BWW Interviews: Natalie Toro on Her 'Acting Through Song' Master Classes
Natalie Toro, star of A Tale of Two Cities on Broadway, took some time during her run as Camila in In the Heights at Pioneer Theatre Company to teach a master class to local actors: "Acting Through Song." The class was held in the rehearsal hall at West Valley's Hale Centre Theatre; it was an intimate gathering of fewer than 20 people, including her castmates in In the Heights and cast members of Hale's regional premiere of A Tale of Two Cities.
Ms. Toro opened the class with a mini-concert of three songs, featuring "Here I Am" from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, an affecting arrangement of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables, and her signature "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" from A Tale of Two Cities. The performances showcased her gloriously bombastic belt with a gritty edge, and she was completely transformed into the characters she portrayed.
She asked the students to critique her performances, asking them three key questions:
- "Do you believe me?"
- "Where do you go on the journey?"
- "Am I connected to the material?"
She then spoke about how she taps into her life experiences, including her childhood in the Bronx, as well as her personal character traits, both positive and negative.
"The honesty of the truth is what we're looking for, within the lyrics of the song," Ms. Toro said. "Your gift to the audience is the journey you take them on."
The majority of the four-hour master class was filled with one-on-one interactions with the students, helping them refine their ability to act through song.
Ms. Toro was kind enough to speak with BroadwayWorld about her master classes and recent experiences in Utah.
1. What led to you teaching these master classes?
I wanted to teach a skill that I use, a technique that is not well known. I studied at The Boston Conservatory (BOCO) with a teacher, Fran Charnas. This was a sophomore class and she just blew me away. She taught me a priceless "gift": to connect with my material in the most honest way possible.
2. How often do you teach the classes?
I have taught about five classes now. It's the beginning of something wonderful for me and the people that take it.
3. What ages do you teach? How is teaching adults different from teaching children/teens?
I teach from the ages of 12 to adult. It's quite interesting the difference. Teens are so open and able to dig deep into their feelings much faster that adults. I think adults have more layers of "stuff" to get through. Also adults have had time to develop their habits, so breaking down the walls makes me work a little harder. But I LOVE it!
4. What is the structure of the class?
I usually do a mini-concert, like three songs, and ask them to be prepared to critique me. I usually ask them three questions. Then after the concert, I tell them how I work, and talk about the technique that they have probably heard of but not the way I teach it. It's quite unexpected.
5. How does the mini-concert at the beginning set the tone for the class and instruct the students?
Because I tell them to critique me, it sets the tone that I am also vulnerable to the work and that I am someone that is their equal. Then I set up a trust circle.
6. Why did you choose the topic "Acting Through Song"? What does the topic mean to you?
I chose it because I am very serious about it in my own work. I wouldn't give myself the job if the journey of the song didn't take whoever was watching on their own personal journey. I don't like it when I see a performance and the dialogue is great. Then the song starts, and the performer doesn't connect with the material. It's as if they stopped acting cause they are singing.
7. What important concepts do you strive to get across to the students?
That whatever they choose to sing, they have to make it personal, something or someone out of their own lives. We have to see where they are, who they are talking to, and what they are feeling right at the intro of the song. If that doesn't happen, they lost me.
8. What is the most important thing you hope students will leave the class having learned?
That they can pull experiences out of their own lives via past, present, even future. It starts with the first word of the song. It's complicated to really explain here. But most students don't get past the first line of the song.
9. Can you give us an example of a success story from one of your classes?
I love it when the first person goes up and they have NO idea what is about to happen to them. I start doing my thing. You can see their brain trying to adjust to the work, then their heart opens up, then they start to sing and voila...the truth happens to them for the first time. And there are those people that just want to audit and sit and learn and not want to sing. Well, all of a sudden, they are all raising their hands to go and get a shot with me. It's magical.
10. How is teaching different from performing?
I think they are one and the same. When I perform, I give my heart away. When I teach, I give my heart away. Both are extremely fulfilling.
11. What are your thoughts on Utah?
First of all, you can't get mountains like this in NYC. Holy Moly! When I first arrived and checked into my apartment, the mountains were right outside my window. Who gets that in a city?
12. How has your experience been performing in In the Heights at Pioneer Theatre Company?
As someone that has created the role on the 1st National Tour, it was so good for me to let things go and be free and discover other things about the role and the show. Matt August, our director, has taken the show to another level which blew my mind. I thank him every day for that. I have also made incredible friends here that I know will be a part of my life until the end. That is also blowing my mind.
13. What projects do you have coming up?
I do a lot of concert work, so I'm scheduled to get back in gear for that. Also performing in a benefit for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids on October 12th at New World Stages for a show called, "Hello Gorgeous," a tribute to Streisand. Learning some new material now.
14. Do you have any future master classes scheduled?
I do plan on having one in NYC very soon. The word is getting out and people are asking about it. I will post on my website: www.natalietoro.com for any future classes.
15. Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
Utah has amazing talent and a huge theatre community, something I never knew. The Hale Centre Theatre where I did my class is a beautiful theatre. I was in shock when I walked in and saw how manicured it was. It really looks like a set out of a movie. Sally Dietlein, who runs the theatre was so gracious, kind, and loving. This is the theatre that was the first regional house that did, "A Tale of Two Cities." The girl who played Madame Defarge [Angela Jeffries] actually took my class. Their mission statement is, "To provide world class, affordable family theater and theater education for and by the community." And I have to say, they are doing something right!