The next gen of performers (and their schools) are serious, yo.

In the early 80’s, Professional Sports Teams and Universities started looking a little younger for their future superstars.  Scouts started heading out at middle school playgrounds, and kids were tracked from the age of twelve.  It has blown up since, with sites like posting videos of 11 year old Julian Newman, who plays on his high school (!) varsity team.

Professional Sports are big business, so it only makes sense that the scouting and training systems have gotten more serious.

I’m seeing a similar trend in the professional theater, which is also big ol’ business.  We may not have shoe contracts to give to our “players,” but there’s still a lot of rewards for a successful career that starts in the theater.  Just ask Kristin Chenoweth, Nathan Lane, Lea Michele, Nick Jonas, Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh “Huge Career” Jackman.  Oh, and an actor’s career is a heck of a lot longer than an athlete’s.

Not only are there more and more training programs poppin’ up at colleges and universities all over the country (when I was at Tisch, musical theater wasn’t even a four year program, and this was one of the top drama schools in the country!), but we’ve got The Jimmys (the high school “Tony Award”), and more musical theater camps than ever before.

It’s getting serious, yo.  (Side note – all of this is awesome for developing our future audience, btw).

Want a specific example?

It’s Spring Showcase season here in NYC, which means a whole bunch of those colleges and universities come into the city with a  bus load of seniors to show the city what they’ve got.  They perform songs and such for agents, casting directors and producers (our version of “scouts”), and some get scooped up right there.

I get invites to showcases all the time.  And yesterday, one popped up in my inbox that got my attention.

Indiana University and Baldwin Wallace teamed up to do a showcase together, and they sent this sharp looking  email to get my attention. But that’s only the start of it.  Check out the website that Baldwin Wallace put together JUST to showcase their seniors.  I mean, this sucker is better than a lot of show websites I’ve seen!  I spent a good ten minutes clicking on the kids and watching them move (and believe me, I had plenty of other stuff to do).  And IU’s is no slouch either.

These schools and these students aren’t messin’ around.  They are taking their futures seriously.  They know that, like athletes, they are entering into a cut-throat industry with a lot at stake. . . and they are doing everything they can to get a Rockette-like leg up on the competition.

I’m glad I’m not an actor anymore.

Because the kids are coming, the kids are coming.  And they aren’t “playing” around.


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  • Todd says:

    Love this post. I’ve wanted to make an actor search engine site for years. Imagine a digital database at your fingertips. It’s the next wave for sure. Whenever you want to make it happen Ken, let me know:)

  • Jared says:

    Alright, I’m going to be the grumpy old naysayer here (and I’m only 29).

    There is no doubt that training programs have gotten more intensive. But the flip side of this is that I feel like the talent pool is growing more homogenous in the type of skills on display. Because pop shows are in, schools teach their kids to sing exclusively in that style, to the detriment of other skills (like the legit-style singing needed for the revivals of more classical-sounding musical). And while there are a bunch of perfect singing/dancing superhumans in the talent pool, I think acting has fallen by the wayside.

    Where is this upcoming generation’s Patti LuPones? Or Sutton Fosters? Or Kelli O’Haras? In the younger skewing casts, I am increasingly seeing a bunch of kids who can sing their faces off, but I don’t care because their acting abilities aren’t compelling.

    These kids can often be directed to be brilliant, but I feel like the type of self-disciplined actor who will be good in whatever show they’re cast in is a dying breed. Today’s kids have some highly developed skills, but I’m not sure they fully understand how to use them to make compelling theatre instead of slick theme-park shows. This is a major failing in college level programs, and I think it stems from the well-meaning desire to train their kids to nail an audition but not explore a role 8 times a week.

    • Yes, I understand what you are saying. There is a mechanical aspect to these young people’s performances. Yes, of course they can sing and dance their heads off, but they seem to lack depth, soul… one is as good as the next, no personality, no individual characteristics, no sense of self. They need a good few years experience on the road and/or at the better repertory theaters (such as Indiana Univ. Rep, speaking of) where they can explore, handle and understand a character in classical rep. Too bad summer stock is dying, such a valuable training point in so many ways.
      But the cream still rises to the top, it’s a law of nature. If there is another Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, Marian Seldes, Colleen Dewhurst, Bernadette Peters out there…we’ll soon know it, rest assured.

  • Elisa Christina Clayton says:

    I agree, their website’s brilliant!

  • George says:

    Coincidentally, I am heading out on Friday to catch the Cab Calloway High School production of “Les Miz” in the hopes of finding five graduating seniors who might play the ingenue roles for “She Stoops to Conquer” – I was really impressed with the calibure of acting these kids were putting out there for “Almost Maine” last Fall (quite Un-like ANY “high school” level acting I had seen before) and I am toying with the idea of casting the young people in “Stoops” with REAL young people!

    Kind of a scaled-down concept of “Oliver” that I am simply not going to pull off for this year.

  • George says:

    That said – I attended an Acting School in NYC recently (that shall remain nameless) and I was SHOCKED at the lack of “Classical” Training… voice, movement, stage presense awareness… even knowledge of stage Literature. I asked about this and the people who run the school said that “No one gets cast for commercials, television or movies because they can carry an accent or even project…”

    Uh – what? So all the formal training that Brits are able to acquire is wasted with modern technology and local/contemporary story telling???

    I think this is a BIG mistake…

    As things ($$$) become tighter and tighter… performing the classics – well – will become the bread and butter (quite literarally) between a starving Artist and one that can play for one’s supper!

    If you don’t know how a character sounds and should move… and don’t develope your own instrument to do something more than editable “theater games” well that is not going to get one very far… when others CAN!

    Little wonder Brits are getting so many choice roles!


  • Douglas Millar says:

    I have no real knowledge of the business of theater, but I am the father of an aspiring performer.
    My daughter has immersed herself in every aspect of theater that she could get her hands on. As a result, upon graduation from college she will have an apprenticeship at a noted Shakespearean company, possibly followed by an internship at a Tony award winning repertory. She is competing as a dramaturg at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in April after winning in their regional competition.
    This is all to say that, IMHO, it is great to put your kids out there to compete with their current level of skills, but there is much more to a career than that. Hard work and dedication to a craft, along with skill and talent, will surely win out in any industry.

  • Bert Silverberg says:

    To declare that schools for the training of actors — particularly for musical theatre — are not providing sufficient grounding in the basics of acting, including classical performance, is a massive over-generalization. I have been attending the above-cited American College Theatre Festival in Region 1 annually for over thirty years, and can always count on seeing student actors displaying finely-honed skills across a range of periods and styles in the Irene Ryan Acting Auditions, and, in recent years, in the Musical Theatre Initiative. I also attend the New Musicals Festival each year at the Goodspeed Opera House, where the performers in the three staged readings of new show presented annually are seniors in the Musical Theatre programs at the Hartt School and Boston Conservatory of Music. While some of the shows are far less than Broadway-ready, the students showcased in them are incredibly accomplished — and not just in the area of being able to punch out an impressive audition. There are training programs at colleges all over the country that are preparing students to excel in all areas of theatre performance, not just looking good in a commercial.

    Echoing what Ken says above, when I was a Theatre student at Syracuse years ago, musical theatre was limited to a one-show summer tour which was remounted for Parents Weekend. During the academic year, the only musicals that were done were student-directed workshops with no budgets. How things have changed at the alma mater, with SU now having one of the country’s most successful musical theatre programs.

  • PattyK says:

    Hi Ken..Vegas here. Will the Jimmys be telecast? Think I saw them a year or so ago on PBS, maybe. Awesome high school talent. And…I am very familiar with BW theatre. A very famous alum is Jill Paice, our Sophie in MAMMA MIA here in ’03.Grew up very near the college, and know Scott Spence from Beck Center, who also recently collaborated with BW in a production of Carrie, I believe. BW has an incredible theatre arts program, which not too many are aware of…and Beck Center is great. Always like your blogs. Patty

    • Bert Silverberg says:

      BW is also the alma mater of Libby Servais and Cassie Okenka, who co-starred there in “Side Show” and have have had very nice careers since graduating.

  • Nyla Watson says:

    Wow! I’m one of those hardworking, “moving” seniors from Baldwin Wallace University! Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to check us out! It is greatly appreciated. Hope to see you at our showcase next month. God bless!

  • Scott Plate says:

    BW training: eight consecutive semesters of intensive acting, including two double semesters. Classical to contemporary, with music and without, plus on-camera and film study. Eight semesters of private voice, classical to contemporary to rock styles. Eight semesters of dance: Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Modern and Hip Hop. AT LEAST one summer of stock. Professional affiliations with classical repertory LORT companies. We prepare our kids for the world they’re likely to face, and they cross over all the time. Alums are booking Broadway, national tours, the regions, feature films and network TV. Facts are facts, and the proof is in the pudding. Thanks for the shout-out, Ken!

  • Rick Brown says:

    Great shout-out to Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre, Ken. They definitely understand how to keep the “business” in Show Business. Possibly the only thing missing in your praise of the website promoting the BWMT upcoming showcse is a credit to the site creator and fellow Baldwin Wallace MT grad (’13) Mack Shirilla. Nice promo piece, Mack!

  • Scott Plate says:

    Another thought: the trajectory of a career is most often determined by the point of entry. We aim our students at the highest possible entry point. We also understand that the purpose of undergraduate education for an aspiring performer is to build a solid skill foundation. How they ultimately build their house is up to them. When it comes to deepening and seasoning an artist, however, there’s no substitute for living.

  • Sara says:

    I am a mother of a high school senior who accepted a position at BW for MT in the fall. After many auditions and other offer, he chose BW because of everything it has to offer across the board in the MT field. Their program is far from “cookie cutter” and from the research and visits we made to the university, it’s the individualized attention these students receive on top of the rigorous curriculum and dedication to the craft they expect from their students that sets them apart. My son’s personal dedication to music and theatre since age 8, countless hours of rehearsals, practice, workshops, productions, summer camps, on and on, have gotten him to where he has been accepted into such a stellar program. The spots at these top schools are like trying to make Olympic team and for the majority of these college bound actors, they’ve already dedicated the majority of their young lives to the performing arts. Thank you, Ken, for acknowledging what so many of us parents feel in a society that values sports over the arts. These hard working young adults deserve recognition as do these fine universities that are helping them harness their talent. These kids aren’t looking for a break, they’ve worked hard for every opportunity that may be offered to them. And I believe this next generation of performers is going to demand far more from their peers, the industry and the patrons than we’ve seen in years.

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