Performing Vs. Training
Students have so many options nowadays that it can be difficult to know how to best budget their time, energy, and, frankly, their family’s finances. Even just within the performing arts, there are a wide variety of options from class-based programs such as Ensemble, to community theatres, school shows, and beyond. One of the questions we’re asked most often is, “Should my child be taking classes or auditioning for shows?”
Generally speaking, classes provide an opportunity to build your skills while productions provide an opportunity to apply those skills.
When participating in a production outside the educational theatre domain, the experience is by nature product oriented. The job of the directors is to teach you the music, the choreography, and the blocking for that particular show. In that environment, participants should not expect to be taught dance steps, vocal technique, acting skills, or music theory, but rather to come in knowing these elements and prepared to demonstrate them. The audition process is aimed only at identifying the person best suited to the role in that moment and does not account for a prospective cast member’s potential growth. For these reasons, even performers with natural abilities who do not seek training often find themselves not being cast, or consistently being cast in similar roles. While they may be auditioning regularly or receiving an abundance of onstage opportunities, their experiences are not helping them to improve their skills or develop new ones.
In an educational setting, the focus is on process rather than product. The purpose of an acting class, a dance class, or a music class is specifically to develop the student’s skills, technique, and understanding of the fundamental elements of their chosen discipline so that they may be applied to all future artistic pursuits. In addition, students learn the terminology, etiquette, discipline, history, repertoire, and practice methods that help them to become reliable, castable performers! Even a class-based production, while having a certain focus on teaching the material for the chosen production, goes about teaching it in a way that is intended to be applied to future roles, shows, and performance experiences. The show is cast not only based on the students’ current skill set, but based on their potential growth under the tutelage of the instructors involved.
Auditioning and casting can be such a fun and exciting part of the theatrical process. Students work incredibly hard to prepare their auditions and it’s always wonderful to see how they support their friends and dive into the show!
Within all the excitement, it’s important to remember that Ensemble is a class-based, educational program focused on the kids learning and developing their skills. Registering for one of Ensemble’s acting or musical theatre programs means being willing to accept any role assigned – including speaking roles, singing roles, or roles in the ensemble. Please understand that the intention of our instructors is to cast each student in the role to which they are best suited – taking into consideration their skill level, experience, and what they stand to gain from a role. Casting a student who is not yet ready to learn a large number of lines could discourage them from participating in future theatrical productions. Casting a student in a role they could play easily may not further their education in a way that a new, more challenging role could. Ultimately though, casting comes down to who the production team feels is the best fit for the role. This can be a difficult concept for children, teens, and even adults to understand as their opinions may differ from those of the production team. At Ensemble, all casting decisions are made at the discretion, and from the point-of-view, of the production team (the director, choreographer, music director, producer, etc.) with the best interest of the individual students, the class, and the show at heart. While you are not required to agree with these decisions, we do ask that you respect them and help others (students, parents, family members, etc.) to respect them as well.
All casting announcements will be made during class time. Any student absent from class at the time of the announcement will be contacted regarding casting once an announcement has been made to the class.
While casting can be a time of celebration for some, it may also be a time of disappointment for others. We ask that all students be respectful of each others’ feelings, consider the way their reactions to casting may impact others, and approach each other with kindness, support, and understanding.
After the Cast List
While we encourage students to focus on learning and developing their skills during their time with Ensemble, we understand that it can be disappointing to work hard for a role and be cast in another instead. Unfortunately, disappointment can be a part of life and theatre is no different. In these situations, our goal is to help students cope with their disappointment in a way that allows them to move forward, rather than resort to blaming, disrespecting others, or devaluing their own hard work, talent, and passion. To that end, we’ve compiled a few tips for both Ensemble students and parents regarding casting disappointments.
- Avoid line-counting. Every role is important, and reducing a character to the quantity of their lines rather than the quality of their impact on the show can be misleading. Don’t forget that Ariel in The Little Mermaid and Aurora in Sleeping Beauty don’t have any lines at all for the majority of the second act. Glinda in The Wizard of Oz is only present for two scenes! However, these characters – like all characters in a show – are integral to the plot, and the show simply could not go on without them.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. So often, we see students who have only just begun their theatrical training, or who are just beginning to move out of their recreational training and into more advanced programs, get down on themselves for not being cast in a particular role. Keep in mind that some of the students may have been involved in theatre for a number of years. Some might even be enrolled in private voice lessons, dance classes, and acting classes to develop their skills even further. If theatre is something you really want to pursue, you may want to explore some additional classes in order to build your technique and confidence!
- Try not to take it personally. Remember that casting is not about how talented you are. It’s not about being the best singer, the best dancer, or the best actor. It’s about which role a specific group of people (the production team) feel you fit best. In the future, you may find that a different production team may cast you differently. Use this as a learning opportunity! Often you’ll find that this role may fit you better than the one you’d originally hoped for, be more challenging, or be more fun!
Parents, Guardians, Friends, and Family
- Be positive. It may feel comforting to tell your child, “You’re more talented than that kid… I think you deserved that role more… That kid can’t sing.” Rather than being reassuring though, this will likely just make them feel that it’s okay to put others down to make themselves feel better. Instead, try saying something like, “I know how hard you worked, and I understand why you’re disappointed. It’s important to remember that the other kids probably worked really hard, too. I bet if you keep trying, someday you’ll get a role that you’re really proud of, and it will be the perfect fit for you!” Similarly, making negative comments about the teachers or casting may encourage them to develop a negative attitude towards casting and theatre in general rather than learning to respect a director’s point-of-view regarding casting.
- Help them to keep an open mind. Unfortunately, only one person can be cast in each role. While there may often be multiple students who could play a role, the job of the production team is to cast the show in a way that is best for each individual student, the class as a whole, and the show. Rather than encouraging them toward specific roles (i.e. “I think you’d be great in this role…”, “You should audition for…”, “Who do you want to play?”), try making more general statements such as, “There are so many great characters in this show,” or “It sounds like there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for everyone to sing, dance, and be onstage.”
- Wait 48 hours. No one wants to see a student be disappointed. It can be tempting to immediately reach out to the teacher or production team when your child is upset following casting. We encourage you to wait at least 48 hours before doing so. Often times this can allow the initial sting to wear off, and you may find that your student is not quite as upset as they were immediately after casting was announced. Should you choose to reach out to the instructor, we encourage you to be respectful of the decisions made regarding casting and to do so with the intention of supporting your student by using the conversation as a learning opportunity – finding out about additional classes that may benefit them, getting some feedback on what they can work on, seeking additional support in how to best encourage them moving forward, etc. – rather than to debate casting with the instructor. These conversations will not result in changes to the previously determined cast list.
- Encourage learning and commitment. Every now and then, a student may express that they no longer want to participate in the class because they are unhappy with the role they were assigned – even after the 48 hour waiting period. In these cases, we encourage parents to remind their student that the purpose of the class is to learn and that they can benefit greatly from their experience as any part in the show. Furthermore, we encourage you to remind them that they have made a commitment to the class as well as their fellow students. Dropping out of that commitment will have a profound impact on the show’s progress. Parts will need to be reassigned, musical numbers will need to be restructured, and scenes will need to be re-blocked. Dropping out of a class mid-way through can also make it difficult to cast the student in future roles as it sets the precedent that the student may choose to leave the production at any time – leaving the directors and cast scrambling to fill the void they left. Finally, and most importantly, leaving a class means that not only will the student miss out on the opportunity to learn from their teachers and fellow students, the teachers and fellow students will miss out on the opportunity to benefit from what the student would’ve contributed to class – their ideas, their energy, and their talents.
The Importance of the Ensemble
The ensemble, quite simply, is the heartbeat of the show. They are the force that engages the audience and sets the tone for production. Most ensemble members will spend significantly more time onstage and in rehearsal than any of the named characters in the show. They will very often have more opportunity to sing, to dance, and to create than their named counterparts because they get to develop their own characters rather than having a foundation to work off of. If you ever question the importance of the ensemble, just remember that we named the entire school after it!
Class Placement Philosophy
Proper class placement is absolutely essential for a student’s development. Placing a student in a class level that is too high may have ramifications such as injury to the voice or body, increased self-consciousness or stress resulting in a negative experience, or even gaps in the foundation of their learning that could cause major problems going forward. Likewise, placing a student in a class level that is too low could result in boredom from not being challenged or potentially stunt their growth.
Placement is based on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, age, experience, ability, maturity, and work ethic. Please understand that factors such as scheduling conflicts with the proper class level and a desire to be in the same class as a friend do not qualify as adequate reasons for changing a student’s level. Additionally, natural talent, while a wonderful gift, often does not constitute moving a beginner student into a more advanced class as the student will still need to learn the fundamental techniques, methods, terminology, and skills that will be necessary as they move forward in their training. There are cases in which a student may be moved into a more advanced class, provided that they are receiving additional training with Ensemble in one or more disciplines in order so that we may continue to monitor their progress. These decisions are at the discretion of the instructor as well as Ensemble administration.
All class placement is determined with the best interest of the student at heart. While you are not required to agree with these decisions, we do ask that you respect them and trust our judgment. There may be instances where some students from an age group or class move up while others do not. We ask you to keep in mind that every child is different and some will develop at different rates than others. It is important that we at Ensemble be true to what is best for each student’s body, voice, and well-being.
Please note that we at Ensemble believe in “quality over quantity”. Rather than encouraging students to take on too much material and sacrifice execution, we prefer to focus on learning to develop and apply the skills correctly to a shorter presentation. For this reason, as well as the difference in class length and the time devoted in class to fundamental skill-building, beginner and intermediate level classes will often produce a shorter presentation than their more advanced counterparts.
Competition Class Selection
Ensemble’s Competition Classes provide advanced musical theatre and dance students the opportunity to challenge themselves with complex material in preparation for Access Broadway’s Regional Competition. Admission to these classes is by audition only. The ideal auditioners will be highly committed, experienced students who show continued progress in their chosen performance disciplines and who are hard-working, independent, self-motivated, and passionate about being challenged and performing at a higher level.
Many elements are considered when selecting students for the competition class, including, but not limited to, age, experience, ability, maturity, and work ethic. Please understand that we are looking to build cohesive teams of similar students in each of these regards. Factors such as scheduling conflicts with another class and a desire to be in the same class as a friend do not qualify as adequate reasons for admittance into a competition class.
A student’s audition will result in one of the following:
- The student being accepted into the class
- The student being accepted into the class provided they enroll in additional Ensemble classes to develop their skills so that our staff can monitor their progress
- The student not being accepted into the class
A student who is not accepted into the class will be given recommendations regarding how they can develop their skills if they’d like to audition again in the future. While following these recommendations will be crucial in preparing them to re-audition for the team, following these recommendations does not guarantee that they will be accepted into the class following the next audition.
Ensemble staff and faculty would be delighted to help you develop a plan for Competition Class preparation!
The “team effort” mentality amongst cast members and classmates is at the very core of Ensemble’s studio philosophies. However, there is another team dynamic at play when it comes to a student’s individual growth – that of the student, parent/guardian, and teacher. In order for a student to reach their greatest potential, both in class and on stage, there must always be trust and respect amongst these main players. Be sure to keep an open line of communication with Ensemble faculty and please feel free to contact us at 508-282-5235 or firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!