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BWW Blog: A Voice Heard Around The World - An Interview with Jeremy Powell

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I'm so proud to introduce BroadwayWorld readers to my remarkable voice teacher, Jeremy Powell.

BWW Blog: A Voice Heard Around The World - An Interview with Jeremy Powell

Hi everyone! Welcome back to Life in the Key of B with Bella Bosco! Today's post is coming to you live from quarantine at WCSU in Connecticut! Part of my school's policy to try to keep everyone safe as we return this semester is proof of a negative COVID-19 test and a mandated two-week quarantine for students like me coming from a "hot spot" state before moving onto campus.

I am very excited about today's post because it's about one of the most important kinds of relationships any student in musical theatre can have--their voice teacher. I'm so proud to introduce BroadwayWorld readers to my remarkable voice teacher, Jeremy Powell. I've been studying with Jeremy (Jem as I get to call him) for one year and have been fortunate to be able to continue my studies with him through this entire summer. While I love working with Jem in person, I've found that our work in a virtual setting has given me meaningful growth and learning. It's also been inspiring and comforting to have his teaching as a constant in my life. His weekly lesson was as important to me personally as it has been in developing and caring for my voice. I'm especially thankful for his teaching and influence during a time that has felt unsettling and unsure.

Not only is Jeremy Powell a remarkable teacher, he has enjoyed an incredible career performing throughout the world. Jem was in the original Australian casts of The Producers, Spamalot, The Witches of Eastwick, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Dead Man Walking, Romance Romance and he also performed in productions of The Pirates of Penzance, Crazy For You, A Grand Night For Singing, Anything Goes, 42nd Street and more. Before teaching at WCSU, Jem was the Head of Musical Theatre at the Urdang Academy in London. In addition to teaching at WCSU, Jem also has a private studio for professionals and students from all around the world. He is also an experienced professional pianist! Jeremy is originally from Australia and studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and is a certified Master Teacher of Estill Voice International. His global perspective of the arts has enriched my understanding of the range of opportunities for performers.

I've been very fortunate to have worked with several fantastic vocal teachers, coaches and choir directors through the years who helped me build a healthy, smart and strong music foundation. My world as a singer, however, evolved into new insight, awareness and possibility as I started working with Jem. I feel like my discipline and knowledge is growing with a new and incredibly structured way to practice, while I'm gaining a deeper understanding of voice physiology, and how certain exercises strengthen the muscles that shape my voice and how I can make it work. I learn something every time I get to work with Jem and I'm thankful for his gifts as an extraordinary teacher.

I hope you'll enjoy learning about this incredible teacher during this Q & A! Let's get started!

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the performing arts?

A: I think I have known since I was very young. I have a newspaper clipping of an interview from when I was a kid where I say I wanted to be in musicals. I think I stopped wanting it for a while at high school as I wasn't sure I was good enough, but when I got to college I realized it was ALL about hard work and drive, and not so much about the mythical beast of "talent"... and that was when I went for it.

Q: What inspired you to start teaching after your career as a performer?

A: The answer to that one is easy. I have been teaching since before working professionally as a performer, I kept doing it while I was doing shows, and I still do it! The decision was really about whether or not I wanted to still perform. I really enjoyed my time as a performer, but the last several years of my time in Australia were a real mix of being in a show as an actor, then sometimes playing in an orchestra, and all the while teaching. I remember one day in Sydney, playing in the orchestra of Wicked, thinking, "Huh! I'm not jealous of my friends upstairs onstage!" Then, when I moved to London, the same day I was offered my first performing job, I was also offered a teaching job in a college there. I just knew which one was more exciting to me! So I told my agent, no, thank you, and told the college, yes, please! For me personally, the creativity of teaching is unbeatable, and the sheer joy and satisfaction of the process of building an artist is unlike anything else I've found.

Q: How long have you been teaching?

A: I am in the middle of my 32nd year of teaching professionally. Sounds really full on to say it out loud, but that's because I started teaching piano when I was 16. You really learn a lot when you are trying to keep 5-year-olds entertained while teaching them middle c!!

Q: Something I really appreciate about taking lessons with you is your approach with vocal physiology and the specific warm-ups that I do. Could you talk about your method and why and how you started teaching it?

A: SO many things go into developing something like that. I would say there are three major factors:

a-? The first and biggest factor is the work of Jo Estill. I first began studying her work about the physiology and function of the singing voice in the mid 90's. It blew my mind!! After the first 5-day intensive I did, I really was basically just aware that I didn't know enough. I continued on to do lots more study into Jo's work and then broadened it out to any physiology and function research that I could find so that I could really know how the voice worked. I felt I'd been driving a car without knowing how the engine worked (something I still actually do!), but I knew I had to be better than that.

a-? The second factor would be the excellent and inspiring teachers I studied with. I was gifted with years of study with many brilliant, creative, loving and driven women who taught me an enormous amount about singing, music, teaching and also myself. They are among the most important figures in my personal and professional life and they heavily shaped the teacher and human that I am.

a-? The third factor is dance. A bit odd, maybe? I started properly training in dance later than a lot of my performing friends, so I was able to really observe the process as an adult, and I learned a lot from how classical ballet is taught. The structure of a ballet barre really grabbed me and so for a long time I have described my technical routines as ballet barres for the voice. The concept being that they are "sort of" warm ups but much more importantly, each exercise is designed to give the singer knowledge of the function of the mechanism, alongside strength and control of that action.

Q: You've had an incredible career as a performer and a teacher all around the world. What are the biggest differences in live theatre between all the places you've worked -- either from an educational standpoint or from a performance perspective.

A: Almost all my stage career was in Australia, but my husband is a Broadway and West End actor, so we have had MANY discussions about the similarities and differences. For example, right back when he and I were dating I went to meet him in Hawaii where he was doing the U.S. national tour of "Mamma Mia." The day I got there, he took me backstage to meet everyone and my immediate reaction was, 'I know these people!' It is a weird and totally wonderful truth that theater people are theater people everywhere around the world. A few days later the whole "Mamma Mia" company was doing a sunset cocktail cruise and I felt totally at home chatting to all my new "friends". I think that's one of the most fantastic things about theater -- our people are all around the world, and are just as wonderful everywhere! When it comes to teaching, all the countries I've taught in definitely do it differently.....and I have to say....I don't know anywhere that trains musical theater as well as America. I LOVE working at Western Connecticut State University, I love my private client business. I think the degrees here are excellent and the general energy and approach to musical theater education is fantastic.

Q: What's the most common mistake you see young singers make? How can they fix it?

A: For young singers, I would say there is a tendency to try to get there fast. There is no "there" to get to. The focus should be - what can I do today to make my skills increase. Every day is a chance to increase muscular control and strength, to play with dynamics and musicality, to explore a different choice as an actor, or to listen to more great artists. Just do something EVERY day to be better than the day before. (Actually, this isn't just for young singers!)

Q: Are you still teaching and accepting students in quarantine?

A: I'm doing quite a bit of online voice teaching. It has been quite a discovery to see just how effective online teaching is! I now have quite an extensive library of recordings of exercises and piano parts for songs. It truly is a joy to be able to connect with singers from around the globe and work on the craft of it, to keep developing and to be super ready when the auditions return!

Q: Is there a moment in your career or a story that comes to mind that solidified your love for theatre? Was there a moment that made you say, "this is why I'm doing what I'm doing"?

A: SO. MANY. In my senior year at college I went to see the Sydney Theater Company's production of "Into The Woods" and I couldn't take my eyes of Little Red (played by Australia's Sharon Millerchip - you can see her in the movie, "Love Never Dies," as Meg). I went to the box office at the intermission and bought another ticket before the show had even finished. I knew I had to see her do all of that again!! Another moment is the first time I played Roger Debris in the Australian original production of "The Producers." Going up in that hydraulic lift to the top of the stairs for "Springtime For Hitler" and then just getting to be totally stupid while the audiences howled == what an incredible feeling! Another that really had an impact was a few years ago when I went back to London for a visit and saw a student playing Carlotta in "Phantom of the Opera." I was so proud and so satisfied and loved being a part of theater in that way, too!!

Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?

A: My college voice teacher (who I adore - Maree Ryan, a truly gifted and lovely teacher) told me I had to decide what kind of fruit I was. (I know....SO many jokes!!). She said - If you are an orange, make sure you are the juiciest orange there ever was. But when you audition, if you find they are looking for an apple, that doesn't mean you aren't juicy and delicious.....someone will be looking for an orange.

Q: What special skills are on your resume?

A: I'm a great cook!!! (I don't think anyone would hire me for that though!!)

Q: Back at WestConn, what is your go to order from the Daily Grind?

A: I feel like there are quite a few theater students at WestConn who know this... because I don't have to say it very much any more!!!! English Breakfast Tea with a dash of skim.

Q: What quotes or pieces of art have inspired you during quarantine?

A: We have been watching some of the brilliant pieces of theater that streamed or have been played on the TV (just watched Roundabout Theater's "She Loves Me" - heaven!). I eat up every new thing Randy Rainbow does. And,I don't know if this qualifies as art, but my hubby and I have been walking the streets of Jackson Heights each morning, and the changing flowers of spring and summer have been a massive part of the beauty of this strange time.

Q: What advice do you have for students during this pandemic as it continues into their school year?

A: My advice would be that although the world feels truly bizarre at the moment and what you thought was going to be your experience has changed, your dreams have not. Your future is still going to be determined by how hard you work, how much you soak up from your professors, how much energy and enthusiasm you pour into your passion. The world of theater ALWAYS returns. It returned from the 1918 pandemic, from wars, from recessions and depressions ... It WILL return. The question will be: how ready will you be when it does?

******

Thank you so much to Jem for answering all of these questions. I can't express how much I value my lessons with him, and I'm so grateful he is one of my mentors. You can learn more about him at www.jeremypowellvoice.com

Here are my check ins for the weeks:

1. What's feeding my soul?
a. For the past two weeks I have been participating in an online theatre intensive called the Musical Theatre Lab. Run by Broadway visionaries Elizabeth Parkinson and Scott Wise, who additionally are two of the many amazing professors at WestConn. While the program is traditionally at Martha's Vineyard, they transitioned the program to entirely online, and it worked seamlessly! I have learned so much, danced harder than I ever have before, and am feeling so refreshed and ready to take on this semester of school!

2. What am I listening to?
a. I'm still adjusting to life in quarantine in a dorm room. As my first week comes to a close, I've been listening to music to fall asleep. Frequently, it's been Taylor Swift's new album "Folklore." I really appreciate the soothing vibes as I fall asleep, but I also enjoy listening to it as I go about my day!

3. What arts programming have I watched recently?
a. At the MT Lab, we had the honor of working with Broadway legend, Ann Reinking. She, and her talented assistant Dylis Croman, known for her work in "Fosse" and "Chicago," have been teaching us "Me and My Baby" from Chicago. This has inspired me to dive into the YouTube rabbit hole of iconic performances from Ann Reinking and many other fabulous performers. I have also enjoyed hearing the other talented young artists in the MT Lab perform.

Thanks so much for reading! As always if you have any questions please reach out on bellaboscoblog@gmail.com



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