“That’s My Boy!” Or, Laying Claim to a Student’s Success

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com
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For quite some time now I’ve wrestled with the issue of how to market myself as a voice teacher and coach. I feel confident in my skills and my willingness to grow and collaborate with a student or client. I’ve seen some of them become very successful singing actors. One of my former Marymount students just finished his first starring role in Broadway’s Bring it On: The Musical. I’m immensely proud of him.

But here’s my question: do I have the right to claim my student or client’s success as a direct result of working with me?

We all know folks who are very vocal about being teachers “to the stars.” Now, maybe they are. But should they advertise that? Does it come off as self-congratulatory, inflated egoism or is it simply smart advertising?

To be honest, I’m always skeptical of teachers or coaches who say they have clients on Broadway, at The Met… all these fancy places. It seems “icky” to me. It somehow reminds me of Gypsy (“I had a dream…”), and that didn’t exactly turn out well. Besides, did they personally sing the audition to get that role? No. Why, then, should they be touting their client’s success as if it was their own?

And yet, it’s quite probable they did aid them in getting to that place, either by giving them useful advice, making necessary introductions or simply by getting their voice aligned. I always beam when someone calls me to let me know they got a call-back because the casting agent loved the song I suggested for them and how they delivered it. I was a direct part of that process.

Simply put, there are teachers and coaches who do get amazing results from their students. I’ve been fortunate to see some of them at work in my academic and  professional career. What they bring to their students is undeniable. They have the knowledge and connections that give them the right to say they are gurus in their field.

And yet, many of them don’t do that. I don’t think they need to – they get great word of mouth without having to become a brand or market themselves in a particular way. To mix mediums, Sondheim doesn’t need to go around saying he’s one of Broadway’s most prolific and beloved writers. Anyone with even a limited knowledge of musical theatre knows this. Actually, from what I’ve experienced of him when he does master classes at the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, Mr. Sondheim actually winces with embarrassment as his bio is read and is given accolades.

All of this has made me think of an on-going conversation about whether or not stage directors should be able to copyright their productions, retaining ownership over their intellectual property. The questions arises: how does one parse out what is the director’s work and what is someone else’s?  Did the director also act as a dramaturg to the writer?  Was the staging simply a reflection of a stage direction or was this particular moment an actor’s idea?  How much did the set design influence the staging? All this makes me very confussled, as my grandma is fond of saying.  The lines are very blurry.

And yet, for me there are some obvious ways in which a director can define the work they do.  And some directors have sued and won cases because they were able to prove what they created was being inappropriately replicated by another director (most famously, Joe Mantello and his production of Love! Valor! Compassion!).

If you want to delve more into this challenging issue, please click here.

I suppose the answer to the question I’m posing really comes down to how we choose to quantify the work we do as artists. That’s a dicey conversation at best.  It seems to me what we do is almost always a collaborative undertaking and, as such, no one person should receive all the credit or blame.

In the end, my instinct is to focus on nurturing my students and let the (hopefully) good word spread. I may not have tons of clients on Broadway or at the Met, and frankly, that doesn’t concern me. For as we all know, what we do is not driven by results, but by process. The more my students and I honor the process of learning how to sing, the more I find good things happening for them and for me.

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2 thoughts on ““That’s My Boy!” Or, Laying Claim to a Student’s Success

  1. I once heard that it takes a village to make a good singer – so I try to remember that I am just one piece of the puzzle to help them along the way.

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