Displaying items by tag: Musical Theatre Program

MAGNIFYING is a series dedicated to showcasing the talent of our students, faculty, and staff to help you learn more about the remarkable individuals within our creative community here at the College of Fine Arts.

David Schmidt is an Associate Professor and head of the Voice Area for the Department of Theatre at the University of Utah. His classes include voice lessons, vocal pedagogy, audition technique, and music theory. Prior to his appointment as faculty member with the University of Utah, he was an Adjunct Professor of Voice for both the Musical Theatre and Classical Voice programs at Weber State University. David earned a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and a Master of Music degree in Vocal Pedagogy, and has worked on his Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Utah.

David is the co-founder and past Board President of Salt Lake City’s first high school for talented performing artists, Salt Lake High School for the Performing Arts.  He is also the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Utah Light Opera Company. David has worked with the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) as past State Governor, past president of his local chapter, and Program Director for the 2010 NATS National Convention. David has authored numerous articles about singing and the teaching of singing for many national magazines and websites, and is a frequent lecturer for music conventions and symposiums. 

What do you consider the biggest career risk you’ve taken? 

I was a buyer for Nordstrom in San Francisco. I left that job, and my wife left her job as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, and we both came back to Utah to finish our graduate degrees in music. 

We had four little kids at the time. It was pretty risky, but we knew we were following our passion getting back into what we loved.

How did you come to start the Salt Lake High School for the Performing Arts?

I had always been in dance and singing growing up in Buffalo NY, and I always wanted to go to the “Fame” school in New York City, but my family didn’t have the funds to get me there. When I became an adult I thought, “let’s start a Fame school so other kids could have the opportunity.” So in 2006, my wife and I started the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts with the Salt Lake School district. It’s still going strong and we have students who come from that school into our Musical Theatre Program at the U.

The district approached us once they found out we were doing it -- we had just submitted the paperwork for the Charter School. They said they wanted to be known as an arts district. They offered us space and a building, and said if we put the school into their district they would help us. The challenges were really in recruiting students for the school and the paperwork required for the charter. You are starting an entire high school -- it was pretty epic.

Because we were a charter, we didn’t have to be so strict about teaching certificates, which allowed us to hire professionals in the performing arts. Some teachers were people we knew, and we also put out postings for various positions. Each year they have about 200 students. And one of the coolest things is that one of the first students we recruited is now the principal of the school! He was in the first ever summer production we put on at Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts.

What brings you the most joy as a teacher?

The tiny things that bring joy daily are when you are teaching a difficult concept in class and you see the light go off in a student’s eyes and you know they got it. That is why we do what we do, we want to pass on what we know to others. And when I’ve worked with a voice student and on a concept for months or years, and after hard work on their part and me trying to find different ways to access them, they get it and it increases their skill level exponentially -- that brings me a lot of joy.   

The biggest moment is when students that have worked so hard and have the drive actually go out and book jobs in this business. Those are the moments when it is all worth it.

What daily rituals are important to your practice?

I had a vocal injury about 5 years ago and it actually took my singing voice. It was absolutely devastating to be a singer and lose your voice. Before I start teaching now I do some very small straw warm ups, some little things to keep the voice as flexible as it can be. I do use my voice daily and I warm up for that -- but it’s not like it used to be. The great thing is that now I can pass on my love of singing to others. I’ve channeled my energy into that.  In weekly lessons, we have students record their warm up which is the technique part of the lesson. We encourage them to do that daily. Now in online learning, we’ve been having lessons on Zoom and they’re doing all the things they know to do to keep their voices in shape.

What might you tell your younger self? 

My younger self is a lot like my current self -- driven and passionate, and a little too anxious. I think I would tell my younger self to calm down a little bit, and let the pieces fall where they may. Really, the reason why we are where we are is because we pushed, because we were hard working. So,I wouldn’t want my younger self to calm down that much, but just enough.  

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Anastasia Briana Drandakis

We don't know what life looks like on the other side of this, but we do know, specifically about the arts, is that the arts persist. 
-David Eggers, assistant professor 

David Eggers, experienced Broadway professional and new assistant professor of musical theatre at the University of Utah, had planned to spend the spring 2020 semester organizing the Senior Showcase and teaching acting scene work. However, when the U switched to online courses and all on-campus performances were canceled or postponed for the remainder of the semester, his priorities changed, just like many other College of Fine Arts educators. The following responses are his thoughts on the shift to online courses within his field, what he’s done to help his students get the most from their remaining courses, and how he’s balanced life for himself. In a time of change and uncertainty, he’s leaning on the arts.

When the transition to online courses happened, what were your first priorities?

My first priority when we shifted to online classes was really to figure out how I could pivot our focus with the senior class so that they would feel like they were still going to graduate in the spring, having gotten a lot of value out of their Studio 4 class. We were grieving the loss of the senior show, and I wondered if there could be any way we could preserve our work. Ultimately, I concluded that we wouldn’t be able to honor the fine work that we had done because it was all choreographed and staged. So really, my first focus was to try to figure out, “Okay if we can’t do that show, how can we cram in as much value as possible for these seniors in the ultimately 5 ½ weeks of classes left, so that they feel like they have grown and are even more prepared to leave the university setting and move out into the real world and the job world?

What was it like to grieve the loss of a show with your students? 

This is a new experience for all of us, but personally, I have been through something that this reminds me of. I have worked on shows in the past in the professional world, in New York City as a creative artist. One day, we were working on the show and preparing the staging and the choreography, and then the next hour, it was taken away because funding for the show disappeared. It was an immediate loss -- it upheaves your sense of security, because you’re suddenly facing something that’s out of your control, and everybody responds to that differently. For our seniors, some of them were quite devastated by that show, that they had already worked so many months on, to be taken away. Some of the others were more quickly able to decide that although it was sad and upsetting, it was ultimately the best option in order to stay safe. They were grateful for the work that we had already accomplished on the show, and they were already finding positive things that they had taken away from the experience. I felt a whole range of emotions for certain individuals in my class. For certain seniors, this was their big performance opportunity. We had worked so closely on crafting those performances, their characters, their vocal work, their staging, their acting, and we were looking forward to that next step in terms of crossing the finish line. The grief really is different, depending on who you talk to, but all of us, collectively, are facing a loss of normalcy that none of us could have foreseen. 

How were you best able to support the students during this time as their professor? 

We quickly pivoted to online teaching on Zoom, which gives us a chance to all see and hear each other, and I’ve only ever done live classes since we switched. Because of this sense of loss, I really wanted to keep communication open with everyone and give them a chance to express themselves. I literally say, “Okay how’s everyone doing? What’s going on?” Then I’ll try to dive deeper and see if there’s anything that’s been challenging someone or see if they need help and try to be a resource for them. If it’s something beyond what I’m qualified to support, then I connect them to resources from the U. I’ve also created dialogues outside of the online classes where I’ve posted links to resources from the U where they can get counseling, support, and can reach out to advisors, just so they know that they have these tools at their fingertips. Because some days are harder than others. I think that just having another person in your life who cares about you and supports you has been really valuable for my students. So, I’m trying to show up for them. Not just as a professor, but as a person offering support and being of service to them any way that I can. 

Now, when we’ve got both video screens open the whole-time side by side and they’re the only two things on my computer screen, I can see both of these young actors close up for the entire scene. It’s almost like putting their work under a microscope. Some of my actors are now revealing a deeper level of work, that I wasn’t able to necessarily see in the larger classroom environment. 

What was the shift in curriculum and how have the students received the most out of it?

Some things that have worked really well in the studio or classroom setting, just don’t work as well, even on a live video call. But some of the core basics of what I was trying to achieve as an acting teacher, I’m still able to achieve even in an online setting. We’re finding that with live video classes, other things that weren’t part of the classroom are now adding to our work. In the scene work that we’re doing with the sophomores, in the classroom, you weren’t able to always see both actors in the scene close up enough to see what was going on emotionally with each person.  Now, when we’ve got both video screens open the whole-time side by side and they’re the only two things on my computer screen, I can see both of these young actors close up for the entire scene. It’s almost like putting their work under a microscope. Some of my actors are now revealing a deeper level of work, that I wasn’t able to necessarily see in the larger classroom environment. With Zoom, my students figured out that they could change the background that is behind them. Some of them have been able to use new backgrounds to do their scene in an environment that totally changed their work, and it was magical. It was a different form of creativity, where they were actually able to show us what they envisioned that environment to look like, and that was exciting for us to see.

For the seniors, we ended up focusing on getting them ready for the real world. I come from the commercial theatre, New York City, Broadway, all of that, so I found resources and connections that could help them prepare and shed light on the profession that awaits them. I brought in several guest speakers to meet the students virtually, make connections and give insight into auditions, casting, what it means to be a good employee in a show, and what kinds of things directors and choreographers from Broadway today are really looking for. The students responded that this is the kind of stuff that they wanted, in addition to putting together a show. Now they’re able to ask professionals all these questions. It took away so much mystery for them, and shed light on what they need to focus on, how they can best represent themselves and how to start stepping into auditions.

The following list of topics were covered by the top tier guest artists for Eggers’ senior class:

Kathleen Marshall (Tony Award-winning Broadway choreographer & director) 

-Best practices for auditions and being a valued member of a show once cast

Michael Kirsten & Diane Riley (A-list agents in NYC with the agency Harden-Curtis-Kirsten-Riley (HCKR))
- Getting an agent, self-marketing, reels, and video submissions

Kate Reinders & Andrew Samonsky (Musical theatre actors with credits on Broadway, national tours, and TV & film)
-Making it in the business and the differences in all the various opportunities

Lorin Latarro (Broadway choreographer ofWaitress, Doubtfire and other high-profile shows)
-Auditioning for shows  and how to best present yourself

Kirstin Chavez (Accomplished singer and actor, known for her portrayal of Carmen)
-Managing finances for the artist

Michael Lavine (In-demand vocal coach in NYC for Broadway leading players)
-Working on material for auditions and performances

How would you say your life as a professor and a parent is being managed at this time, and do you have any supportive advice for fellow educators in that position?

We are all figuring this out together. I think one of the things that has helped me is to practice some patience and some self-kindness. I always try to practice self-care, and it involves a whole routine, but it’s even more important now that we take care of ourselves. Physical health, mental health, and all the individual tools that a person may use for each of those areas of health are extremely important. We also model that behavior. If you’re a parent, you can model that behavior for your children. If you’re a professor, you can model that behavior for your students. I shared a prototype of a journal that I do as part of my daily practice with my sophomores, and about 6-10 of them wanted to imitate it. Because I’m modeling behavior for these younger people, I’m offering up things that they can do to be productive and that they can do to support their own mental wellness. I also speak to how energy and enthusiasm is a choice, and I always remind my students (and myself) that what I bring to each moment of every day is up to me. 

Tips from Eggers' daily routine to support mental wellness include:

  • Do something physical every day.
  • Meditate every day, even if it’s only for five minutes.
  • Create a mission statement for yourself and your life that you write every day. 
  • Writing three promises to yourself that change every week that you promise to accomplish to contribute to your own sense of success and self-reliance.
  • Practice a random act of kindness at least once a week.

They’re not afraid to be who they are and bring what’s going on with them to the classroom. I feel like I’ve tried to foster a safe place for them so that they know that that’s okay. They are keeping an open mind. They are exploring with me these new ways of meeting, these new ways of communicating. These new ways of telling stories as actors, and we’ve found those silver linings. 

How do you feel your students are handling the current events? 

They’re showing up and I am super proud of them. The grief could be so extreme, the feeling of loss could be so extreme, the fear of the unknown could be so extreme that it could be debilitating. But they are all showing up, and they’re also showing up with these emotions. They’re not afraid to be who they are and bring what’s going on with them to the classroom. I feel like I’ve tried to foster a safe place for them so that they know that that’s okay. They are keeping an open mind. They are exploring with me these new ways of meeting, these new ways of communicating. These new ways of telling stories as actors, and we’ve found those silver linings. The cool things that are only available with a live online class that we didn’t have in the classroom. And they’re not blowing this off, they’re still showing up, being there for each other, turning in their assignments and they’re still applying themselves. The thing is, we don’t know when this will all come to an end, but we are all together just supporting each other through each day and each class, and making the best of it. 

What are your thoughts on the future of the arts? 

We don’t know what life looks like on the other side of this, but what we do know, specifically about the arts, is that the arts persist. The arts have been a pillar of society from time memorial. Look back at the Greeks, look back through the Middle Ages, look back through every time period of humanity and the arts remain a constant. And it will remain a constant through this time period as well. What we don’t know, which is both scary on one hand and exciting on the other, is how the arts will keep evolving through this. There will be new expressions of theatre and of storytelling that come out of this experience. There will be new plays, new films, new musicals that are written addressing this whole experience. We don’t know how we’ll tell those stories, necessarily, on the other side of this, because we don’t know exactly what and how our society will thrive on the other side, but we will find a way. Those art forms will reveal themselves as we move forward, and some of our colleagues will be the creators of those pieces of art and they will also be the leaders of those new forms of expression. 

So, the arts persist. That’s something that I feel needs to be shouted from the rooftops and everyone needs to remember that. We need to take confidence in that and be proud of our own position in this moment in humanity, in our history as a people. Another way to look at it, is not so much about being scared about what is no longer with us right now, but focusing on what could come out of this. I try to remind myself that, this wasn’t the moment we expected, but this could be the moment that we were born for. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

In an age where media influences everyday lives, the University of Utah Department of Theatre is bringing the media spectacle musical "Floyd Collins" to the Babcock Theatre Feb. 14 – Mar. 1, 2020. Based on a true American legend and one of the most sensationalized news events from the early 1900s, this tale brings history and art to one stage. 

Set in rural Kentucky in 1925, "Floyd Collins" is an American folk-style musical following the story of a young cave explorer searching for fame and fortune underground. When a cave-in leaves him trapped 55 feet below the earth’s surface, the media circus above ground makes his personal tragedy a national spectacle.

Tina Landau and Adam Guettel’s award-winning musical is an examination of the media’s reaction to the events in the cave, the various attempts to rescue Collins, and a moving insight into a family’s suffering.

The show is directed by Associate Professor Denny Berry, Head of the U’s Musical Theatre Program, and will be the fifth show in the university's 2019-2020 theatre season.

"This play is hard material to deliver and hard material for an audience to receive," said Berry, who believes the highlight of this production comes from the ability of her students to create the world where this heart-wrenching tale unfolds. "These young artists have proven themselves capable of this difficult music and storytelling. As a professional myself, this makes me very proud of their work and their future possibility."


Don't miss it! 
Floyd Collins 
Babcock Theatre at Pioneer Memorial Theatre
Feb 14, 15, 20-22, and 27-29, 2020 | 7:30pm
Feb 16, 22*, 23, 29, and Mar 1, 2020 | 2:00pm
*ASL interpretation Feb 22 at 2:00 pm 
Talkback with the cast and production team following the February 28th performance! 

Tickets available here. 
U of U Students get in free with ArtsPass! 

Published in Finer Points Blog

Sisters Tilly and Agnes Evans are at the heart of the “She Kills Monsters,” (now open at Kingsbury Hall). While grieving Tilly’s death, Agnes Evans discovers a whole new side of her late sister, anchored in the wild world of Dungeons & Dragons.

We caught up with actors Allison Billmeyer and Piper Salazar, about the challenges and triumphs in the journey to bring the sisters to life.

What is the most challenging part of embodying Tilly and Agnes in "She Kills Monsters?"

Allison: Throughout most of the play, Tilly is essentially a figment of Chuck’s imagination (the Dungeon Master that Agnes enlists for help). I think that was tricky to wrap my head around -- how she’s so many different versions of herself. But still playing it straight through.

Piper: The most challenging part of being Agnes is embodying a character who has experienced extreme loss. Agnes has lost both her parents and little sister in a car crash, and it is incredibly hard to channel that kind of trauma and energy into a character.

What is the number one thing this play taught you? 

Allison: This show is massive. Kingsbury Hall is  a huge space to perform in. There’s so many moving pieces that make it all come together. It’s been incredibly challenging and rewarding to get to work on a show that really pushes you to work on and utilize the skills we learn in the Actor Training Program. We get to work on so much in this show from fight choreography, character work, vocal work, puppets & shadow play, intimacy choreography, and text work. 

Piper: The number one thing this play has taught me is that people deserve to be seen for their best. Every person is magical and amazing even if it is not noticeable at first glance or by the way they present themselves.

What’s one thing about Dungeons and Dragons the general public would be surprised about or interested to know?

Allison: I suppose, just how involved & complicated D&D is. It’s not an easy game to wrap your head around or start playing because there’s a lot of information to take in. 

Piper: D & D is more than just a board game. As we learn in the show, it is about having fun, saving the world, and wish fulfillment. You can be anyone you want to be when playing the game.

There are lots of chances to see these women in action this weekend at Kingsbury Hall!

She Kills Monsters
January 16 – 19 at 7:30 pm
Matinees January 18* and 19 at 2:00 pm
*ASL interpretation available

Published in Finer Points Blog

Action-packed adventure, 90's pop culture, and mighty monsters at war with strong female protagonists? Get ready. 

From January 16 through 19, University of Utah’s Department of Theatre will present Qui Nguyen’s "She Kills Monsters" at Kingsbury Hall, by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. Directed by Jamie Rocha Allan, this tale of friendship, loss, and acceptance follows young woman Agnes Evans as she grieves the death of her sister, Tilly. While exploring her sister’s life, Agnes discovers that Tilly was a well-known Dungeons & Dragons player and dives into a fantastical world chock-full of supermodel elves, dominatrix warrior women, and nasty ogres.

As director Jamie Rocha Allan describes, the production is the result of many creative collaborations.  “What most excites me about bringing She Kills Monsters to the stage is the chance to show off all the incredible collaborators I have worked with, from faculty, to students to freelance artists. This really is an ensemble show on and off the stage.”

The talented cast includes members of both the Actor Training Program and Musical Theatre Program including Allison Billmeyer (Tilly Evans), Piper Salazar (Agnes Evans), Ashley Bostrom, Krystal DeCristo, Amona Faatau, Jack Gardner, Connor Nelis Johnson, Aria Klein, Jonathan Onyango, Makena Reynolds, Keira Stogin, and Lexie Thomsen. 

Puppet designer Matt Sorensen collaborated with students to create several original puppets that enhance the imaginary world of monsters and dragons. The production features scenic design by Thomas George, costume design by Peter Terry, lighting design by Rachael Harned, sound design and composition by Gerard Black, dramaturgy by Mason Duncan, choreography by Aria Klein, and fight choreography by Harris Smith. 

Read more about the creation of the production’s stunning original puppetry here

She Kills Monsters
Kingsbury Hall 
January 16 – 19 at 7:30 pm
Matinees January 18* and 19 at 2:00 pm
*ASL interpretation available

Post-production talkback with members of the popular D&D podcast Adventures in Questing immediately following the performance on Friday, January 17.
Post-production talkback with the cast and creative team following the 7:30 p.m. performance on Saturday, January 18.

General Admission tickets are $18, University of Utah faculty and staff are $15.
University of Utah students are free with ArtsPass (UCard)!  

*Content warning: Children under four years of age, including babes in arms, will not be admitted. Contains simulated violence, sexual content, adult language, references to suicide. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

MAKING ART WORK is a series that taps into the knowledge and experience of seasoned creatives from our community and beyond for the benefit of our students.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Broadway actor and CFA Department of Theatre Alum Claybourne Elder for this episode of MAKING ART WORK.

What skills or mentors from your time at the U have had lasting impact as you built your career? 

I learned so many valuable things from my time at the U. Definitely the most important class I took was theatre history. Not only because that's where I met my now mentor, Sydney Cheek-O'Donnell, but because that class taught me how to respond in my own voice to theatre. Not only did I learn about the most important plays and playwrights in history, but I learned to talk about them and have opinions. This has proved an invaluable skill to me in my life as an artist. 

Any unexpected twists in your path as an artist? 
Part of the fun of being an actor is that your life is full of unexpected twists. One day you're sitting around your apartment and the next day you have an audition that changes your life. The hard part is the in-between times. Times when you are waiting to book your next job or waiting for rehearsal to start on your next project. Those are the times you have to be extra mindful and use the time to learn new skills or hone your craft. When I first auditioned for "Bonnie and Clyde," which was the first show I did on Broadway, they called me in for a different role than the one I ended up playing. In fact, they had already cast someone in the role I ended up doing. But I went in to the audition having worked hard to be prepared. After I auditioned they asked if I could step out and wait in the lobby for a minute. I waited in the lobby for a few minutes and the casting director came out and said, "So, there's another role in the show that we'd like you to read for. We've already cast someone but they'd like you to read for it anyway." He handed me a bunch of pages from the script and gave me about 10 minutes to learn them. I went back in the room and gave my audition for the other character. Two days later they called and said they wanted to give me the job instead of the original person they were going to cast. You just never know how it's going to happen!  

If you could talk to undergraduate you, what would you say or advise?

Never underestimate people and always be kind. Kindness and generosity of spirit are what will keep you afloat in your career as an artist. 

Where do you look to fill your well when inspiration runs low?

Everywhere! One of my favorite things about living in New York City is there is art everywhere. Some days when I have a bad audition I take myself to a museum to get myself out of my head. But you can do that anywhere! Read a book, go see a great film, listen to someone tell their story. Get outside your head and into the world. 

About Claybourne Elder: 

Claybourne Elder is a Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel nominee. Originally from Springville, Utah, he earned his Bachelor's degree in dramaturgy and directing from the University of Utah. He starred on Broadway in “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Sunday in the Park with George” (with Jake Gyllenhaal) “Torch Song” and “Sondheim on Sondheim” at the Hollywood Bowl. He can be heard on the cast recordings of “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Road Show,” “Venice” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Off-Broadway, Elder appeared in the original companies of Stephen Sondheim's “Road Show,” Tennessee Williams' “One Arm” (Drama Desk Nomination Best Actor), and in the revivals of “Allegro” (Lucille Lortel Nomination Best Actor), “Two by Two” (with Jason Alexander), and “Do I Hear a Waltz?” He has premiered works by Stephen Sondheim, Frank Wildhorn, Bill Finn, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.

His regional credits include George in the Helen Hayes award winning Signature Theatre revival of “Sunday in the Park with George” (Arlington, VA), Wolf/Prince in Moises Kaufman’s “Into the Woods,” “Angels in America” (KC Rep, dir. David Cromer), “Oklahoma” (Curly), “West Side Story” (Tony), “Cinderella” (Prince), “Passion” (Giorgio), and “Pippin” (Pippin).Elder was a series regular, Pete O'Malley, on the WB's “The Carrie Diaries.” Film credits include “Flatbush Luck,” and “It Could Be Worse.” He made his cabaret debut at 54 Below in NYC and his solo show “You and Me and Sondheim” has played to sold out houses around the country and in London.

He lives in New York with his husband Eric Rosen who is a playwright and director. They have one son, Bo, who is two years old.

Published in Finer Points Blog

Get ready for drama. Prepare for suspense. Lean into romance.

It's time to kick off the Fall Season of Theatre here at the University of Utah with "Dracula, the Musical!"

Described by Director & Choreographer Denny Berry (Musical Theatre Program Head) as a "Gothic, horror fantasy," "Dracula, the Musical"  will delight audiences starting this Friday through September 22nd. With a powerful score by Frank Wildhorn, and lyrics and book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, the production follows the famous Count Dracula in his lust for new blood. Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray fall victim to Dracula's unnatural charm and, along with Doctor Van Helsing, must fight Dracula's supernatural powers. 

Travel from Transylvania to London with the U of U's talented cast including including Talia Heiss as Mina Murray, Hayley Cassity as Lucy Westenra, and Matthew Rudolph as Johnathan Harker. International Pianist and Music Director, Alex Marshall conducts the hauntingly beautiful score on the set designed by Rachael Harned with lighting design by School of Dance Associate Professor, Cole Adams.

Get your tickets here
You won't want to miss it. 

Sept 13-15, and 18-21, 2019 | 7:30pm
Sept 15, 21, and 22, 2019 | 2:00pm
The Hayes Christensen Theatre
330 S 1500 E
Located on the first floor of the Marriott Center for Dance


Published in Finer Points Blog