Seventeen-year-old Sam O’Neill planned to spend his summer auditioning for a local show or two, performing in a professional Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (or CLO) production, and seeing the rest of the CLO’s summer series with tickets his grandparents gifted him for Christmas. But these productions have been canceled as theatres both on and beyond Broadway announced an “intermission” for their industry. And Sam’s training, including a summer intensive for rising seniors held at a college campus, has moved online.
“There has definitely been some time for adjusting to new expectations of what the summer will look like. A mourning process, if you will,” says Sam’s mom, Jennifer. “But we try to look on the bright side of things and focus on the benefits of what is still being held and how organizations are doing all they can to support and continue to train the kids.”
Now that it’s fall, live theater is still in a holding pattern, but teens who love the stage can still continue to grow.
4 Ways to Keep the Drama Coming:
If the curtain has gone down on your theatre-loving teen’s dreams and plans, here are four ways they can still scratch their performing itch:
1. Learn something new.
New skills are always beneficial, and plenty can be learned online.
“There’s a void nationally for performing arts students. A lot of them feel they have missed their opportunity,” says Kiesha Lalama, professor of dance at Point Park University in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh CLO’s director of community engagement. “We’re trying to bring the opportunity to them and say, ‘you didn’t miss anything.’”
Like many performing arts organizations worldwide, the CLO, which boasts alumni like Billy Porter and Zachary Quinto, is taking advantage of this opportunity to collaborate online with its talent network and reach more national and international students, including those with special needs.
Likewise, since programming has moved online at the University of Michigan’s department of musical theatre—alma mater of Tony winners Celia Keenan-Bolger, Gavin Creel, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul—more prospective students have been able to sit in on classes and engage in online chats with current students and alumni. “It’s a totally different vibe than other times,” says the department’s chair, Vincent J. Cardinal. “In person is always better, but it’s been pretty cool.”
2. Get noticed.
Performers need entrepreneurial skills, and now is a good time to gain them. Students should focus on branding, Lalama says, “because how you’re seen now is how you’re going to be seen later.”
A professional website and YouTube channel are a must, and teens might want to study video editing to improve their online presence.
It’s a one-in-a-million chance, but this online presence might even get your teen discovered, as one teen did through an online video challenge, according to Natasha Matallana Marken, president of Take 3 Talent Agency, Inc., in New York City.
Agents at Take 3 Talent, which works with emerging talent, are using this time to meet new people they wouldn’t have time to meet. They typically receive 700 submissions per week and only get to about 20 or 30 of them. But over the past few weeks, they’ve seen about 4,000.
Despite the pandemic, casting for TV shows and movies is ongoing, thanks to the binge-watching public’s demand for new content. So, Matallana Marken encourages theatre kids to consider acting for the screen. “It’s just a different form of what you love doing,” she says.
To improve their odds of getting picked up by an agency, Matallana Marken recommends teens:
- Keep practicing their skills
- Improve their marketing materials
- Record three to four contrasting sides and two or three contrasting songs
- Identify favorite TV shows and the types of roles they could believably play
- Build a network
3. Be entertained…and inspired.
Encourage your teen to learn from Broadway stars and industry pros online, be motivated by them, and maybe even reach out on social media.
Some resources worth checking out include:
- EduHam at Home
- La Jolla Playhouse’s Staging Area
- National Theatre at Home
- Playbill.com (and its list of resources)
- Podcasts like The Early Night Show with Joshua Turchin, Guys Who Like Musicals, and Ditch Your Backup Plan
- Regional theatres, like Pittsburgh CLO’s online educational offerings, web series, and inspirational song challenge from #PCLOQuaranTeens and #PCLOQuaranTeenies
- The Lion King Experience: At Home
- University of Michigan’s @the_song_smith, @itsblakeroman, and @tbrant2001
4. Ultimately, acting is about tapping into the human experience, and your teen is living through quite an experience.
“Reflection is essential,” Cardinal says. “We have a message from the universe to just be still for a while.”
Lalama advises teens to find a way to unpack their thoughts. “Identifying your release is the key,” she says. “Whether it’s yoga, meditation, journaling, or creating, sometimes you have to empty to fill up again and produce.”
Parents can help their driven teens slow down. Cardinal says, “Create a space in which it’s OK to be quiet, to think, to go deeper, and that might look like playing a video game.”
If your teen feels discouraged, remind them that theatre has bounced back before. “We might see a renaissance in theatre like you never imagined. Believing in the renaissance and following your passion will make that happen,” Cardinal says. “Theatre is core to what it is to be human, and it will always be with us.”