office with cries of, “You should have cast my kid as the lead in the musical!” (Incidentally, your son or daughter would probably be mortified if you tried something like this. Besides, who would want a part that was secured by mommy and daddy?) Such behavior runs the risk of alienating the administration against your child or worse, alienating your child against you.
Stay calm in the face of these minor injustices. Offer a helping hand and a shoulder to cry on, but never spew accusations at teachers or directors. Be on hand to remind your musical theater hopeful that any part, no matter how small, is a valuable experience.
Bearing this in mind, don’t be afraid to go to bat for your child when the situation calls for it. Your kid will no doubt be facing all sorts of uninformed bias against their career choice from friends, family members, and even teachers (some teachers may dismiss a desire to be in theater as a “hobby” and make students feel embarrassed about their decision to pursue performance). Don’t miss an opportunity to remind your child and/or anyone else that musical theater is a wonderful and highly demanding job and is not to be taken lightly.
“How To” Succeed
Ever hear of the phrase “triple threat”? It’s someone who’s a whiz at acting, singing, and dancing. Make no mistake; the necessity of becoming a triple threat in today’s theater market is very very real. Here are a few brief tips on what to look for and what to avoid as you decide on musical theater training for your child.
“Sing for Your Supper”
Getting proper voice training
Serious voice lessons should probably begin around age 13. Treat the process of finding the right voice teacher as you would the process of finding the right doctor. Some pointers on how to go about researching a local voice teacher can be found here. Be sure to audition a few voice teachers by having your child take a few practice lessons with your top teaching choices.
Things to look for:
- A teacher whose students have gone on to successful careers in music
- A teacher who is patient and understanding, but also challenging and insightful
- A teacher who is proficient in a wide range of styles and who will start your child on a few works of classical music to provide him with a strong musical foundation
Things to avoid:
- A teacher who pushes students into singing songs done mostly in a belting style (e.g., “Tomorrow” from Annie) without developing other parts of the voice
- A teacher who is unnecessarily harsh or mean
- A teacher whose professional commitments leave them with little time to devote to their students
“Shall We Dance?”
Obtaining proper dance training
Michael Allen advises that professional dance training begin at age eight. If your child is already in high school, he’ll have some catching up to do. As with the selection of a voice teacher, treat the process of finding a dance studio for your child seriously. Remember, your child’s health is at stake when he steps on the dance floor.
Things to look for:
- A dance studio that offers courses in many different dance disciplines, especially ballet, tap, and jazz and for many different levels of experience
- A dance studio with alumni who are working dance professionals
- A dance studio with a raised wooden dance floor (as opposed to a concrete floor)
- A dance studio with large wall mirrors and a ballet barre
Things to avoid:
- A dance studio that spends the majority of its time preparing for local dance competitions rather than intense technical study
- A studio that has classes of over twenty students each
- A studio that only focuses on one type of dance
"The Glamorous Life”
Finding proper acting training
An acting teacher or coach is hard to come by at the local or high school level (unless you live near a theater-heavy town such as New York City). Most of your child’s early acting technique will be in the hands of his high school drama department, but that doesn’t mean he can’t seek help outside of school through a class at a local theater company or a summer session at a college or university.
Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the high school drama department for a recommendation regarding extracurricular courses; and word of mouth among performance parents is also a good tool.
Things to look for:
- An educational organization that stresses the “importance of text and subtext” (as author Oscar Kosarin notes) and spends time analyzing words and emotions
- An environment in which your child feels they can explore a range of thoughts and feelings without being judged
- A class that places at least some emphasis on the classics, especially Shakespeare, Molière, Ibsen, and Chekhov
Things to avoid:
- Teaching techniques that insist there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to act rather than offering suggestions as to how to fix dramatic problems
- An organization that does not address the importance of the voice in acting or the ways in which the voice can be adapted to fit a character in a healthy way
Name That Tune!
Here’s a test for anyone who doubles as a musical theater aficionado. Before reading the answers below, see if you can guess the Broadway musical that featured the song titles used in this article. Answers are listed here. No peeking.
“The Impossible Dream” Man of La Mancha
“Consider Yourself” Oliver!
“Happy Talk” South Pacific
“Children Will Listen” Into the Woods
“Putting It Together” Sunday in the Park with George
“Hard Knock Life” Annie
“Brush Up Your Shakespeare” Kiss Me, Kate
“The Art of the Possible” Evita
“How to…” How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
“Sing for Your Supper” The Boys from Syracuse
“Shall We Dance?” The King and I “The Glamorous Life” A Little Night Music
“Summertime” Porgy and Bess
“God, I Hope I Get It” A Chorus Line
“Putting It Together”
A group of young hopefuls in the musical Merrily We Roll Along sings the inspirational lyric, “It’s our time, breathe it in: Worlds to change and worlds to win.” It’s appropriate poetry for high school juniors and seniors. Although your child may feel like the world is his oyster as he approaches the end of high school, his work is only just beginning. Here are some ideas on how to keep his dreams alive after he graduates.
And the Livin’ [Ain’t So] Easy - Looking toward summer programs and places to gain experience
Music teachers will often advise students never to waste a summer. Though your kid may want to take it easy in the months between school terms, it’s best if he commits himself to at least one project that will help further his career between June and September. Once January rolls around, he should be thinking about his summer plans. This can mean setting aside time to memorize some new music or familiarize himself with a few plays.
It can also mean enrolling in a summer theater program at a local theater, conservatory, or university. Many theatrical organizations and schools offer extensive summer study in everything from movement to scene work. (Think musical theater boot camp.) There is usually an application process along with a residential fee, but the experience and confidence your child will gain as a result of such programs is worth the extra time and money. Ask your child’s drama or music teacher about reputable summer schools in your area. Larger schools and universities will also offer detailed schedules of their summer sessions on their websites.
If your musical theater hopeful has generated enough onstage experience during the school year and is secure enough in his musical, acting, and dancing techniques as well as his ability to present a mature face in an audition, he may want to try out for a summer stock theater production. But make sure he does his homework before he settles on a theater. Summer stock theaters occupy a sketchy grey area between the amateur and the professional, and your child may end up in a kind of high-stakes, high-pressure situation if he’s cast alongside Actor’s Equity union members and other theater veterans.
Consider consulting the Summer Theatre Directory (an annual publication that lists American theaters by state and size) with your student and help him make a decision as to what kind of theater he would like to try out for and how much pressure he’s willing to put on himself for the sake of his training. Once that’s done, contact the theater directly with a cover letter, artistic resume, and a headshot (he’ll need one of those if he’s serious about summer stock) for audition information.
“God, I Hope I Get It”
Asking the college question and what to expect at a college audition
Is college necessary for your musical theater artist? The short answer is yes. As you know, a college education is an asset for any member of any job market, be it on Wall Street or Broadway. Several liberal arts colleges and universities have excellent musical theater degree programs that provide great training while still giving your student a typical college-life experience.
Is a conservatory education necessary? Depends. As Michael Allen observes, investing in a conservatory education can have the feel of “putting all your eggs in one basket.” This highly “specialized” world will place all kinds of emphasis on making your child the ideal “triple threat,” but the downside is your kid will have very little time for developing other skills.
As mentioned earlier, knowledge across several fields of study makes for a more seasoned performer. Do you want your child to focus all of his time on performance at the risk of limiting his frame of reference (and possibly reducing his chances of finding a day job while he gets on his feet)? It’s a question you’ll have to discuss together. Whatever you decide, it may be best to visit a Performing and Visual Arts College Fair conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling to narrow down your list of potential schools.
Whether you opt for a conservatory or not, your child will most likely have to complete an audition as a candidate for a musical theater degree. When possible, always try to have your student give a live audition rather than an audition on video (video is often a poor judge of range and talent). Auditions generally have a dance portion, a singing portion, and an acting portion. Be sure to contact the school about appropriate attire and shoes for the dance audition, as these requirements vary slightly for each organization.
Your child should expect to learn and perform several dance combinations over a short period of time. The singing component usually requires the student to sing two contrasting songs––that is, songs that differ in style or era, rhythm and emotion. Some helpful hints on how to prepare for a singing audition can be found here. Finally, most schools ask for a reading of one or two monologues that are memorized beforehand. A classical monologue (i.e., pre-1900) is almost always a given, so dig out that Shakespeare and help your kid run through his lines before the big day.
A final note: Be extra prepared. Bring extra copies of music, résumés, headshots, and application forms. Have a few changes of clothes handy so your son or daughter can have several outfit options as they move from the dancing audition, to the singing audition, and beyond. Don’t tire your kid’s voice by talking to them too much, but if you must talk, keep things upbeat. If you’re out of town for the audition, remember to do a few fun touristy activities once the audition is over to relax and de-stress.