In 2008, Allison Bergman teamed up with Tracey Moore to write the first edition of “Acting the Song: Performance Skills for the Musical Theatre” as a new approach to musical theater education. But much has changed in the intervening years, so Bergman and Moore decided to give their tome a refresh with a whole new edition and student companion book. Bergman discusses how her book and musical theater have transformed in less than a decade.
What made you want to write the book in the first place?
We thought there was something missing in musical theater training about digging deeper into the acting question. It’s a book on musical performance, but it’s really a book on teaching musical theater. Fast-forward 10 years and [the industry] changed. We thought, Let’s make something super student-friendly for this edition. So now we have a student companion book with notes, suggestions, hints, and guidelines.
How has musical theater changed?
Two ways: The technology of how people audition has changed, so we talk about Skype or video work. But also the style of music has changed. You see what’s going on Broadway and you see rock and pop styles and a different kind of storytelling. You have producers trying to bring musical theater into the pop sphere, and that’s where you see the hip-hop influence and pop stars writing musicals, like Cyndi Lauper writing “Kinky Boots.” So how do you tackle that style? It doesn’t afford the performer the space to have the emotional connection the way the musical theater of 10 years ago did. Yes, there’s a current pop style going on, like in “Hamilton,” but underneath it all there’s the stylistic element of musical theater singing.
Why do you think there’s a disconnect in musical theater education?
I think books in education need to be continually revised. But unless you’re in a musical theater program where they hire [working] professionals, teachers can only teach what they know. If the teacher is not in practice currently or in the current musical theater world, they’re going to teach from their expertise. [In the book] are some new techniques to deal with the new canon.
What’s the best advice you could give a musical theater practitioner?
Above all, stay present. That goes in the rehearsal room [and] that goes on the stage in performance, in the classroom. I use this term: “Eyes inward, eyes outward.” You’re working on yourself, you’re noting where your body is relaxing, where it’s tense. Ultimately, when you’re working with someone or working with material, you have to navigate to turn your eyes outward. You have to be present about everything that’s going on ahead of you. That ability to stay present creates the finest performances I’ve ever seen.
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