Many thanks to Sara for inviting me to the blog! Let’s hear it for fellow lady actors doing the business thing!!
I’ve been teaching voice for the last six years in New York City, after crossing over to musical theatre from opera. And what surprised me most in the transition was how few actors felt comfortable reading sheet music.
Why Don’t Actors “Get” Theory?
Listen — there isn’t anything that prevents actors from being able to “get it.” They aren’t lazy, and they aren’t “just bad at it.”
There are lots of reasons why many actors and singers might lag behind in theory:
- Singers start later. Unlike instrumentalists who can start their study as young children, it isn’t possible to study singing until our voices change, well into puberty.
- Theory isn’t taught to singers outside of college. Unless we study an instrument, no one teaches actors music theory. Ya can’t learn if ya weren’t taught!
- Most college courses aren’t made for singers. Even when they’re offered to singers, most programs throw actors into a “generalized” theory course that never touches a vocal or Broadway score or speaks specifically to singers. They move quickly past basic concepts that singers, who again came at it later, never get a chance to fully absorb.
Plus, skills in theory aren’t really “expected” at the moment. It’s still okay to bust out your voice memos app during rehearsal and learn later by ear. Most singers learn new rep from listening to cast albums and professional recordings.
So why not just continue on this way?
Why Actors Need Theory
Here’s the thing:
You’d never learn a monologue by watching someone else do it on repeat on YouTube.
You’d never ask your dramaturge to scan your text for you while in rehearsal for “Hamlet.”
And you’d never tell a choreographer that you’ll video the first day of rehearsal and then teach it to yourself at home.
And there are like a zillion reasons why you don’t do that. But here are 5 of them:
- It makes you a copycat. If you only learn music from listening to recordings, you’re likely to copy the choices (and often the mistakes) of the recording you’re listening to.
- It wastes your money. Hiring a coach to plunk out notes and rhythms is expensive as hell, y’all. And I don’t know any actor with extra funds just hanging around.
- It wastes your time. If you understand the material, and have a method for learning it, you’ll learn it right the first time.
- It’s really stressful. It’s a sucky feeling to be the person in rehearsal who lags behind.
- If you’re thinking, you’re not acting. If worried about an entrance or a note, the audience(and the casting team) will see it on your face. But if you’re confident and prepared in your music, you’ll free yourself up to be truly in the moment.
Plus: not knowing how to learn music quickly will, sooner or later, cost you a job.
I once had a student who had a callback for the lead role in a major broadway production. But she only had 3 days before the callback, and couldn’t read the music they gave her. When she brought the sides to me for a coaching, she was missing notes and rhythms all over the place.
It was her dream role.
But she ended up blowing the callback, and missed her chance.
So – Where Do You Start?
That experience in particular drove me to research places I could send students who struggled with reading music.
There were 4-week classes in the city, but they were all expensive. Plus, 4-weeks isn’t nearly enough time to learn something as complicated as music theory, which is like studying a 2nd language.
And there were no books on theory specifically for actors.
So aside from recommending that they study piano, there wasn’t a great solution.
So, that’s when I decided to make an online course.
Four years later, I launched TheoryWorks.
And I’m super pumped and proud of the result, you guys. TheoryWorks is one-a-kind:
- It’s for actors only. It’s the only online course that teaches theory to professional, auditioning actors.
- We teach only the theory you need, and none that you don’t. The course teaches only what you need on the job as an actor and a singer.
- You’ll learn better if you’re interested and know the material. All our musical examples come from Broadway scores, from “My Fair Lady” to “Hamilton.
- Go at your own pace and take as long as you need. And instead of paying $40-$100 for one hour with a coach, or $400 for a 4-hour class, you can buy the course starting at $59 —and have it forever.
Plus, for a little more, you can be guided through the material by course advisor Nick Bombicino, who’s both an Equity actor and musical theatre composer and pianist. He’ll answer your questions, and keep you accountable!
So – How Are You “In Theory?”
Are you a theory master? A beginner? A novice?
Take the quiz below to test your knowledge, and see if TheoryWorks is something that could help!
Now’s a great time to sign up: all readers of Audition Rep Matchmaker get 15% off!
Discount code: AuditionRepMatchmaker
Our very FIRST session starts November 16th! Sign up today to participate!
If you have questions about the course email me directly at: TheoryWorksNYC@gmail.com
See you online,
Amy Marie Stewart is a New York-based actor, singer, voice teacher, and recent founder of TheoryWorks, an online music course for auditioning actors. Together in a collaboration with Soundfly.com, October 2016 saw the release of the first of four courses teaching music theory and musicianship to professional and pre-professional singers. As a teacher, Amy’s students have appeared in the national tours of The King and I and The Wizard of Oz, on cruise ships in leading roles, danced with the Rockettes and the Joffrey Ballet, and appeared in regional theaters across the country. As an actor, she has been praised for her “sweet-toned” singing by the New York Post, appeared in “¡Figaro! (90210)” (named one of the top operatic performances of 2015 by the New York Observer), and seen most recently in “Sondheim on Sondheim” at FreeFall Theatre in Florida, and the new folk musical, Open Road, at NY Stage & Film, directed by Mark Brokaw (Broadway’s Cinderella), starring Nancy Opel and Christy Altomare. www.amymstewart.com