The Power of Presence: Harnessing Stage Presence for Musical Theater Success

The Power of Presence: Harnessing Stage Presence for Musical Theater Success

Embrace the Crazy Within

As a former theater kid myself, I can tell you that choosing to pursue a career in the performing arts is no easy feat. It takes a special kind of person – one who’s willing to put their heart and soul on the stage, night after night, come what may. And you know what they say, “It takes a little bit of crazy to stand in front of a group of strangers and pretend to be someone you’re not.”

Well, let me tell you, I’ve got a BFA in crazy and an MFA in directing-crazy, so I know a thing or two about harnessing that wild energy and channeling it into captivating stage presence. In fact, I’d argue that a little bit of crazy is the secret ingredient that separates the adequate actors from the true stars. Just take a look at the greats – Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Jennifer Holliday. They all had that undefinable “X-factor” that made them utterly mesmerizing to watch.

Cultivating the 10 Traits of Magnetic Stage Presence

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “But how do I get that kind of stage presence? Is it something you’re just born with?” Well, my friend, I’m here to tell you that stage presence is not some elusive, mystical quality. It’s a set of learnable skills and traits that can be developed and refined over time. And I’ve identified 10 key characteristics that all great musical theater performers possess:

  1. Commitment: Like Michael Jeter in “Take a Glass Together” from Grand Hotel, the true masters of the stage are 100% committed to their character, their choreography, and the storytelling. They leave it all out there, no holding back.

  2. Energy: Just watch Ben Vereen as the Leading Player in Pippin – his explosive energy is palpable, like fireballs shooting from his fingertips. This kind of electric vitality is what captivates an audience.

  3. Fearlessness: Donna McKechnie in “Music and the Mirror” from A Chorus Line embodies this trait perfectly. She abandons all inhibitions, unafraid to let the audience see her at her most vulnerable and raw.

  4. Intensity: Mandy Patinkin’s rendition of “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George is a master class in theatrical intensity. His voice cuts through the soundscape with a laser-sharp focus that is simply spellbinding.

  5. Ownership of the Material: Bernadette Peters reminds us that true stage presence comes from inhabiting the material, not just showing off your vocal prowess. She infuses each note and phrase with meaning, making the song her own.

  6. Danger: Jennifer Holliday’s iconic performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls is the embodiment of danger. The vulnerability and raw emotional exposure she displays creates a palpable sense of risk, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

  7. Hope (The Musical Theatre Twinkle): There’s a hopeful optimism and “twinkle in the eye” that great musical theater performers seem to possess, a remnant of the rags-to-riches stories of the 1920s. Just look at Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald in “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime.

  8. Power: No one demonstrates the sheer power of stage presence better than Patti LuPone. Whether it’s Evita, Gypsy, or anything else, she commands the audience’s attention with her formidable vocal and physical presence.

  9. Focus: Sutton Foster’s performance of “Gimme Gimme” from Thoroughly Modern Millie showcases a different kind of magnetism – the kind that comes from laser-like focus, where the rest of the world fades away.

  10. A Little Bit of Crazy: As I mentioned, a touch of madness can be the secret sauce that makes a performer stand out. Just look at Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner’s delightfully unhinged take on “Side Show” – that wild-eyed energy is captivating.

Now, your personal recipe for stage presence might involve a heavier hand with the “Power” and “Hope,” or maybe you prefer to amp up the “Danger” and dial back the “Crazy.” But the key is to harness all 10 of these qualities to create a truly mesmerizing performance. It’s not an easy feat, but with dedication, practice, and a willingness to embrace your inner weirdo, you can develop the kind of stage presence that will have audiences leaning forward in their seats, hanging on your every word and movement.

The Theatre: A Crucible for Leadership

And you know, the skills you’ll hone as a musical theater performer aren’t just valuable on the stage – they’re essential for effective leadership in any field. In fact, my time in the theater was the best leadership training I could have asked for.

Take, for example, the struggle and resilience required to keep a theater company afloat in the face of funding challenges, audience apathy, and the relentless competition of film and television. As I learned early on in my career as a theater producer and writer, each obstacle was an opportunity to grow, to build that all-important muscle of inner strength.

And then there’s the power of presence – that ability to be fully aware and responsive to your surroundings, to connect with your “audience” (whether it’s a theater full of patrons or a boardroom of executives) on a deeper level. As a leader and coach, this quality of presence has allowed me to communicate more effectively, build trust, and foster a genuine sense of understanding and empathy – all essential ingredients for successful leadership.

But perhaps my favorite lesson from the theater is the importance of celebrating openings and closings. In the performing arts, we always made a big deal out of opening night and closing night, taking the time to pause, reflect, and acknowledge the journey we’d been on. As leaders, we can harness the power of these kinds of celebrations to boost morale, recognize achievements, and keep our teams motivated and inspired – not to mention the personal fulfillment that comes from taking a moment to savor your successes.

So if you’re a young person dreaming of a career in the performing arts, I say go for it! Pursuing that passion will not only prepare you to captivate audiences with your stage presence, but it will also equip you with the leadership skills you’ll need to thrive in any field. And who knows, maybe you’ll even develop a healthy addiction to a little bit of crazy along the way. Hey, it worked for me!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go practice my best “musical theater twinkle” in the mirror. Gotta keep those stage presence skills sharp, you know? Break a leg out there, future stars!

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