Feature: An Inside Look at Dr. Phillips Center's School of the Arts' Master Class

By: May. 12, 2016
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Orlando is home to many talented entertainment professionals due to the many entertainment venues. While you may think actors flock here to become princesses or superheroes, Orlando is also quickly becoming a training ground for up and coming talented students. The Dr. Phillips Center has been the two year reigning pinnacle of the Orlando theater arts scene. To complement this world-class facility, the School of the Arts sits behind the Dr. Phillips Center and hosts a variety of performing arts classes for all ages.

The School of Arts programs range from private music lessons to group pilates classes. They also have featured master classes taught by industry professionals. Dana contacts each touring company's management team to pitch class ideas and find the cast members that are best suited to teach the programs.

As someone who has lived in many different cities, Orlando is the only place that I've come upon that offers professional master classes that collaborate with national touring companies. What is it about Orlando that allows for this unique opportunity not found in many other cities? "It comes down to space," says Director of Education, Dana Brazil. In other cities, the rehearsal space is normally dedicated to the touring company, leaving little option for educational programs. The School of the Arts is a beautiful facility with lots of rehearsal space. It is utilitarian in design, with bare concrete walls showing with lots of glass windows allowing for open air flow and natural light.

During the BEAUTIFUL Master Class, the large rehearsal room was set with a single table for the "casting agents" and a piano accompanist to the side. The twelve students sat adjacent to the table against the side wall, out of the way, but close enough to hear each other's feedback. Students mock auditioned in front of two BEAUTIFUL cast members (Salisha Thomas and Paris Nix), Dana Brazil, and the other students. They each performed 16 bars of a song of their choice and received personal feedback.

There is value to receiving feedback from professionals who are out there living and breathing work because it resonates so much more. As with any feedback, sometimes it just takes hearing it a different way for it to stick. Dana says this opportunity provides students with a perspective that allows them "to see themselves in that way." These programs inspire and create real pathways for students to gain perspective from people who are living and working in the industry.

Following the mock auditions, the students were able to ask unfiltered questions and they received meaningful answers from the performers. The topics ranged from memorization techniques to specific questions about joining Actor's Equity. "Everybody has their own path," Paris declared. The students nodded with knowing contemplation that it will take hard work and unwavering determination to reach their goals. I was surprised how many of these students already had agents and all unanimously hoping to one day try their luck in New York.

One student, Amelia Bryant said that this experience helped "add another piece to the puzzle." Bryant explained that hearing from Salisha and Paris helped validate her decision to become a performer. "I can work on this and get there eventually," she says.

Paris echoed the same sentiment. He sees a lot in himself in these students. It was not too long ago when he was in college dreaming of getting his own break. While Paris has no experience teaching per se, giving advice to young actors helps put into perspective the accomplishments he's achieved and reminds him of what he needs to work on. Both Salisha and Paris found that teaching this master class was a great way to inspire in a way that both actors were encouraged when they were younger.

The overall takeaway message: "Be you," and the rest will follow. With the impact of social media, it's hard for young people to be themselves. Although acting inherently is becoming someone else, it is a form of expression. "You always show yourself through your characters," Salisha says. "And if the Casting Director doesn't like your interpretation, then that particular part was not meant for you."

Performing master classes are just one piece of the curriculum the School of the Arts collaborates on with National Tours. During KINKY BOOTS, ten students were able to experience a stage management course. This course was not a sit back and observe situation, each night two students shadowed the Stage Director and were given tasks to perform during the show. This hands-on experience is a good segway to the challenges of working behind the scenes while being on tour. If anything, it's also a way for students to make contacts within the smaller stage management network.

The School of the Arts recently touted the success story of student, Diego Lucano, who is currently starring on Broadway's SCHOOL OF ROCK as Lawrence (on the Keys). Dana describes Lucano as a hard-working student from the very beginning. Dana and her team helped Diego prepare for his New York auditions and each call back, until finally he got the call.

Recently, the School of the Arts was awarded a $100,000 grant from Disney Musicals in Schools. This grant will fund two years of theater programming for underserved elementary schools. The School of the Arts will select four public elementary schools in Orange, Osceola or Seminole County to participate next year and another four in 2017. The selected schools receive teaching artists trained by School of the Arts and Disney Theatrical Group for a 17-week musical theater residency at no cost to students. It all culminates with a 30-minute Disney KIDS musical at each school site. The four selected schools will also perform one number for their show at the Dr. Phillips Center for follow students, teachers, family and the public.

With Orlando already making a name for itself by churning out highly skilled performers it seems that we can only continue to improve from here. Dana looks forward to the future of her programs as the third theater, the 1,700 seat Steinmetz Hall, will provide a nice medium size venue for shows produced by the School of the Arts.

Next year, the program promises to expand and offer more master classes per visiting Broadway series show. Classes sell out quickly and summer camps too (Check out my Orlando Summer Camp Guide). For more information on more classes visit, https://www.drphillipscenter.org/arts-education.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Moy at Dr. Phillips Center School of the Arts


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