Musical theatre acting 101

musical theatre acting

Musical theatre acting requires you, the actor, to be a “triple-threat”. You’ll need to know how to act, sing and dance. If you master all three skills, your chances of working are much better than actors who are not Broadway trained, as there are much more musicals being cast around the country than straight plays. Here, we’ll go over musical theatre schools and the training you need to make it in Broadway acting. We’ll also look at how musical theatre auditions different from other actor auditions.

1) Broadway Acting Training

What do you need to get a role in Musical Theatre?

  • Acting skills: We’re talking about stage acting skills, which means you need to be able to project your speaking voice and act “bigger than life”. Many musical theatre schools offer a class in “acting for musical theatre” on top of regular acting classes. Why? Because the style is different. After all, we don’t break out into song in real life, so a lot of the very naturalistic acting techniques you learn in acting classes that work great for some plays, as well as film and TV, don’t work so well for musical theater plays.
  • Singing skills: In the least, you should be able to sing well a repertoire of Broadway songs that fit your voice type and range (see below). During your singing classes, you should build a repertoire of about twenty songs, 10 ballads (slow songs) and 10 uptempo songs (fast fun songs). Ideally, you should expand your range beyond Broadway singing to include genres like opera, gospel, rock, etc. These songs will come in handy and help you stretch out your voice. Most musical theatre schools will also teach you music and sight-singing, which are very important tools to Broadway actor.
  • Dance skills: Most musical theatre acting schools offer classes in ballet, jazz, modern and tap dancing. If you can only take one dancing class, pick jazz, as this is the one you can’t do without. Being a musical theatre actor requires you to stay in shape and keep working on your body strength and flexibility. Other styles of dancing that can come in useful are ballroom dancing and classes like African dance or belly dancing.

If musical theatre acting is what you want to do, going to a musical theatre school rather than a regular acting school makes a lot of sense. A lot of acting colleges offer both acting and musical theater track. You can always take some electives in singing and dancing if you choose to concentrate more on the acting, but if you want to be a Broadway actor, focusing on all three aspect of becoming a triple-threats will yield much better results at musical theatre auditions. Talking about auditions…

2) Musical Theatre Acting Auditions

Auditions for musical theatre acting are different from regular acting auditions. Here’s how to prepare and what to expect:

Your Resume

When you submit to auditions for musical theatre, make sure your resume includes your type of voice, such as AltoSoprano, or Baritone. If you’re not sure what you are, find out before you go out on auditions, as this will affect both the roles you are considered for and the songs you should pick in your audition repertoire.

For women, there are three basic voice types: soprano (the highest, for those who can sing from middle C to high C and up), alto or contralto for the lowest voices, and mezzo or mezzo-soprano, for those voices in the middle. Male voices are qualified as either tenor (the highest), bass (the lowest) and baritone (in the middle).

Your vocal range is not the only thing that determines what type of voice you have. The quality of your voice plays an important part too and finding your voice type is really something you should do during singing lessons with your acting teacher. To find out more about finding your voice type, read this article on vocal range and type.

Your voice type should appear at the top of your resume, next to your contact information and union affiliation. If you’re fully trained in musical theatre acting, you may also want to add “Actor/Singer/Dancer” below your name at the top of your resume. A lot of actors who are not really trained as singers and dancers apply to musical theater roles, so this may up your chances of being called in.

Your musical theater resume should also include all your dance training and special s inging training under “Training“. Right below the name of the acting school you attended, you can write something like…

Dance: Jazz, Ballet, Tap.

Singing: Broadway, Opera, etc.

You can follow this information with the names of the techniques you studied or a renowned teacher you worked with. Other relevant information to musical theatre acting can go in your “special skills” section. You can read more about acting resume formats here if you need a refresher course on where everything fits.

What You’ll Need

For most musical theatre auditions, you’ll be asked to bring 8 to 16 bars of a ballad and an uptempo song. Often, you will be given the choice of which song to start with. Sometimes you will only get to do one song, so start with your best one.

You may also be asked to bring a monologue (usually 1-2 minutes long).

You may be asked to come back for the dance call. If the dance call is the same day, you will usually be warned in advance to bring something to dance in (and tap shoes, if tap dancing is required). A dance call consists of a short routine you will be taught on site with a group of other actors also auditioning. Some musical theater roles don’t require much dancing, but most do, especially if you are being considered for the ensemble.

Tips for Musical Theatre Acting Audition

  • 8 to 16 bars of a song is not very long, so make sure you pick something that showcases your voice in its best light and fits the part you’re auditioning for. You don’t have to start from the beginning of a song. Just pick the best part for you and inform the pianist. Just like a monologue, state the name of the character, song and musical you are about to perform before you start.
  • Make sure you mark your sheet music and tell the pianist at the musical theatre audition exactly where your interpretation will be different from the music (for example, if you like to hold one note longer or sing-speak a few words freely rather than follow the exact rhythm).
  • Make sure you practice your audition songs with a real pianist. If you only work with a recording, you won’t know how to lead the pianist, because you are used to following the music instead. Another thing you may not realize if you don’t read music is that your recording may not match the sheet music you have in terms of pacing. A lot of recordings are based on the interpretation of a particular singer or pianist and you may be up for a big surprise at the audition when the piano player plays it exactly the way it is on the sheet.

Hope you find these tips and information on musical theatre acting helpful. Whether you want to be only a Broadway actor or not, musical theatre roles can really launch your acting career, as it has for many other actors. Did you know that Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron all started in musicals?

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