Broadway Teachers Workshop: Day 2
The day started with a chat with Gavin Creel who originated the role of Elder Price in The Book of Mormon in London. This was followed by a talk on "Scenic Design: Teaching Remotely and Tips and Shortcuts for Scenic Solutions" given by Rob Bissinger. He talked about understanding the play poetically and applying visual elements of colour, shape, form, and texture to that poetry. He showed examples of his mood boards for contrasting shows, and then the finished sets. It was great to get this sort of insight into the design process.
He gave examples of how to use a periaktoi on stage to create multiple backdrops. This was wonderful. I have seen the concept before, but had no idea what it was called. Knowing the name of things certainly makes it much easier for me to research them and to use it as a starting point for new ideas.
This was followed by a talk by Peter Avery who is the Director of Theater for the New York City Department of Education. This talk was inspirational and contained many ways to engage students in virtual locations. He tried to pack a lot of things into a one hour talk, but he has provided detailed notes and resource lists, so I will be working my way through those in the coming weeks.
Josh Prince presented a workshop on demystifying dance by breaking it down to its most basic principles. Dance is my weakest aspect of musical theatre and I rarely try to teach any movement myself, unless it is simple stretches for vocal warm-ups. I do enjoy attending dance workshops and was quite excited about this one as I could try any exercises in private at home. Prince talked about the use weight transfer and intention behind movement stating that the combination of these things go a long way to making a successful dancer or piece of choreography. I love thinking of movement as a component of story telling. We don't dance for dance sake in musicals, we want to infuse everything with a sense of storytelling and intention.
Prince addressed the fear of dancing and asking students how they feel when asked to dance. And ways to try to strip the room of judgement so that our students can become comfortable so that they are able to bring their full selves to the performance. His workshop was brilliant and I was very sorry when he had to finish. He was incredibly clear in his explanations of the different ways in the which the body can move and did actually manage to demystify dance and left me feeling that dancing is something I would be able to learn.
The day ended with a talk from Patti LuPone. It was lovely to hear that she is still learning and that learning is one of the things that she does to keep herself sane during this time. I was so happy to hear that she still takes singing lessons and that she is curious to learn new things. I personally believe that there are new things to learn every day and find it odd when I meet artists or fellow practitioners who think that have completed their training.
One of the things that is fascinating about listening to the experience of different artists is how much they remember the teachers from their childhood. LuPone talked about the librarians in her school who sparked her passion for reading and helped her to use her imagination. She used the word "champion" to describe teachers who understood who she was and who had her trust. She talked about the fact that teaching is a profession that requires great empathy and wisdom and that it is incredibly difficult. Her admiration for good teachers was prevalent throughout the whole session.
LuPone talked about how difficult the industry was and how she faced many obstacles. Hearing that someone as talented as LuPone couldn't find work for three or so years after performing Evita is shocking, but also in some ways encouraging for performing artists who are struggling. I found it interesting to hear her opinions on Broadway and how we don't have a vital and enlightening place for new performers, but rather a tourist industry.
When asked for advice for students and new performers she said:
Know your craft. It's a craft, whatever you choose. Know the history, know the technique, know everything about your craft. Know it.
She also talked about being a good ensemble member and to know where you fit in to a production and how you are serving the playwright. The show it about telling the story and not about you and how you need to be a wonderful support system during the show no matter which role you play.
There is no doubt that this conference is inspiring for teachers and helps to remind us of the importance of teaching. And a reminder that although teaching and performing is difficult at this time that we are all in this together.