More Than Dance
The Broadway Experience aims to show students what it’s really like to perform in musical theater.
Students learn material from current and upcoming Broadway shows. Photo courtesy The Broadway Experience.
The energy at Mark Morris Dance Center is palpable. In one studio, young dancers are learning a routine to music from the Broadway show Fela! “I need to see the characters,” teacher Lauren Cox says. “Men, you are kings! Ladies, you are queens!” Upstairs, Julie Barnes is taking more advanced dancers through choreography from Tuck Everlasting. “When you turn around,” she says, demonstrating, “I want you to feel that sunlight hit your chest!” In a smaller studio, individual voices ring out. “Never just sing,” musical director Julian Reeve tells one student after her number. “You’re always telling a story.”
This is The Broadway Experience, a two-week musical theater intensive for tweens, teens, college students and young professionals. In addition to its annual New York City program, TBE runs workshops in San Francisco, Miami, Italy and Japan. New York participants study with working and experienced musical theater performers, see two Broadway shows, attend a Q&A with Broadway cast members and even have access to discounted classes at Broadway Dance Center.
Founder Ben Hartley, who danced with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and on the West End and Broadway, is passionate about sharing his industry knowledge. “I started TBE to give students a healthy dose of how intense it’s going to be should they choose to pursue this as a living,” he says.
TBE’s curriculum is designed not only to help students develop versatility, but also to expose them to different aspects of the profession. Meanwhile, TBE’s boutique size—about 50 students attended the NYC program in 2015—translates to a lot of personal attention. “We push our students as much as they allow us to,” Hartley says. “We want them to realize how far they can go, and how much more there is to discover.”
Courtesy The Broadway Experience.
The Broadway Experience is in session from 10 am to either 6 or 7 pm on weekdays, with Saturday classes finishing at 1 pm. Students do a physical warm-up in the morning, followed by theater dance classes in different styles, including tap and hip hop/African fusion. After lunch, acting classes include scene study, monologues, improvisation, script analysis and cold-read study. Voice classes include solo and group work, repertoire, song interpretation and dance-and-song, where students practice doing both at the same time. “We touch on every discipline in some way every day,” Hartley says.
TBE’s offerings vary each summer based on the current Broadway scene. Working performers might share choreography from current or upcoming shows, as in the case of Barnes and Tuck Everlasting, which is scheduled to arrive on Broadway in April. Guest lecturers have included choreographers, actors, stage managers, casting directors, agents and other industry insiders.
At the end of the first week, students audition for an end-of-program show. Rehearsal days during week two include choreography, scene work, stage direction, music and lyrics and finally, putting it all together. The intensive’s top level for college students and emerging professionals works separately and culminates with students filming a professional-quality performance reel that can be used for auditions.
TBE’s teachers have high-level professional resumés. Dance faculty includes Hartley himself; Barnes, who performed on Broadway in The Little Mermaid and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and was in the original cast of Tuck Everlasting; Matthew Bourne alumna Mami Tomotani; Something Rotten! cast member Ryan VanDenBoom; and Lauren Cox, who has performed extensively in the jazz/contemporary and hip-hop worlds.
The instructors aren’t just teaching performance skills. “It’s important that students understand what it’s like to do eight shows a week—and what it’s like to be out of work,” says Reeve.
“I love telling these kids things I wish I’d known early in my career,” Barnes adds. “For instance, make a choice in auditions. Even if it’s wrong, it’s better than no choice. And you might do something that the creative team never thought of, which is a great thing.”
Hartley wants students to leave with a clear sense of what they need to pursue a job in musical theater. Dierdre Friel, who teaches song interpretation and dance-and-song, adds that faculty also stress individuality: “All you have to bring to the table is yourself, and you are the most interesting version of that.”
For student Madison L’Insalata, the biggest take-home was fearlessness. “What holds people back from learning is that they’re afraid to jump in,” she says. “With this intensive, you don’t have time to think about being nervous.”
Zachariah Bravo, two-time attendee, says TBE gave him inspiration to pursue his dreams. “There was one day,” he remembers, “when Ben was teaching us the opening number to Cabaret. That night, we saw Cabaret on Broadway and met Alan Cumming after. I got so emotional, realizing I’d learned the dance and then seen it live onstage. I’ve always wanted to perform, and now I have the confidence to say I’m really going to do it.”
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.