I was rather fortunate to train in musical theatre at ArtsEd in Chiswick. I had three years of singing in front of important people and constant end-of-week performance classes in which I sang to the whole school and was then critiqued, in front of the whole school. It was Pop Idol before we knew who Simon Cowell was.
My very first experience of this was as an extremely green first year, chosen to sing at the third year performance class, which was deemed praise indeed by the faculty. I think I’ve blocked that moment out; I’m not sure what happened, because it was pretty traumatic to be honest. However, I believe it prepared me for pretty much anything because once you’ve tasted that fear, it doesn’t taste so bad the next time, and the time after that it’s actually quite nice.
From the frying pan into the fire adequately describes my next Masterclass moment. Picture this.... The Theatre Royal Haymarket, an audience filled with my piers from rival colleges, musical theatre legend Maria Friedman, and little old me. I’d been chosen to represent ArtsEd (no pressure then) at the theatre’s workshop strand. It was probably my first time on a West End stage and was definitely the mother of all workshops. I enjoyed the experience believe it or not. It helped that with the theatre lights shining in my eyes it was easier to imagine it was just Maria and me on that stage and she was wonderfully encouraging and made me feel my choices were instinctual and correct. Years later as a teacher I find I’ve taken much from that experience. What Maria did so well was to take what I naturally gave her and just enhance it. There was no humiliation and no belittling. There was only gentle persuasion.
Of course, I had the workshop basics down pat. Make sure your music is well presented (in plastic sheets & folder or taped together). Know the song you’re singing back to front so that when you’re asked to differ your performance, you don’t lose the words. Make sure that song tells a story; pop songs can be tricky to workshop if the meaning is superficial. Above all come into the workshop with the right attitude. I remember when one girl (who’ll remain nameless) sang for Maria and then proceeded to give her such immense attitude that (quite rightly) Miss Friedman politely let her know the session was over.
My advice to anyone who attends a Masterclass is to be happy, be brave, be able to laugh at yourself and above all, be open. This experience can offer epiphanies if you’re prepared and you’re up for it. My workshop experiences shaped what I do to this very day and I wouldn’t have changed them for the world.
Paul Spicer and Julie Atherton's Masterclass is on Tuesday 19th July – 4.00 - 6.00pm & 6.30 - 8.30pm at the Studio Theatre, The University of Salford.
To participate - it costs £35, and to be a spectator - £10. Email: [email protected]