Preface: Our local Civic Center, The Des Moines Performing Arts Center, brings many shows to Des Moines every year. They not only bring amazing Broadway performances, professional dancers & touring shows to our local stage but they give homeschoolers and public school students wonderful chances to see performing art shows & interact with the cast and crew by a matinee series for less than $1.00 a show. They are able to do this through generous donations from the community.
Since my children were young I’ve always considered our regular trips to see plays, musicals and dance performances an essential part of their education – like any regular course at a school or homeschooling lesson block. So I asked Sofi (now 16-years-old) to write about what all these experiences have taught her. Her essay is below.
What Watching Broadway Shows Taught Me About Life
Every month a new travelling Broadway show comes to our local performing arts center. My mom and I always get tickets and go to watch the show together. It’s a lot of fun to do and is always entertaining of course, but I’ve realized that it has also been an amazing learning experience and I didn’t even know it! I’ve always been involved in everything having to do with the performing arts – from singing, to theatre, to show choir. They’re just my favorite activities that I’ve intertwined into my regular schedule. I am always looking for ways to improve upon my performances in whatever way I can, so watching Broadway professionals perform on stage is a great help for really seeing the big picture.
When I say “big picture”, I’m referring to the level that every show I’m in should be reaching for – like a goal. Watching musicals that are so rehearsed and wonderful, really physically shows me, what people love watching. That’s why everyone is coming to the show. Because it looks the way it does, and it’s fun to watch! When I see the specific things performers do on stage, I can always apply it to my own performances to make them more interesting for others. Watching these shows monthly is a really good reminder for me of what performing is really like on that level – because it’s much different up there than it is in most local or smaller productions.
A lot of what I have learned can also be applied to many other areas of my life.
So without further explanation, here are…
Ten Things I’ve Learned from Watching Broadway Shows
- KNOW YOUR PART: Of course this is something all performers naturally do. Memorizing the lines, the lyrics, and the blocking. But it is so much more than that. It has to become a part of your long-term memory. You’ve got to know these lines so well, that in 5 years you’ll still be able to recite that soliloquy! This is a necessity is because, sometimes things happen on stage that you aren’t planning to have happen. It can really throw you off, but knowing your lines and movements really well gives you one less thing to worry about. You won’t have to be bothered by the chance that if a prop falls, you might forget what to say next. This is important in all jobs of course. Working in an office environment or with others requires that you often work with distractions. Knowing your job well can help you perform better.
- GET ALONG WITH EVERYONE: By “get along” of course that doesn’t mean that you have to “be best friends with everyone you meet”, because that’s a lot to reach for. Just always make sure to be fun to work with, but not distracting. In travelling Broadway shows, these people are with each other for years at a time! That’s a long time to be with people constantly that aren’t family members. I can most definitely imagine cast and crew getting annoyed with each other, but of course we should always try to avoid that at all costs, so performing the show with your fellow cast and crewmembers is a good experience. This lesson can also be applied to other aspects of your life. In any work environment you will be spending time with the people you work with sometimes more hours than you are with your family. It is important to make sure you take care of these relationships.
- TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF: This is probably one of the most important things I have learned from both personal experience and watching others deal with it. For plays and musicals and any performance that involves your voice, it is absolutely vital that you make sure to be healthy. Be healthy with food choices (some foods can really hurt your voice and shouldn’t be eaten right before performing) and healthy with verbalizing (don’t scream unnecessarily and don’t over sing). Vocal folds are such small and delicate things! Especially if you’re in a production that does eight shows a week for years! It’s no fun if your understudy has to fill in for you, because you didn’t take care of yourself and were pushing yourself too hard. I know this is important in other areas of one’s life as well because my mom often talks about how she takes care of herself well so she can be “more efficient and effective with work and parenting”.
- BE ORGANIZED: Organization is key in most everything in life. Not always “put everything exactly where it belongs and carry a planner”, (though a planner is a good thing to have if you’re a busy performer), but just making sure you’re neat and tidy in your own way. As long as you are aware of your day-to-day routines then it should work out well. But not only should you be careful with your schedule, you should also keep track of the little things that people don’t usually think about. Like costumes! After every show, most traveling performers don’t have a personal costume cleaner upper! They have to take care of their own belongings and make sure that they don’t lose any clothing articles… or their planner!
- BE PROFFESIONAL: This goes for auditions and performances. The people up on stage got this far, because they showed the director that this was something they can handle maturely. When you’re auditioning for something you should never talk over the directors, or do anything that can give you an arrogant first glance. There are actually many things you should and should not do during an audition. Like never sit in a dance audition unless the director says you may. Always bring at least 3-5 different audition song choices, in case the directors want to hear you sing something different. Auditions are only the first step though! If you make it into the show, you need to keep up the maturity level throughout the whole thing! The performers I’ve seen are professional on and off stage, and they never whine or complain if something doesn’t go the way they want (not getting a certain role, canceling plans to rehearse or perform). Being professional can help you in all areas of your life – even shopping. I’ve noticed that I get better service at stores when I am dressed nicely and being mature and polite.
- GIVE EVERY PERFORMANCE 110%: This seems quite obvious, but it’s so much harder if you’ve been performing the same show for years, like some traveling shows. Of course some actors get switched out from time to time, but they still make sure to use their time in the show to give maximum entertainment to the audience. These people standing on stage have performed this show maybe 100 times before, but they’re still making it look brand new for everyone who has never seen it! And these people just sang these songs and projected their talents across this same stage six times in the past three days, but they’re doing everything they can to make it seem like this is the 1st time, because they know that for the majority of the audience, it really is their first time. This is also a good guideline for life. You don’t know when your last “performance” will be – so don’t you want to know you always gave it 110%?
- BE CAREFUL AND AWARE: When you’re in a traveling show, there is a lot of work that the crew does to set up and tear down the set. You never know where a random nail or screw could be hanging out, so always be aware of where you step and make sure to always wear shoes back stage! Of course this comes in handy off stage as well – especially in areas like driving.
- LISTEN: This goes along with being professional, but it’s a bit more specific. One of the main things directors dislike, is repeating things, because someone didn’t listen the first time they said it. When a director explains something, they aren’t talking without reason, they’re saying what they are saying, because it has relevance and it is important. If your director says, “Extra rehearsal at 3pm tomorrow!”, and you don’t show up, because you didn’t hear, then that makes you look unprofessional! Even if you are usually very punctual about those things. Listening, in fact, is one of the main things that can make all relationships better – at work and at home.
- APPRECIATE ART & PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL: Some of the Broadway shows that come to town have sets that could be put into an art museum. We often hear the audience gasp with awe when a certain set or prop comes out that is amazing. Sometimes it is the prop or the art that makes the scene in the musical go from great to amazing. This is something important to remember when performing and in life in general. Details matter. For example, in an interview. You might have the best resume ever but if the outfit you show up to interview in is not appropriate you might not get the job.
- HISTORY & CURRENT ISSUES ARE IMPORTANT: Many musicals and shows are based on historical events or significant political concepts or are intended to create discussion about social issues. Just like Shakespeare used to introduce history and politics to the common people through entertainment – modern musicals also do the same thing. Knowing the history behind a musical can help you enjoy it more and can even help teach you more about history, politics or social issues. Taking time to discuss the musical afterwards or think about what it was about can expand your knowledge of history, politics and social issues that are around you. This awareness is important in all aspects of our lives, as the people we work and live with every day are different from us in many ways. Being able to understand and relate to different political, social and historical thoughts helps you understand the people around you more deeply.