BTN.com staff, February 26, 2016
Rutgers University?s New Brunswick campus is about an hour?s drive from the bright lights of Broadway. And though it?s not quite ?The Great White Way,? it?s a place where some of musical theater?s stars of tomorrow can get an early glimpse of the determination and grit behind the glitter and glamour.
Alistair Williams, director of the Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy, says it can be a rude awakening for the area high school students who go through the university?s program. By learning from industry professionals involved with the Academy, they get a sense of the drive, talent and sacrifice needed to make it in showbiz.
?The more the students are exposed to the industry and its standards, the better career and training decisions they make,? Williams said. ?Many [RHSMTA students] suffer from big-fish-small-pond syndrome. This program is a wake-up call, and a huge kick in the pants.?
Williams discovered his passion for musical theater as a teenager. After nearly 10 years of experience on- and off-stage, he decided to pass on his unique understanding of the industry to aspiring performers.
?I?ve had the opportunity of working behind and in front of the ?scenes,? and it has really shaped my perspective as an artist and overall person,? he explained. ?We consider our overall program to be a musical-theater-meets-life-skills course. [The students] develop as artists and human beings.?
Students go through a rigorous audition process, composed of a vocal audition and a dance portion. Williams said they not only look for natural talent and experience, but also emotional maturity.
If accepted, students spend Saturdays from September to January training in voice, jazz, ballet, acting and stage performance. (The Academy will be holding auditions for the next semester beginning in June.) They are also given information on the dynamics of the industry and coached in auditioning.
?[The program] truly gave me a quick taste of the work that would be expected of me when I pursued a career in musical theatre,? said Jahmir Scott, a RHSMTA alum who?s now a sophomore majoring in musical theater major at Syracuse University. ?The curriculum taught at the program is very similar to the training I?ve been given in college. I was relieved when I went to school and realized my first week of classes that I had already begun to learn, use and discuss the same methods, topics and practices that were being introduced.?
In addition to the usual course schedule, the academy hosts ?masterclasses,? in which casting directors, choreographers, directors or professional performers are invited to teach a class and share their expertise.
?We want to expose our students to as much of the industry as possible,? Williams said.
At the end of the five-month program, students perform in a showcase. Again, professionals from the industry are invited to attend and provide feedback. A number of students have gained valuable contacts and a couple have been contacted with representation offers from talent agencies.
[btn-post-package]?After our showcase, two agents and a manager wanted to have meetings with me,? said Emily Gulden, a participant in this year?s program. ?I?ve decided to sign with one of them. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity RHSMTA has given me, and I wouldn?t trade it for the world. Alistair not only focused on ?you,? the product, but ?you? as the person, too.?
Along with providing real-world knowledge and rigorous training, Williams, Scott and Gulden all agree that the program encourages students to grow as overall artists.
?Beyond an elevated understanding of what musical theater is, the students are able to correlate how life and art transcend,? Williams said. ?I?m floored by how they apply the work learned in this program to their personal lives and evolve as human beings.
?Powerful, powerful growth occurs in this program. It?s so much more than just performance, and that?s where my heart and passion for this resides.?
By Isabella Romano