MajoringInMusic.com spoke with Trish Causey, a musical theatre writer, workshop presenter, and host of two online radio shows featuring Broadway national tour actors and issues. Our goal? To get someone immersed in the world of musical theatre to offer tips for students who dream of a career on the stage.
Equipped with a background as a performer, voice teacher, and coach, Causey pulls no punches when it comes to talking about careers in musical theatre. She is a firm believer in being open and candid with students to help them hone the skills necessary to gain a chance at success in this highly competitive field.
Is Musical Theatre for You?
According to Causey, you may have had a role — even the lead — in your school musical, but majoring in musical theatre takes what was fun and exciting in high school to a higher plane. It demands high-level training in voice, acting, movement, and dance. You must learn to tell a story through your entire body, including your voice. And you have to develop a broad range of styles.
She emphasizes the need to be “truly versatile and extremely talented and well-trained in many areas in order to qualify for available roles. Once you are out in the real world, the degree you’ve gotten and where you’ve gotten it from won’t matter as much as how versatile your skills are.”
“Every performer is a ‘type,'” she continues. “You need to ‘get’ that you are a product at any audition and that you need to be the product that they are looking for.” By understanding your type, she adds, you will save yourself from preparing for auditions that won’t pan out as well as from unnecessary rejection. Causey is blunt about the fact that, “What you look like will also determine the roles you can get.”
Guidance for Choosing a School
According to Causey, if you enroll in a school as a voice major, you will train in classical voice. If you major in theatre, you will focus on the theatre but not the singing or dance aspects of musical theatre. She therefore is a proponent of finding a musical theatre program that fits who you are and what you want to do.
“Choose a school where teachers not only have experience in musical theatre but also keep a hand and a toe in it,” she urges.
Causey has worked with many students and knows about far more who tend to narrow their application choices down to a few highly competitive schools located mostly on the east coast. These schools, she says, get thousands of applications, audition a few hundred students, and select 60 – 70 for their freshman classes. She therefore urges students to open their thinking to include other schools across the U.S. with strong musical theatre programs.
Causey also suggests that students consider the range of career paths, aside from lead and chorus roles, that are associated with musical theatre. “Lighting, choreography, backstage…these are all necessary aspects of any production but are often overlooked,” she says. “Be sure to check which schools offer these options as well.”
“Finding the right schools to apply to,” Causey cautions,”requires that you be realistic about your budget. Don’t stress about the ‘top five’ schools. Who says they’re the top five anyway? A lot of people work in the field and get their start that way. You can also take some of your basic classes at a community college if you need to, so that you can stockpile some money for when you move to a bigger city or can afford a stronger school. And do look at options all over the country, not just in New York City. Denver, Houston, Raleigh — these are just some of the cities with opportunities just waiting for you!”
Mentors: A Must!
“This business of musical theatre is a privilege to be part of,” Causey shares. “To make it easier, you need mentors in the ‘know’ who can be honest — brutally honest — with anyone who wants to do this as a career. You also need mentors to help you find your material.”
She underscores the need to find mentors who can work with you on vocals, acting and dance as well as on how to dress, communicate, and interact in interviews and auditions. Your mentors should be able to tailor your training to your needs and style. This is important for applying to school as well as for professional opportunities. “Find mentors with a foot in the musical theatre world, who know what you are in for,” urges Causey. “They should be able to help you with the business side of musical theatre as well.”
But don’t expect your mentors to set goals for you — that’s your job. Causey, in fact, will not work with anyone who hasn’t already set clear goals for themselves.
The Value of Summer Musical Theatre Programs
Causey encourages anyone who thinks they may want to major in musical theatre to immerse themselves in summer programs (see sidebar, “Summer Musical Theatre Programs”). “These give you a chance to see your competition, to learn more about your musical theatre ‘type’, and to hone your understanding of this field,” she advises. “You may be shocked at age 15 to find out what’s it’s really about, but it’s good reality-testing. You may do nothing but rehearse and train. But that’s what your real life will be about! So it’s best to get clear now. This kind of immersion will let you know if you’ll thrive in this world — or not. It’s cheaper to find out if this is the world you want to be a part of, before you go off to college and use your family’s savings or take out loans that you’ll be paying back for years to come. You will be able to ask yourself: Do I love it enough to be exhausted after 18 hours of work each day, and still want to wake up the next day and do it all over again?”