What is the key to becoming a well rounded Musical Theatre Artist?
Heidi Lange, Vocal/ Musical Theatre Instructor breaks it down.
A new school year is an exciting time for both students and teachers. I’m always full of enthusiasm and anticipation for the progress and development of those at the start of their artistic journey, as well as those who have already started down the path. I often find myself noticing the differences between the students who achieve sustained and meaningful progress versus those who seem to stay stuck at the start. I can tell you that it has virtually nothing to do with talent. I can also tell you that the traits I see in successful students have a direct line to successful theatre professionals as well.
The first, and most important of these, in my opinion? Attitude. Everything else flows from a positive and open attitude and approach to training. Attitude matters. Here are some other important qualities to cultivate:
Be Voracious About Learning
Take advantage of every opportunity you can: classes, lessons, workshops, seminars, lectures, as well as performances, concerts, recitals, etc. Study the work of artists you admire. Ask questions of your teachers, directors and colleagues; remember they have a wealth of knowledge and expertise to share with you. One of the great advantages of living in the digital age is access. When you are assigned a new song you don’t know, listen to different recordings, listen to the show it originates from, and make sure you know what the show (and song) are about. Learn about composers and writers, different eras of musical theatre, styles of choreography and music. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you to find out more.
Be Safe and Scared
Good teachers foster a supportive and non-judgmental environment, whether in a group setting, or private instruction. It is integral that you feel safe with your teachers and/or fellow students. All 3 areas of musical theatre study (singing/dancing/acting) will involve your having to open yourself up to the strange and unfamiliar, to be vulnerable and to step out of your comfort zone. It is almost guaranteed you’ll be asked to try things you’re not already good at, things that may even scare you a bit, and your initial reaction may be to resist. That is a natural first instinct. Beyond that, however, you can trust that, even though you may be scared, you will still be safe, whether you succeed or fail. Allowing yourself to fail will teach you that failure need not define you. All you do is try again. Allowing yourself to succeed will teach you how much you may not know about yourself and your capabilities. Both failure and success will help you grow.
Ask questions when they arise. There’s no point in pretending you know something you do not. If you truly don’t understand why you’re being asked to do something, find out. If you’re curious as to why a song may have been chosen for you, or even why you have been cast in a certain role, there is no shame or harm in asking. It is equally important to listen to the answer you receive, and accept that you may not always be satisfied with it. OF COURSE, if, for any reason, you have a genuine fear for your physical, mental or emotional well being (or that of somebody else), speak to someone you trust to help you resolve the issue.
Humility & Confidence vs. False Modesty & Arrogance
Understand the difference. As you learn and develop your skills, it’s natural and desirable to gain confidence: a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities (dictionary.com). Always remember, however, that there’s no such thing as perfection, and always room for new discoveries and insights. Confidence paired with humility is about understanding both your strengths and weaknesses. False modesty, aka “humble bragging”, is simply dishonest. It’s okay to openly feel proud of an achievement on your own without angling for a manipulated response from others. As for arrogance: having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilities (dictionary.com), there’s no place for it in the studio, the rehearsal hall, or onstage. Respect for yourself, as well as your colleagues is essential for growth, collaboration, and ultimately, success.
Heidi Lange is a singer, teacher, writer and actor, balancing a varied teaching schedule of vocal and musical theatre instruction, with over 14 years of teaching experience. Lange sings jazz and pop regularly in and around Toronto, and is a theatre performer. A graduate of Mohawk College’s Applied Music program, she has studied Musical Theatre at the University of Windsor, continuing her vocal study in both Canada and the US. She is currently in her 3rd year teaching Vocal For Dance at George Brown College's Ballet Jörgen, and is a teacher at Broadway Arts Centre, and a musical Director for the Downtown Alternative School's annual musical.