Treading the Boards: Insights into the Lives of Musical Theater Students

Treading the Boards: Insights into the Lives of Musical Theater Students

The Peculiar World of Acting

As a lifelong theater enthusiast, I’ve always been fascinated by the unique personalities of actors. There’s just something about the creative process of inhabiting another person’s shoes that seems to attract a certain breed of individual. And let me tell you, these thespians are a quirky bunch!

Let’s start with the basics – drama school. This is where the seeds of theatrical eccentricity are sown. Imagine being cut off from the “real world” and encouraged to spend your time embodying different characters. It’s no wonder actors develop a certain…skittishness. One former drama student I spoke to recalled seeing their peers walking around with these strange-looking “vocal steamers” – antique-looking inhalers that they’d use to “not speak for the day.” Only in the theater world, folks.

But the weirdness doesn’t stop there. Oh no, it seems to multiply tenfold once these budding actors hit the big time. Take the stories I’ve heard about famous Hollywood stars. Like the A-lister who had his hotel suite scrubbed of all alcohol before arriving on set, only to mysteriously vanish a day later and return “off his rocker” with a pair of companions. Or the method actor who showed up to the gym in full World War II army gear, ready to “fight” a crew member. You can’t make this stuff up!

And let’s not forget the undeniable impact that fame can have on an actor’s psyche. As one award-winning star described it, the experience is akin to being a “ceramic brick in a tumble dryer” – constantly on display, with every move scrutinized. It’s a wonder any of them manage to maintain their sanity!

The truth is, there’s just something about the acting profession that seems to attract a certain type of individual. Whether it’s the desire to constantly reinvent oneself, the thirst for excess, or the sheer pressure of being in the spotlight, actors tend to operate on a different wavelength than the rest of us mere mortals.

The Craft and the Chaos

Now, I don’t want to paint all actors with the same brush. There are certainly those who approach the craft with a level head and a dedication to technique. As one actor, Dan Nicholson, told me, “There is a genuine bona fide 1-99 per cent ratio in terms of the lives of actors.” In other words, the method-acting, plate-licking eccentrics are the outliers, not the norm.

Still, the industry is rife with tales of delightful weirdness. Take the story of the actor who, while sharing a car with a co-star, would routinely make the poor soul wait 20 or 25 minutes before deigning to show up. Or the Oscar-winning legend who, during a fancy dinner, would lick his plate clean at the end of every course, muttering something about being “just a boy from Burnley.”

And let’s not forget the sheer physicality of the job. As one actor, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, pointed out, the ability to “live as another human being” can be both “exciting and extremely complex.” No wonder some thespians feel the need to push the boundaries, whether it’s through method madness or good old-fashioned excess.

But for every tale of plate-licking and treadmill wrestling, there are just as many stories of actors who approach their craft with a level of professionalism and discipline that would put a surgeon to shame. These are the individuals who meticulously prepare, pouring their heart and soul into each role, without the need for theatrics or public displays of eccentricity.

The Struggles of Stardom

Of course, the acting life isn’t all drama and debauchery. Beneath the glitz and glamour lies a world of challenges and struggles that can take a serious toll on an actor’s well-being.

Consider the issue of fame and the loss of anonymity. As one friend of mine discovered, even a simple trip to the pub can turn into a paparazzi frenzy when a famous actor is involved. The constant scrutiny, the gawking fans, the demands of the industry – it’s enough to drive anyone a little bit… odd.

And then there’s the cutthroat nature of the business itself. Actors are constantly in competition with one another, all vying for a limited number of roles. It’s a high-stress environment where personal trauma can be mined for artistic purposes, and where one’s “true self” is often pushed aside in favor of the character du jour.

It’s no wonder, then, that actors might turn to coping mechanisms like alcohol, drugs, or even good old-fashioned plate-licking to deal with the pressure. As Dan Nicholson so aptly put it, “Actors tend to be thirsty beings through this desire to take themselves to a different place.”

But amidst all the chaos, there are those who manage to find a sense of balance and stability. These are the actors who have learned to compartmentalize their personal and professional lives, who have developed a strong sense of self-worth independent of their on-stage personas.

The Resilience of the Theatrical Spirit

Despite the challenges and the eccentricities, there’s an undeniable allure to the world of musical theater. After all, these are the individuals who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of the performing arts, who have undergone rigorous training and faced countless rejections to reach the stage.

And for the students I’ve had the privilege of speaking with, the draw of the theater is undeniable. Take Belfast teen Katie Shortt, who will be taking on the role of Marta in the upcoming production of Sondheim’s Company at the Grand Opera House. Despite the demands of schoolwork and the pressures of auditioning for prestigious drama schools, Katie has remained committed to her craft, honing her skills in acting, singing, and dance.

“Most of my time goes into training in acting and musical theatre,” she told me. “I take dance classes at the JH Academy of Performing Arts in Ballet, Tap, and Jazz, and train in Acting at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Senior School.” It’s a level of dedication that would leave most of us mere mortals exhausted.

And Katie isn’t alone. All across the country, aspiring musical theater students are treading the boards, pushing themselves to the limit in pursuit of their dreams. They’re navigating the complexities of the industry, the challenges of fame, and the ever-present pressure to be “weird” – all while maintaining a fierce passion for their craft.

It’s a testament to the resilience of the theatrical spirit, a reminder that behind the eccentricities and the chaos, there’s a deep-seated love for the art of storytelling. And who knows, maybe one day, these students will be the ones licking their plates clean at the next industry party. After all, what’s a little weirdness when you’ve got the stage to yourself?

If you’re interested in exploring the world of musical theater, be sure to check out the website for our musical theater education and performance center. Who knows, you might just discover your own inner thespian!

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