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Students get audition tips at theater workshop

Students from Chicago area high schools dance on the PrivateBank Theatre's main stage during a musical theatre workshop. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Theater performers need to be able to sing, dance and act — often at the same time. That “triple-threat” ideal is Harlem West-Hammond’s goal.

“I think I came out of the womb singing high C,” said West-Hammond, but acting is new for her. Still, after a theater workshop at the PrivateBank Theatre, the 17-year-old soprano said: “I’m in love.”

She was among about 150 Chicago-area students who attended two workshops Aug. 17 at the theater, 18 W. Monroe.

The workshops, intended to help students prepare for several types of auditions, was the first of its kind for Broadway in Chicago.

The organization has been involved in theater education opportunities since its inception, said Eileen LaCario, vice president of Broadway in Chicago. But its recent partnership with PrivateBank allowed for the creation of the workshop.

“We wanted to see what we can do to make theater more real for kids in Chicago,” said Amy Yuhn, PrivateBank’s chief marketing officer.

Students were recruited through the Happiness Club, a youth musical ensemble, LaCario said.

Students from Chicago area high schools learn from vocal coach Allison Hendrix (seen in mirror) during a workshop at the PrivateBank Theatre. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
Students from Chicago area high schools learn from vocal coach Allison Hendrix (seen in mirror) during a workshop at the PrivateBank Theatre. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

The workshop Wednesday gave the students, ages 13 to 19, a taste of the real world of auditioning, as taught by local performers. In groups, students rotated among four areas: acting auditions, dance auditions, vocal care, and improv.

Some students came with a vocal background, others were more focused on dance. Jaymes Osborne, one of the vocal instructors, cautioned against this singular focus.

At the makeshift acting audition, one instructor performed a dramatic monologue two different ways — his way, and the way the casting director told him to do it. He did that, he said, to stress the importance of learning the script, and being open to changing your approach.

Students at “dance callbacks” learned a professionally choreographed dance routine in less than 25 minutes.

Improv instructor Wanjiku Kairu focused on one of the underlying principles of the craft: “Yes, and …” — as in, every performer should agree with whatever choice one of their fellow performers has made about a scene, and then add to it in some way.

The vocal care instructors taught students how to safely project their voices, vocal warm-ups, vocal versatility, diction and breath control.

Singing, said vocal care instructor Allison Hendrix, is a metaphor for art and for life. “Find your voice and you can find where that leads you,” she said.

Amid the excitement and laughter of students, a consistent feeling of hope followed them from lesson to lesson. The demonstrations, said 18-year-old Kobi Lyles, were “raw examples” of the industry.

Like many of his classmates, Lyles can’t imagine doing anything else.

Students from Chicago area high schools were recruited through the Happiness Club, a youth musical ensemble, to attend workshops at the PrivateBank Theatre. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
Students from Chicago area high schools were recruited through the Happiness Club, a youth musical ensemble, to attend workshops at the PrivateBank Theatre. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
The workshops at the PrivateBank Theatre were intended to give the students, ages 13 to 19, a taste of the real world of auditioning, as they rotated among four areas: acting auditions, dance auditions, vocal care, and improv.| Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
The workshops at the PrivateBank Theatre were intended to give the students, ages 13 to 19, a taste of the real world of auditioning, as they rotated among four areas: acting auditions, dance auditions, vocal care, and improv.| Lou Foglia/Sun-Times