Help your students bring musical theatre characters to vivid life with these text-based exercises recommended by a top acting coach.
Louisa Morgan has one message for budding musical theatre performers: don’t forget the story.
In her work as an acting through song coach, Louisa’s biggest bugbear is performers who get so focused on sound production and tone that another tenet of MT – storytelling – gets lost.
“Very talented people spend an awful lot of time writing these lyrics. If we just ignore them, what do we have?” she asks. “Yes, it’s music, beautiful music, but where’s the story?”
Speaking on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, Louisa says: “We can easily do things as singing teachers to help address is. Performers shouldn’t even be approaching a song without knowing the context. They need to know where it comes from and if it’s right for them as a performer.”
Here are three text-based acting exercises Louisa uses with her musical theatre students when they’re building a character.
“The first thing I would ask a student to do is to go through their text and highlight their verbs,” Louisa says.
“Younger singers often lean towards personal pronouns and adjectives. But that’s not where the action is – they don’t give us the immediacy of what’s happening right now.
“For students going for auditions, that sense of immediacy is vital because otherwise, it doesn’t feel present; it doesn’t feel like they’re in the room with you.
“And I don’t mean just make the verbs louder; it’s about intensity, not volume.”
“A lot of the tools that I encourage students to use are ones I learned as an actor for radio. I ask them to do basic things like put a second question mark after a real question and cross the question marks out if it’s rhetorical.
“If a character has these enormous, long phrases where they don’t stop – you know comma, comma, comma, semicolon, and never a full stop – we know their brain is going faster and faster. There’s so much information there for us, just in the punctuation.”
This is a practice employed by the likes of Broadway vocal coach David Sabella where the music is put to one side at the start of the process and the student focuses on the lyrics.
“I’m a massive advocate for monologuing,” Louisa says. “Often, a student will bring a song to you that they’ve already partly learned because they’ve listened to it and love it.
“Removing that, and getting them to focus on the text, is an easy way to stop them from imitating the person they’re listening to. That way, they’ve learned how to deliver it in their speaking voice in the way that is natural to them.”
Learn more acting tips for musical theatre students.
Listen to the full interview on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast where Louisa also discusses:
- How techniques like method acting can be detrimental to a performer’s vocal performance.
- The challenges MT theatre students face in their efforts to become a triple threat.
- How she juggles her teaching demands with academic studies.