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BWW Feature: Those Who Can

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These teaching artists are top of the class

BWW Feature: Those Who Can

What would the world be like without the teachers? How might our lives have changed if we didn't have the coaches? What might have been different for those who had no mentors, if someone had been there to point them down the right road? Our lives can be greatly affected by the presence of a teacher - someone to coach us to success, a person to mentor us as we pursue our dreams and goals. Personal trainers make sure we get the most out of our time at the gym and get home without injury, tutors help us prepare for those stress-inducing, terrifying college exams, professors prepare the doctors who heal us and the lawyers who save us. Every life can be made better by the presence of a mentor, and that includes the artists of the world, and the people who benefit from their creations. How many times have Broadway devotees heard Kristin Chenoweth or Patti LuPone mention their voice teacher or their vocal coach? These stars talk about their mentors because they know how important that person has been to their life, to their livelihood, to their personal growth, their continued good health, and their happiness. As an entity, The Teacher is one of the most valuable people any person will ever have in their life.

The entertainment industry is filled with instructors with a desire to help others, a wish to pass down that which they have learned that shapes their work. Generations of great ballet dancers have taught their techniques to young dancers just beginning, legendary singers teach master classes that assist other vocalists in developing their skill, prominent actors share the lessons they learned from the masters for whom acting styles are named. For the arts community, these mentoring relationships are as tried and true as the traditions out of which they were born.

Today, the teaching artists of the New York entertainment community are having to do their teaching online. At first it may have felt a little strange but the necessity for the change has proven to everyone, mentors and mentees alike, that, with determination and dedication (and a little love), anything is possible.

I caught up, digitally, with a few of the coaches of the Manhattan cabaret community to find out what it's like, teaching by remote, how the learning curve has treated them, and what drives them as teachers.


BWW Feature: Those Who CanNatalie Douglas

Natalie, you have been acting as mentor, teacher, and coach for a while, and in a few different capacities. As one of the busiest entertainers in the industry, what inspires you to use your time off-stage teaching, rather than resting?

Thanks, Stephen! Easy answer - I love what I do! And I love sharing it with people, whether it's audiences, friends, fans, students and/or peers. I really am fascinated by every aspect of our jobs and I feel I always learn when I teach.

In your personal history, have you had a specific age range with which you work most regularly, or do you have a more "I'll teach anyone who wants to learn" philosophy to your work?

I'll definitely teach anyone who wants to learn & if what I teach or the way I teach isn't a good fit for someone, I'm happy to help them find another class or teacher. Also, in my capacity as Mabel Mercer Foundation master teacher, I've mostly taught high school age kids and I really do enjoy them! They're so in love with this art form! And most kids haven't talked themselves out of believing anything is possible yet!

There are those who talk about "the old days" when nightclub singers didn't take classes or have directors, they just got up at the mic and sang. Why do you think the industry changed and small venue performing became more like the theater industry?

True, but in those days there were so many venues that one could get in front of a mic 365 nights a year (in some cases more than once a night!) and that was your training ground. Since the opportunities have been shrinking, we have fewer chances to learn on our feet. (or as my dear, and very much missed friend, John DiCarlo used to say, "learning on the audience's time!") That's why I always tell students to sing as often as they can. The more occasions one has to sing, the more chances to succeed or fail both of which are necessary to one's development as an artist!

Is your teaching style something that was within you innately, or is it something that developed with time and experience?

Both. I try to use all the things I've been taught, all the tips I find useful & all the things I wish someone had taught me about the daily realities of singing for a living. I'm also still a student myself and whenever I learn something new & helpful, I add it to my syllabus!

How are your lessons being conducted, via Zoom, Facetime, socially distanced meeting?

This summer, thanks primarily to the St. Louis & the Eugene O'Neill Cabaret Conferences and the Spot-On Academy Give My Regards to Broadway competition, I've conducted sessions with my students/mentees over Zoom.

And how can people reach you for lessons?

That's easy - they are welcome to write me at natalie@nataliedouglas.com


BWW Feature: Those Who CanNicolas King

Nicolas, you recently started doing online coaching for performers - what kind of coach are you? Gunnery sergeant or Sensei?

I'd lean towards Sensei! My goal with each student is to bring out the best in them, rather than turn them into a facsimile of myself or another performer.

You are actually related to one of the great teachers, Angela Bacari - what philosophies about teaching did you pick up by hearing your grandmother talk about her work?

My grandmother is/was a fabulous teacher and vocal coach. Although we never had a formal sit down vocal lesson, you could say I learned her technique through osmosis? Her main objective is also to bring out the best in each student as an individual, which is why I prefer giving one-on-one coaching as piped to group settings. She also gave me the knack for pacing a show properly, which is something that drives me absolutely nuts when I attend a show, I'm always thinking about how a show could be tweaked by simply pacing it differently.

You have a long career in show business - what are some of the most valuable on-the-job lessons you've learned from some of your mentors?

I learned vocal technique from my grandmother for sure, but it was working with some of the most amazing directors that taught me character development and performance technique. Working with Hal Prince, and studying with HB Studios I learned how to explore the depth of a character in acting, but being directed by Liza Minnelli taught me how to apply that training in my live shows. Ms. Minnelli directed my first nightclub act when I was 11 and would be my secret director for the subsequent decade, making my dive deep into each character, and instill in me the desire to communicate the lyric from my honest point of view. The things I learned from her and others are invaluable, so I'm happy to incorporate little techniques and tricks I've learned along the way into my coaching sessions.

Put a picture in my head of what you are teaching the people you coach.

My goal is to help performers craft a show specifically catered to them as an individual. We select material, build patter, pace the show properly, and connect to the lyric of each piece so as to give the most honest performance. Obviously most shows are thwarted right now due to social distancing, but there's no better time than downtime to hone your craft and be prepared for when things are ready to open up again!

How are your lessons being conducted, via Zoom, Facetime, socially distanced meeting?

I teach primarily via Zoom and/or FaceTime! I'd be happy to teach in a socially distant setting, but that depends on the comfort level of the student, of course.

And how can people reach you for lessons?

People can add me on Facebook or Instagram (@itsnicolasking) and send me a direct message, or drop an email at nicolasking1@gmail.com!


BWW Feature: Those Who CanMarc Tumminelli

Marc, you are the founder and director of Broadway Workshop, so teaching is your everyday life - what leads a successful performer like you into the education industry?

I have been teaching and directing kids in between acting jobs since 2002 so it was always part of my life. In 2007, I had a few business heartbreaks in a row, major jobs that I either came close to or booked that fell through and during that time I started focusing more on teaching. I decided to start my own company, at the time it was called THE Broadway Workshop. I still thought I would act while I was starting this business, but very quickly it was clear that I really had to put both feet into building this new business if I wanted it to be a success. And here we are now about to celebrate our 13th anniversary of BROADWAY WORKSHOP. I dropped the THE back in 2009 when I got our trademark status.

Broadway Workshop is a very busy place on a normal day - how was the transition to online classes for your company?

I wasn't sure anyone would want to do classes and workshops and even productions online, but my team, Yvette Kojic and Sarah Glugatch encouraged me to just start and see what happens. So we began to offer online classes on March 29, 2020. The first few classes went so well and it felt like we were creating something special for kids in the business during a really strange time. We brought in incredible guest teachers like; Sierra Boggess, Christy Altomare, Renee Rapp, Rob McClure, Adrienne Warren and many other incredble people to teach master classes. It was very clear that we could give kids an experience close to what they received in the studio. We focused on having VERY small classes and keeping pricing affordable for families. We limit each online class to only 8 students. It was important to me that it never felt boring and that classes were engaging and dynamic. I wanted to keep the kind of magic that makes Broadway Workshop special. We kept building on that and now it's September and we have had over 2000 registrations for online programs.

You also do personal coaching online - what kind of coaching would a student come to you for?

I mostly coach acting. I work with students of all ages on monologues, general acting work and audition prep. I have a lot of students preparing for college and some people who just want to be better actors. I also have been teaching songbook classes where I give students a ton of new song options. My crazy knowledge of musical theater songs have really come in handy for these coachings.

On your Facebook page recently, you remarked on the expense of coaching with various instructors - but you keep your coaching rates quite reasonable; where does the instinct to make education affordable come from, for you?

I have seen around 15-20 new musical theater training programs pop up out of nowhere. I know it's a crazy time and people are just trying to keep their heads above water. But this is what I do. I have devoted my life to creating educational opportunities for young people. So when a company that sells vacation rentals is suddenly offering acting master classes, it makes my head explode. I also see so many of these classes at extraordinary high rates. And I am sure there are people out there who can pay for it. I just think online programs should not cost the same as an in person class in a studio. I did not grow up with a lot of extra money to do things like this so I think that comes back whenever we are setting pricing. I want every kid who wants to be part of workshops or have private coaching to be able to do that, so we have always been a more affordable program. We also work with a non-profit called PROJECT BROADWAY (projectbroadway.org) that will help to cover tuition for a student who wants to participate at Broadway Workshop. They also do a lot of other amazing things for the kids of NYC.

How are your lessons being conducted, via Zoom, Facetime, socially distanced meeting?

Zoom for everything! When I first started coaching online I was using facetime and skype but Zoom really is the best service for this kind of work. I have not done any socially distanced coaching or teaching. Maybe in 2021.

And how can people reach you for lessons?

They can email me directly at Marc@BroadwayWorkshop.com or Info@BroadwayWorkshop.com and they should follow Broadway Workshop on instagram for all our latest offerings @BroadwayWorkshop and feel free to follow me too @marctumminelli

BWW Feature: Those Who CanLisa Viggiano

Lisa, you are an award-winning singer who actually works within the teaching industry for a living - what is at the core of your desire to be a teacher, that led you to become one and keeps you coming back every year?

Believe it or not, when I was 5, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my rote reply was "a teacher during the week and a singer on the weekends". That was the seed that has grown into my love for helping guide people to find their voices. What keeps me going is that I know that a teacher can be a safe place for students, and it is a gift to offer that to another human negotiating this crazy thing called life (especially these days!!).

Aside from the teaching you do as your day job, you are conducting private coaching online in three different areas involving the voice and performance - how would you describe those three areas for someone seeking a coach?

1. As a trained/licensed speech-language-voice pathologist, I am able to work from a medical & therapeutic standpoint with clients experiencing dysphonia (voice disorder or pathology) or with articulation and fluency/stuttering issues.
2. As a trained singer with a background in speech therapy and mindfulness, I coach singers on both their vocal production as well as song interpretation.
3. With training in holistic practices such as EFT (tapping), Bach Flower Essences, and essential oils, I can offer sessions that support vocal performance from a mind-body-spirit standpoint.

One might think it is difficult to teach voice-related lessons online - what encouragement would you give them to give it a try?

To be honest, I have had many different teachers in my lifetime, but about 6 years ago, I began to study online exclusively due to time constraints, and I made the most progress I had ever made. Once I had that firsthand experience that "It really works!", I have been able to offer this to others with great confidence.

Who is the teacher that changed your life, and how?

Robert Sussuma. Hands down. He incorporated Feldenkrais into his practice and the effect it had on me was extraordinary. The Feldenkrais approach allowed my body to make positive changes to improve the voice without my thinking about it so much. Once I didn't have to think about producing the sound, and began to trust my body, I was immediately singing and teaching better than ever. (Thank you, Robert!!)

How are your lessons being conducted, via Zoom, Facetime, socially distanced meeting?

Zoom, FaceTime, Google Duo, Skype - whatever works best for my clients.

And how can people reach you for lessons?

Email Lisa M. Viggiano, MA, CCC-SLP at lisavigg@gmail.co

BWW Feature: Those Who CanJessica Vosk

Jessica, you are not new to the teaching industry, you have actually been mentoring people for a while now, haven't you?

I hope so! While I have had the opportunity to mentor a lot of people pre-pandemic...it's certainly taken on a new meaning now. There's a real sense of pivot in our world and industry right now, but it is something artists understand and can work with. I am seeing students and young people do the same now, because we really are resilient, and if 2020 has taught me anything, it's that.


Before lockdown, what did a learning opportunity with Jessica Vosk look like?

To be quite honest with you, I had been touring with my concert pre-pandemic, and finishing up a couple of fast and furious shows in New York City (up to the day Broadway closed!) We all left the studio where we had been workshopping new changes to Becoming Nancy at the time, and thought that Broadway would only be closed for 3 weeks tops. I did not have the time in my schedule to work one-on-one with students or to do my usual masterclasses which I LOVE so much. Again, looking on the bright side right now, I have the time right now to work with so many more students than I would have had before. I adore them, their passion, their drive--and their ability to really work with me, even if it is over a Zoom screen. My focus is acting through song. I always tell students that I am not a licensed vocal coach, who has spent many hours in school studying the pedagogy and the musculature of the voice and how our bodies produce sound. I always make sure to tell them that if they are experiencing any vocal difficulties, I can send them to someone who can really dive into that aspect with them. However--we do talk A LOT about how the voice works, how support and breath control can make or break you, proper vowels, how to mix in a healthy way, etc. These are all tools that I love to share, give students challenges and work through it with them in order to make them feel confident with the choices they make. But--getting into the nitty gritty of how we make a song translate to a casting or creative table, an audience, or a concert hall is where I love to deep dive. Connection is everything to me. You can sound like a million bucks, but if there's nothing behind it emotionally, what is the point????? (I get passionate). That being said, it is very hard to get out of your head and let yourself go. I let every student know that VULNERABILITY is a superpower. It is not to be shamed, as we sometimes are taught. Our work as artists is quite empathetic, and it is an honor to do that work. That is where a lot of breakthroughs happen in the room. And watching a student surprise themselves with that is exactly why I do this.


As an artist, what were some of the philosophies that your teachers and coaches instilled in you that made you want to do this kind of work?

I have always been told to DO THE WORK. You cannot fake technique no matter how hard you try. It may only take you so far. Practice is practice. There is no such thing as the pinnacle of perfection. If that's what you are working towards...forget it. It doesn't exist, and you will drive yourself crazy. Anyone reading this...please take it from me. I AM THE WORST PERFECTIONIST THERE IS. My coaches along the way also made sure to let me know what worked and what did not. But they also let me know that I needed to make the choice in the first place, in order to have something to critique. Think about this work like any relationship you might get yourself into. If you are going to stand in front of someone with all of your walls up, you will never progress. They will never get to see the real you, warts and all. It took me a long time to be OK with this, and to let people in without feeling stupid or like I was being judged. Again, these things take time. That's why I love to work on them and really come from a place of honesty and safety. Trust is key.


How are your lessons being conducted, via Zoom, Facetime, socially distanced meeting?

Right now, they are all over Zoom. Whether it be masterclass, or one-on-one, the safest way to have someone sing in your face is through a screen right now. But I'll tell you what. These students are giving it their all, and working with me with such passion and excitement, I can say that I have not been this impressed in a long time. That's a testament to the talent out there right now. And while we all wait for our world to come back (and it will), the best thing we can do is stay agile and ready for when it does.


And how can people reach you for lessons?


My gmail! voskjessicaleigh@gmail.com! Just please be sure to mention exactly what it is you'd like to work and focus on, and attach a clip of yourself!

BWW Feature: Those Who CanMicah Young

Micah, you have been working as a coach for singers for some time - how did that line of work start for you?

Stephen! I'm so happy to chat with you about this. Vocal coaching and music education is something about which I am very passionate. It started around the time when my friends in high school would say: "hey, can you run through this song with me?" and grew from there. As I started music directing and playing piano in musicals, performers would pull me aside and want to work on their skills one-on-one. In turn, I learned, and continue to learn how to communicate effectively what I'm hearing from performers and what it is they hope to achieve in their storytelling. I continued my work as a coach and teacher when I moved to NYC; I keep myself in shape as a coach to teach and educate performers of all ages and experience levels. Vocal coaching has always accompanied my work because there's always performers needing to run through their audition cuts, work on a new song, go through their book and see what they want to keep, get rid of, etc. Playing everything and anything in auditions and in one-on-one coaching sessions with performers has taught me a great deal about repertoire and what the latest trends are in performance practices.

You coach people in a variety of fields, from performers to musicians - how did you become so well versed in your fields of expertise?

When I started out, I was given the advice to "get my chops," meaning be able to play the piano at the highest level. I believe that the better the technique and training, the more ability we have to effectively tell our stories. With music: singing, playing an instrument, interpreting a score, or writing a piece of music, technique broadens our bag of tricks and allows us to choices in our delivery. Otherwise we default to limitations and can only sing a song one way, we can only perform with a very limited vocabulary.


I started my professional training in music at Interlochen Arts Academy, where the training was in preparation for a professional career. I then went to Manhattan School of Music where I had the opportunity to study piano with Constance Keene. Constance Keene was one of the last teachers and performers of her age, playing along side Arthur Rubenstein and Vladimir Horowitz; she studied in the lineage of Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. Her husband, Abram Chasins, was the director of WQXR Radio of NYC, and good friends with George Gershwin. I not only received incredible training with Constance Keene, but I also gained knowledge about the musical world that came before my generation. I apprenticed with the Paul Gemignani Workshop at MSM, which was an invaluable experience to introduce me to the Broadway scene of music directors. I've enjoyed relationships with many mentors over the years, and with each collaboration I learn and pick up new tips to inform my own performance and teaching, as well as understanding style and genres in music. So we are not only teaching as we work, but passing down the lineage of the greats in our industry who have come before us. As as a working performing artist, I'm always learning and curious about new work and repertoire.


Although your lessons take you into different corridors of the industry, is there one particular motto about the education side of show business that is applicable to every artist's journey?

Our artistic journey is never complete. There's a saying that we are only as good as our last gig, and we learn from every gig we take. It's one thing to read about riding a bike, but until we get up and learn to balance we don't really understand what it takes to ride a bike. Performing arts means we have to perform to learn. The best artists I've met are ones who maintain their wonder and joy for what they do; they keep themselves open to learning, and also sharing from their own experiences. The very first thing Constance Keene said me when I said I wanted to play everything from jazz to classical music: "I don't care what you play, as long as you play it well." Whatever you do, do it well.

What is the key ingredient to a successful mentor/mentee relationship?

What a great question. You cannot mentor someone who does not wish to be mentored. And likewise a mentee will not listen until they are ready to receive new information. There have been many times where I've tried to offer advice to someone who does not wish to receive it, and likewise I've looked back with my head in my hands, realizing I wasn't ready to hear the much needed advice for me to learn a valuable lesson. It is a human reaction to be defensive when hearing new information. Whether it is a piece of criticism, a constructive note, or a lesson to be learned, it's often difficult to be receptive and to not shut down in defense.
I have learned the hard way that as much as I want to impart my experiences and wisdom in my field, it's not always my time or place to do so. I hope I can remain open and accepting to receive new information from other seasoned artists when we work together. It's a never-ending process.

How are your lessons being conducted, via Zoom, Facetime, socially distanced meeting?

I have had success over many online platforms. And performers need to keep working on their skills even if they are not performing in public. I work on Zoom, Facetime, Google Duo and Meetings, and Facebook video. Really it is whatever the client/student feels comfortable with. Some clients prefer to record the lesson/coaching for future reference and I am comfortable with that. Each lesson really depends on what the client wishes to achieve. I tailor each session to the student and work towards helping them achieve their goals. Typically when we are working on a song, I record the accompaniment in my home studio, and email the file to the student. They are then able to play the track and sing along to it. If we are working on an up-tempo, I will send along a slower track to practice with. I also provide melody lines with the recording so the student can learn the melody correctly.

And how can people reach you for lessons?

They can read more about my work, testimonials from other professionals who have worked with me, and get rates all on my website. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
https://www.micahyoungmusic.com/lessons

Thanks so much Stephen! As always you are giving artists like myself a place to be heard and a way to connect in this socially distanced time.


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From This Author Stephen Mosher