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Arts & Music

Aspiring actors learn the craft in Broadway Theater Project


Published:   |   Updated: July 17, 2013 at 10:52 PM

Helen Slivinski hadn't finished the first verse of "When in Love" before she was cut off.

"What's four times four?" asked singing coach Tonya Pinkins.

"Sixteen," said Slivinski, a student in the Broadway Theater Project taking place at the University of South Florida this week.

"What's 16 times 16?" Pinkins responded.

"That's gonna take a while," Slivinski said.

Slivinski never got a chance to do the math but she didn't have to. The point of the exercise was to change the way she sang the song.

It's part of Pinkins' strategy to give tips that help break habits in order for actors or singers to explore other options in their work.

"I just look at someone and I see their greatest potential," said Pinkins, a Tony Award-winning Broadway actress, who has acted in soap operas and played the part of Phoebe Banks in the 2007 movie "Enchanted." "Now whether they'll ever get there, I don't know. That's up to them,"

Slivinski, of Herndon, Va., is one of 77 middle school, high school and college students from around the world in the three-week intensive summer theater project, which is in its 23rd year.

With coaching from professional actors, singers and choreographers, the students put together a musical theater project, which they will perform for the public on July 27.

Debra McWaters, founder, president and artistic director of Broadway Theater Project, said she only accepts "the best of the best" young actors who are prepared to make acting, singing and dancing a career.

McWaters said one year she sent six of her students straight to Broadway after the program ended.

"We teach the basics and we teach them how to conduct themselves," she said.

McWaters, who has 10 years of experience performing as a dancer, draws on her connections to bring in prominent actors, singers and stars to teach each year.

Ann Morrison, a professional actress from Sarasota, advised students to keep it simple.

"Sometimes we've just overcomplicated our lives and complicate things and we screw ourselves up that way," Morrison said.

She said to just breath and think in a much more simplistic way.

"Sometimes the most profound work comes out of it," she said.

Mana Allen, a teacher at Collaborative Arts Project 21 in New York City who teaches song performance and audition technique at the program, told the students to "be your own flavor," a piece of advice she learned from Broadway actress Victoria Clark.

Allen said people tend to forget who they are when they try to please others while auditioning.

"It's hard for us to believe that the world wants us just like we are and we still struggle with that," she said. "But don't be afraid to be your own flavor, there's enough vanilla out there, add some sprinkles."

Victoria Miller, 19, of Sarasota, said she used to try to emulate famous people but the program has taught her to be herself.

"I've learned that people want to get to know someone who knows themselves, and as a performer you have to do that," said Miller, who is in her third year at the program and is interning this year.

Miller wants to be a dance teacher and as an intern she not only attends workshops like the rest of the students, she also works with a group of 10- to 14-year-olds.

She said she is passionate about teaching and is eager to apply what she learns in the classroom.

"I don't learn this for myself, I learn it to share it," she said.

Erik Liberman, was once in Miller's shoes. He was a student in the program in 2002 and now teaches acting fundamentals and a writing workshop.

Liberman tries to give his students a framework of how to live an authentic life and how to be brave in their art.

"What's extraordinary is it's not so much the technical and the practical adjustments, it's the world view that sometimes has to be tweaked in order to accept what they are capable of," he said.

Christian Klepac, 16, of Libertyville, Ill., isn't afraid to dream big.

Klepac, in his second year in the program, started acting at a young age and said he wants to perform on Broadway.

"It's what I want to do," he said. "It's a long shot but I'll get it."

acarroz@tampatrib.com

Twitter: @andrea_carroz











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