Bringing Broadway knowledge to Red Wing theater

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Four student actors busted out of Red Wing on July 8 to pursue an adventure that would change their understanding of theatre forever. Jessica Scheerer, Amelia Reinitz, Jordan Carpenter and Hannah Coyle were joined by Natasha Yates, Scheerer's mom and Julie Martin, a local director, on a trip to the Broadway Student Summit in New York City.

On July 10, the four students and Martin arrived at Chelsea Studios to start their day and a half of workshops. To begin, all students attending the workshops were broken up into four groups of about 50 actors. The minute we sat down on the studio floor, we started to make new friends. There were students from places such as Michigan, Kentucky, and even a few from Mexico, all eager to meet fellow actors.

The first workshop focused on rap and beatboxing. Students worked with "Jelly Donut," who is part an improv rap group, as well as current broadway actress, Ashley Perez Flanagan. Improvising over a beat is intimidating, yet all of the actors worked outside their comfort zones during these exercises. In circles of about 25 students, each actor was encouraged to tell a story over a beat. Everyone was nervous, but the group was supportive and excited to hear what everyone came up with. By the end, there had been new words created, weird noises made and plenty of funny stories expressed.

Workshop No. 2 was all about auditions. The instructor, Leo Ash Evans, is part of "School of Rock: The Musical," which is playing on Broadway. He offered advice on how to sculpt an excellent audition, both monologues and songs.

Scheerer was asked before the workshop to prepare a two-minute monologue to be performed and then be critiqued by Evans to improve it. Not only was it a beneficial learning experience for Scheerer, it also helped everyone understand what aspects of a monologue can be critiqued and cleaned.

"I knew you had to be connected to the song, but singing it to a person never really occurred to me." Reinitz said.

After watching other students perform songs, actors learned the importance of understanding the song they are singing and the character they are portraying.

On to a show

After the first two workshops, all participants attended the Broadway production of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." A few of the professional actors in the show would be instructors for classes the next day. This performance, in particular, was different than any other one the cast had put on. Halfway through the show, a technical difficulty delayed the performance for a few minutes. Naturally, show-goers may be concerned or upset about the interruption, but a majority of the audience was a population participating in the workshops. Being able to witness the beauty of fixing a bump in the road during a Broadway production was important in furthering the experience and understanding of the professional acting world.

"Every actor was so vibrantly present that even when they had to pause the show for technical difficulties, everyone was still having fun." Scheerer said.

When the performance ended, the students stuck around for a question-and-answer session with the cast.

"It really showed me that they were just average Joe people that would go home after work and watch 'Golden Girls,'" Carpenter said.

The next day, our group started with dance class. Stephen Carrasco, who is part of the "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" cast, taught choreography for the first Oompa Loompa dance of the show. Students experienced a realistic rehearsal that professional actors would have when learning new choreography.

Acting Techniques was the fourth workshop of the summit. Students were pushed to their acting limits physically and mentally. The instructor connected the psychological aspects to the physical aspects of acting by discussing each exercise with students after they had completed it. The exercises consisted of metaphors the actors had to portray. First they acted them out in a physical and literal way. Then they were asked to move into a more human and metaphorical portrayal.

If I can make ...

Every student in attendance had one question in common: How do I get to Broadway?

During the fifth workshop, three Broadway actors and a director told how they got to where they are today.

"I learned to be myself, because that's enough. That's what they want to see," Carpenter said.

Each had an individual story to tell about their path to Broadway and from each of them students learned something new.

The last workshop was a vocal lesson with one of the conductors from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and a swing (an understudy who covers many roles in the cast) Willy Wonka. Students sang the Oompa Loompa song with harmonies and musical techniques.

I asked Scheerer what her most memorable experience of the workshops were and she struggled to pick just one.

"Outside of instruction time in the studios, there was something that was incredible to me. There was a piano in every studio, and between classes, someone would sit down and begin to play. Everyone in the room would begin to sing whatever popular song it was, and some kids would start beating out a rhythm against the floor and others would begin to break off into harmonies for the choruses. It was amazing to be in a room with 50 other people and have everyone just losing themselves in the music," she said.

Ending the workshop was bittersweet for everyone. Leaving newfound friends and a community full of passionate actors was difficult. However, what we came back with was rich, new knowledge about New York City, acting and the world of theater.