An Insider’s View of Broadway For Aspiring Area Teens
THAT’S SHOW BIZ: At last year’s “Making of a Musical” program by the Princeton Festival, teens aspiring to theatrical careers learned inside tips from Michael Dean Morgan, who was directing the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” This year’s participants will learn and observe the show “She Loves Me,” which the festival stages next month.
By Anne Levin
Last year, the Princeton Festival held a special workshop for high school students interested in musical theater. Seven teenagers attended the three-part, interactive program, getting professional advice on singing and auditioning, and learning the ins-and-outs of navigating the business.
Word has gotten out. Twice the number of students have signed up for this year’s “Making of a Musical,” with a few junior high school students added to the mix (enrollment is still open). The participants will attend an initial workshop May 25, focused on singing; a technical rehearsal of the Princeton Festival’s production of She Loves Me; and a final dress rehearsal before the opening on June 4, where they will have a chance to talk with the creative and production teams.
“It’s the big Broadway thing,” said Gail Blache-Gill, a singer and director who leads the program. “The kids see so much about ‘showbiz’ on TV, on YouTube, and social media. So they want to be in musicals, but they’re not seeking the right path. We help them.”
It was while Blache-Gill was preparing the ensemble for the Princeton Festival’s 2014 production of Porgy and Bess that she and director Richard Tang Yuk first discussed the idea of “Making of a Musical.” He knew that Blache-Gill prepared musicals for Kidz 2 Camp, a summer program in Jersey City with a concentration of instruction and performance.
“We were talking about the camp, and he asked me if I would be willing to do a workshop for high school kids as part of the Princeton Festival,” Blache-Gill said. “I thought, ‘why not?’ ”
With her daughter Shari Gill, a performer who recently graduated from New Jersey City University with a degree in theater, Blache-Gill will start this summer’s program with a five-hour session focused on voice, held at Princeton Public Library. The students will learn a part of She Loves Me, the 1963 musical with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock.
“I talk about how to use the voice, and I tell them to make sure they get some attention from either their high school teacher or a private teacher,” Blache-Gill said. “And I encourage them to play a musical instrument. We do some exercises. The main thing I tell them is don’t try to mimic what you hear. Put your own take on it if you love the music.”
The second session, a behind-the-scenes look at the technical rehearsal, will be held at the Matthews Acting Studio. Finally, they attend dress rehearsal at the studio, a “black box” theater where the show will be performed June 8-30. “They get to be on stage and sing a few bars of the part they have prepared,” Blache-Gill said. “
The students also do a mock audition, where they get “constructive feedback,” Blache-Gill said. “I don’t like to say ‘criticism.’ ”
A native of Trinidad, Blache-Gill has toured internationally as a soprano soloist in productions of Porgy and Bess by the New York-based Living Arts Inc. and the Houston Opera. She made her international debut as a conductor with Living Arts’ Porgy and Bess in Japan and New Zealand, while also serving as chorus master. She was a featured soloist for Nelson Mandela’s 1991 visit to New York and with the Westminster Choir at the Spoleto Festival in Italy.
But she was originally focused on piano. “I had an aunt who was a conductor, and I used to sit on the side and watch her lead the choirs and tell them what to do,” Blache-Gill said. “I didn’t really think about singing professionally until after I was here (in the U.S.) for a little while. I was playing for a college choir and I’d sing along, and people started telling me I should be singing professionally.”
Whether or not they pursue professional careers, the students taking part in “Making of a Musical” will learn discipline and practical skills. “It helps with self-esteem and things like that, but it doesn’t mean you have to do this as a career,” Blache-Gill said. “I think that’s the part parents like to hear.”
For more information on the program, visit princetonfestival.org.