03 May, 2009

Ask Al: A Second Opinion

Here are a few second opinions on the "Acting Vs. Musical Theatre," and other general training questions. I thought it would be interesting to glean some insight from those who experienced it from the other side. A few reliable resources are listed below.

Michael Jibson (Guilford School of Acting):
Interesting... There are some better colleges than others for Musical Theatre courses - Guildford - Mountview - Arts Ed. But I think ultimately, if you are in plays and films, you are an actor. If you are in Musicals you are still and actor. You would still approach a song in the same way as a piece of text - prose or verse.

There are some really good drama schools out there, and they will all give you the best opportunities - with the best agents going along to performances and showcases. If you want to be in musicals you audition for them. If you don't want to be in them, you don't audition for them.

I think what ever course you do, Acting or Musical Theatre, you are still an actor. If you wanted to be a singer, you would go and do an Opera course.

Conclusion: Whatever course you do, you make it work for you as an actor. Just make sure you take the course you will be happy on.

Rosanna Hyland (LaSalle College of the Arts):
I acquired a BA (Hons) Musical Theatre at LaSalle College of the Arts in Singapore. I went there because the choices in my home country of Australia were limited and I heard LaSalle had a reputable faculty.

So here's my two cents:

Find a course with a selective yearly intake. We had twelve people in my class, you can imagine the kind of personal attention and intensive training we got from that! Consequently, the course tailored to our own needs (ie. more dance classes because we were crap dancers, accent workshops because we sucked at accents, etc.)

If you're specifically interested in pursuing musical theatre, I would recommend a course that encourages students to actually study music! (I am shocked that most MT students in the UK graduate without being able to read music. They struggle to prepare for auditions and rehearsals as a result.) You don't need to be a maestro but it's comforting to know you can thump out your melody on a keyboard if you need to. Musical directors love you when you can sight read and learn your part independently. (That being said, music theory is naturally something one can always study on their own).

Go to some open days. Have a look at the students. And ask questions:

- Are they performing to a professional standard?
- Compare the MT students with the Acting students. Will the MT course give you intensive enough training to hold up in a straight or classical play?
- What is the student-teacher relationship like?
- Is the curriculum up-to-date?
- Are the students encouraged to 'find themselves', to experiment without fear of failure, to question their teachers, to be independent learners?
- Or are they expected to fall in line and nail that triple pirouette?

At an open day you can ask ANYTHING, you're not a student there yet so no one is going to penalize you for asking confronting questions!

What I'm trying to say is, find a course that is less worried about it's own reputation and standards, than more focused on giving it's students what they need. My class was such a motley crew of dancers, singers and actors, we were all so different from each other, and it was great to see twelve students emerge as individual, confident performers with different strengths.

Whatever the course, you don't want it to be about conformity and obedience. They are good if you want to be a lean mean dancing machine in the chorus, but if you're want to be a creative and unique performer (ie. "leading lady material") I'd say you need a course that encourages one to wipe off the makeup and explore yourself in a greater depth.

That said, I believe in a simple equation when it comes to education: INPUT = OUTPUT. That is to say, how much you learn and develop depends largely on how much you commit and devote yourself to the course. For that reason I tend to think a person can make the most of any course they take!

Damian Humbley (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts):
In my opinion, the training question is only relevant, insofar as, you should do it. If you want to work as anything in this world you have to train and learn the skills required. I've worked with people who've trained, and people who haven't, and I've always had better professional relationships with the former.

Training teaches you a language, which makes the creative process of any piece far more efficient and enjoyable.

In regards to what sort of training:

Al writes that acting drives everything, and while I agree, I'll be more specific and state that storytelling drives everything. Understanding what skills the story needs, to be told, is what takes training. While singing is a technical skill, there is nothing so moving as hearing a proficient tenor sing the final moments of Puccini's Nessun Dorma. Watching a dancer perform unimaginable feats with the human body to express a spellbound Odette in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is equally as affecting as an actor delivering an inspirational speech from Shakespeare's Henry V.

My point is - What do you need to learn, to do what you want to do creatively? Because, that's why we enter the arts - to be creative. AND to earn money doing it. But in that order. If your goal is to earn money, then I suggest IT, or Accountancy (something to do with numbers). People who are trying to find the 'right' form of study as a step in plotting out a successful career, are already off to a disappointing start. The piece of paper is worth very little, sometimes it gets you in the door, but it's for absolutely nothing if you don't have the skills.

Find a course that you connect with. One that offers classes you want to take. Lesson you want to learn. It sounds obvious, I know, but we can get lost with the planning. If I study this, people will see me as this, and therefor, I'll get this... It's all a lie. Learn, Understand, and be Good at what you do. That is where true greatness lies.

* * *

Interesting, huh? Thanks to Michael, Rosie and Damian, and hopefully this will spark some more discussion. All the best to you all, and I hope this proves stimulating if not helpful.


  1. Great blog, Alex ~ ~ ~ I'll read it more & for ever.
    I'll trade you followship - www.itwaslost.org.
    Aloha, James Welsch

  2. AnonymousMay 03, 2009

    This is brilliant


    Your blog is class Silber.

  4. I love all of these comments, and Damian's comments really hit home:

    "Learn, Understand, and be Good at what you do. That is where true greatness lies."So true.

    Thank you for opening up this dialogue!



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