Though we often think of theatre of a classical form of entertainment, often we don’t realize just how old the art form is. Western theatre as we understand it dates back to the Greeks and developed in Athens. Though they did have an auditorium of sorts, it was mostly outside. The productions they staged, while has an entertainment value, often had a political or moral standpoint, such as the play Oedipus Rex. The Romans were another ancient people who had a huge role in modern theatre. Though they did adopt a look of the Greek traditions, what they did do is spread the art from with the rapid expansion of their empire.
The 14th century was another period of expansion for theatre, and it was also in this time that the construction of a theatre was developed. We have some sketches from this time, which show the stage and seating arrangements which are not dissimilar to today’s. Another reason for the expansion of the art form in this time is towns were growing in size and therefore productions had a bigger market and thus a larger audience. The 16th century saw the birth of Shakespeare and an explosion of theatre in the Western world. Never before had people been so moved, provoked and entertained. Many still credit him for theatre being the success that it is today.
Moving onto recent years, the twentieth century was also incredibly remarkable period for the art. Not only did we see the introduction of musical theatre, before that there was only cabaret, but we also see the emergence of alternative works and artists such as Brecht. There were several other movements such as Dadaism and Postmodernism which had a huge impact on fragmenting the traditional way that theatre was and still is presented even to this day.
Musical theatre is the medium which is most closely associated with performing arts. This is because, in general, it is the medium that requires the more diversity of skills from a performer. Rather than only being an actor, they also have to sing and dance. Musical theatre has a long and varied history. Though music and songs have been used in performance for a long time, the book musical, where the songs and the script work together rather than being random, is actually a fairly new invention. The book musical was popularised in the early 20th century with musicals like Oklahoma, South Pacific and The Sound of Music.
Between 1940 and 1970 is generally considered to be the golden age of musical theatre. At this time, musicals were prolific and popular and stars such as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern became theatre juggernauts. This was also the period that musicals made the jump from the stage to the screen. The birth of the classic MGM musical made stars such as Judy Garland and Debbie Reynolds household names. There has recently been a new surge of movie-musicals with the likes of Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Rent all been made into films.
In recent years, due to the large expense of staging a musical, many new shows have been based on existing material such as a book or film. From a producer’s perspective shows like this, such as Billy Elliot, Legally Blonde or Aladdin, have a guaranteed audience base and therefore more likely to be a financial hit. Another popular form of musical is the jukebox musical. This is where the songs of a popular and established person or band are taken and made into a stage production. Mamma Mia is arguably the most famous example, which uses the music of Abba to tell a story.
There are many famous performing arts schools across the world. Many have a specialized focus and are reputable for that reason. This could be acting, mime, dance or triple threat (singing, dancing and acting), though it is worth remembering that they won’t all be like the Fame school and they can’t make you live forever.
For those with an interest in straight acting then The Actors Studio in New York is one of the best. Twinned with Pace University the school offers both courses for those starting out and a space for those already working in the industry to practice and develop their talents. Some of the notable attendees include Kevin Space, Marlon Brando and Bradley Cooper.
Chicago is considered the second city for theatre in America after New York of course. One of the finest places to study theatre arts is DePaul University. The school, which was founded in 1925, is one of the oldest in the country and has a staggeringly good staff to student ratio of 6:1. The New York Times also said it was one of the top ten schools mentioned by casting directors in the industry.
The Julliard School, which is part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, is a highly regarded school, which was established over a hundred years ago. It is a multidisciplinary institution that focuses on music, drama and dance. The schools is very competitive and accept roughly 8% of applicants and some of the people who have studied at the Julliard School include Patti LuPone, Marcia Cross and Kelsey Grammer.
The Royal Academic of Dramatic Art is possibly the most revered school outside of the United States, and with an alumni list that includes people such as Mike Leigh, Peter O’Toole and Vivien Leigh it is easy to see why.
When you decide to be a performer, you take on a lifestyle rather than a job. It isn’t a profession that starts at 9 and ends a 5 like you can expect from a normal working life. If you work in theatre, no matter if you are on stage or working in the technical department, your working life will primarily be in the evening and weekends, apart from the period when you’ll be in rehearsal. This does in fact work very well for many people, but it is something to consider if you want to be a professional performer.
Working as a professional performer is also not a constant job and you will likely have to find other sources of income to supplement yourself in between jobs. This can seem stressful but as you progress in your career you can hopefully make enough in your professional roles to see you through periods when work is not available.
As a performer, and especially so if you’re a dancer, you must take good care of your health and make sure that you have the stamina to perform when required. Of course, there will be times when you are sick and cannot work but you will be expected to keep up your fitness levels so when the job comes you are ready to do it. How you look will also heavily influence what kind of roles you get. For the romantic leads, especially in theatre, height, hair and body shape will all influence your chances of getting a part. If you want to be a character actor then looks are a little less important but not redundant. Keeping in shape and looking smart will influence what roles you get, if you turn up to an audition for Prince Charming with un-groomed hair and a vest top, it might not give off the best impression.
While most people in musical theatre who have a successful career remain relatively unknown outside the industry, there are a few individuals who make their stamp not just in the theatre but in the wider world. Here we will look at some of the world’s most successful musical theatre stars. If you word hard and go for your dreams you too could one day be as big as them!
Lea Salonga is synonymous with the musical Miss Saigon. She was discovered by Cameron Mackintosh, the famous producer, in her native Philippines in 1989 for the lead role in the new West End show Miss Saigon. She has since gone on to achieve international acclaim in shows such as Les Miserables, as both Eponine and Fantine and The King and I. She is also the voice of Jasmine in Disney’s Aladin.
Julie Andrews is one of the world’s most loved actresses for her roles as Mary Poppins, in the film of the same name, and as Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. However, Andrews started out as a normal graduate from the Arts Educational School in London. She went on to play Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady, both in London and on Broadway but lost out on the film role to Audrey Hepburn. She eventually won the Oscar over Hepburn for her role in Mary Poppins.
Matthew Broderick might be more famous for his film roles but he is, in fact, a huge Broadway star. He has starred in musicals such as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Nice Work If You Can Get It and also The Producers (he also starred in the film version). A little-known fact is that he was the voice of the adult Simba in the movie version of The Lion King.
The world of performing arts is a wonderfully eccentric industry full of wonderful characters and great experiences. However, it is also notoriously difficult to break into. In the pages of this website we will look at several different facets of the industry. We will start with a general introduction about what performing arts are, as many people don’t realize that it can include a variety of thing such as mime and ventriloquism. We will then look at the training involved, what is expected of you, what are the benefits you will get from training professionally and we will also take a look at some of the most reputable training institution in America and across the world. We must not forget to discuss the off-stage roles in theatre such as sound technicians, costume designers and lighting specialists, which also feature in these pages.
As musical theatre is such a prominent part of performing arts we will look how the form as developed over the years from pure cabaret to the book musical, which we have now where the songs and story are related. There is also a short biography of some of the most famous musical theatre stars such as Lea Salonga of Miss Saigon fame. In addition to this, we will talk about the life of a performer and how it differs to that of a normal job, such as working very different hours and having periods of unemployment. Finally we will be taking a short looking at the history from the Greeks and Romans to the present day.
Performing arts consist of a variety of different aspects of the arts industry, however, it can be broadly understood to be singing, acting and dancing. Other talents such as playing musical instruments and circus skills are also considered valuable assets of any performer.
Many people who train as a performer hope to be, what they call in the industry, a triple threat, this means that they can sing, act and dance; think Hugh Jackman and you won’t go far wrong. The benefit of such a skill set is that you greatly improve your chances of employment as you can work across a diverse range of jobs from musical theatre to straight film acting. Many performers also work on cruise ships, in cabarets and review shows and teach in their spare time as a way to supplement their income, as employment in the industry can be sporadic.
Though no formal qualifications are required to be a performer, training can help you hone your talent and assist in gaining exposure, which in turn could help you secure an agent. Another thing to remember is that as a performer you’ll still need a certain level of academic engagement to put together a strong CV and deal with issues such as taxation.
Being on stage is not the only way to be involved in the performing arts, there are many creative behind the scenes roles too. As well as the more obvious positions of director and choreographer, people who have a passion for technology or design can make a wonderful career in costume or set deign, as sound engineers, a lighting specialist or make up artists.
Though the industry is more competitive than ever before, with a good mix of talent and determination it is still possible to make a successful living in the performing arts with the right training, vision and hard work.
To succeed in the performing arts industry one must, of course, have talent. However, rarely is this talent so great that it cannot benefit from some type of formal training at a drama or performing arts school. Many schools now offer some form of performance art as a subject, but to really develop your craft you should study it at tertiary level (university or college).
Arts education is fundamentally about building and strengthening your talents as a singer, dancer, actor, mime artist, or whatever your particular craft is. You will undertake a rigorous schedule, which is more similar to a full-time job than a regular degree. The purpose of this is to train one up to s professional level so you have the ability to perform eight shows a week without injury or fatigue. Performers in many senses are considered athletes; the theatre industry especially is very demanding. While studying you will also build your skill profile as a performer and learn to do things such as juggle, stunt scenes, and fencing. These are great CV attributes, as a company won’t have to train you up in these disciplines if they are required for a role.
However, it’s not all about the practical facets, you will also be required to do a fair amount of academic of written work. This is critical to not only receive your academic accreditation but also it’s very useful to learn the technical terminology of the performing arts world and also learn how to read and interpret difficult scripts such as Shakespeare. This academic underpinning will also give you the ability to discuss roles and themes with prospective directors and casting agents intelligently. If you were auditioning for a play by Arthur Miller one would be expected to understand his themes of guilt, oppression, and race.