Mid-Michigan Musical Theatre Intensive Finds Success with Virtual Instruction
While sitting in a cushioned, yet often tightly squeezed chair, we all adore the talents of the many actors, singers and dancers who grace the stage at our favorite theaters. Stages all around the world often presents performers with both naturally gifted talents as well as those that are highly trained. Each performer finds their gifts and skills one way or the other, but it is no secret that there is significantly more talent than roles that often exist in the professional space for aspiring Tony Award winners. Yet, the most talented actors and singers often credit community theatre and voice lessons with developing them into the performer they are today.
Midland Center for the Arts is known for its creative environment, immersive learning opportunities and diverse programming, but it also plays a role in preparing aspiring actors, singers and musical theatre protégées for the next level with its youth theatre company and annual summer camps and instruction. With in-person camps and classes canceled for the summer due to the international pandemic, the Center transformed its annual workshop for youth theatre participants into an online forum to present the Mid-Michigan Musical Theatre Intensive.
“In the past, we’ve had a voice intensive for aspiring musical theatre performers that was hosted in person, so we needed to find a way to create a viable alternative for this year,” said Dr. Matt Travis, Director of Choral and Orchestral Programs at Midland Center for the Arts.
While sitting in front of a computer screen for several days straight would prove to be challenging, the program broke down each day into three sessions, covering repertoire, the audition process, vocal exercises, character development and even unique activities like yoga for singers. All sessions allowed for fruitful feedback by the faculty who have each led a successful career in the arts. The faculty included Bay City native, Katie Travis, who performed in the Broadway and National Tour companies of “Phantom of the Opera”; Erica Spyres, known for her role in the Broadway company of “Carousel”; and Liz Gray, an esteemed colleague and faculty member at Interlochen Center for the Arts.
The Mid-Michigan Musical Theater Intensive was different from years past, but the virtual experience made it possible for people outside of the Great Lakes Bay Region to participate, with students coming from all around the State of Michigan - from Harbor Springs, Lansing and more. “We honestly had people from all over that otherwise would not have been able to participate,” said Dr. Travis.
It was a week of firsts for the five-day theatre intensive. This was the first year that both vocal and acting master classes were offered and the virtual format allowed for a smaller student-to-instructor ratio which created more opportunities for individual feedback. With about 25 student participants ranging from incoming high schoolers to college freshmen, they were divided up by age, with roughly 8-10 people in each group and were able to work collaboratively all week alongside their small-group. By organizing students by age range, instructors were able to cater to students’ needs and interact with them consistently and individually, whether that was helping them prepare for college auditions or helping incoming high school freshmen develop their skills so they’re ready for auditions in a few years.
While the future may remain uncertain for the theatre industry worldwide, the future generation of aspiring Tony Award winners seems promising. From virtual instruction in Midland to additional opportunities all around the country, professional artists are adapting and developing programs that share their skills and expertise with young actors, “and we are so grateful that this talented group of faculty were willing to share their stories, experience and talents with our community,” said Dr. Travis.