Skills You Need for a Musical Theatre Program : Part 2

Choir

I highly recommend that MT students have at least one year of choral experience prior to applying to college programs.  There is so much ensemble singing in musical theatre and strong part singing skills are a must. Also, there are many small ensemble shows where singers sing only one to a part, so you need to be able to hold a harmony line independently and confidently.  It is also very common in callback situations for you to be given an ensemble piece and be asked to prepare multiple vocal lines. Even if your school or community choirs do not sing MT repertoire, you can still earn valuable knowledge from singing in an ensemble. Here are five important skills that you can gain in choir:

  • Hold an inner part (not the melody line) in an ensemble. Sopranos: make sure you get some experience singing non-melodic parts!
  • Experience singing 4-8-part harmony
  • Learn and hold an inner part on your own
  • Experience following a conductor/musical director, and the ability to adjust tone, diction, dynamics, and style.
  • Basic sight-singing skills and the ability to follow a score

Dance

If you are auditioning for an MT program, there will be a dance audition of some kind. Some dance calls are harder than others; some programs are looking for serious dancers who have been studying since early childhood, while other programs are just looking for people who can move well, pick up a combination quickly, and “sell” the piece with their personality, even if it is not perfect.

If you are not an experienced dancer, take dance classes, particularly ballet – this means you, too, gentlemen! Ballet is the building block for most forms of dance, and some schools require that you show the ability to demonstrate the five positions for feet and armspliéstenduesgrand battements, and pirouettes at the auditions.  Some programs even ask for a pre-screening video demonstration of these skills, as well as a brief choreographed piece before you are even invited to a live audition! If you have no idea what any of those italicized ballet terms mean, you would probably benefit from at least a year of ballet. Jazz dance is also useful, but if you have no previous training, start with ballet. Tap proficiency is generally not expected for MT college auditions, but if you can tap, that’s a useful extra skill.


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Be honest with yourself about your dance level and experience. If you have had some dance years ago but are now rusty, get back to dance classes.  If you have never taken dance classes, start now. You will at least understand the basics, get more coordinated, and learn how to pick up a combination. If you are an experienced dancer, keep dancing! Also, research the schools you are interested in, and find out what their dance audition requirements are.  If you are not already an extremely strong dancer, certain programs may be unrealistic for you; schools that require pre-screening video dance auditions tend to want only extremely trained dancers. However, there are plenty of schools that accept people with little dance experience. Schools with live dance calls widely vary in the levels that they expect and accept. Also, some dance calls have a basic routine for everyone, and then an optional, more advanced routine for the serious dancers.

Acting

You need 1-2 monologues for each school to which you apply. Some schools may require monologues from a specific time period, a Shakespearean monologue, and/or a contemporary monologue. Choosing monologues is an art and performing them well can be a challenge. It really helps if you can coach your pieces with an acting teacher or audition coach. If you don’t have anyone in your area, work with a monologue coach via Skype. MT College Audition Counseling services can put you in touch with an online acting coach. Some of these counseling services include:

  • Musical Theatre College Auditions (www.mtcollegeauditions.com) This service specializes in providing one-on-one online coaching for various aspects of the audition: song/monologue coaching, dance audition prep, audition interview prep, and college counseling. The coaching staff is comprised of performing artists, teachers, directors, and choreographers.
  • ArtsBridge (www.artsbridge.com) This service provides college counseling and online coaching for Theatre/Musical Theatre, as well as Music, Dance, and Visual Arts. They also provide online coaching for all aspects of the audition process. The coaching staff is comprised of faculty from various performing arts colleges, as well as performing artists in the field.
  • For a book on the subject of MT college auditions, you might want to check out I Got In! The Ultimate College Audition Guide for Acting and Musical Theatre (2014 Edition) by Mary Anna Dennard. Ms. Dennard also offers extensive online college coaching services at www.collegeauditioncoach.com.

Also, never discount the experience of being in a show! Your school may have plenty of performance opportunities, but if not, seek out local community theatres and summer theatre programs. Many MT colleges have summer theatre camps, and these programs can be a great opportunity for you to try out life on a college campus, get a sense of what a school’s curriculum and teaching staff are like, and meet theatre kids from around the country and the world!

Most people do not have the time, money, or opportunity to invest in all of these skills and programs but take a good look at your current strengths and weaknesses and see if you can find a way to enhance your skills during your high school years.

Following your passion can lead to a lifetime of learning and growth.

Nadine Gomes

Nadine Gomes has spent her career exploring the genres of musical theatre, jazz, and opera as a singer and voice teacher. She is a full-time Lecturer in Voice in the Theatre Conservatory in the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where she has been on faculty since 2004.   Nadine received an M.M. in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from the Music Conservatory in CCPA at Roosevelt University, she earned a B.S. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and she was a Vocal Jazz Performance Major at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her students sing on Broadway, in national tours, in regional theatres, and throughout Chicago.