This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com.
BILLY ELLIOT. MATILDA. ANNIE. In the last several years, there have been a slew of shows highlighting young singing actors. At any age (but especially with children) it’s important to get the kind of training that encourages and supports both the child and their parents.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kurt Domoney, co-founder of Broadway Kids Auditions, to talk about their approach in preparing young theatre artists for active careers in the arts.
Tell us about the mission and genesis of Broadway Kids Auditions.
My fabulous business partner, Julianne Katz, and I formed Broadway Kids Auditions (BKA) when we both started getting requests to coach kids for middle school and high school performing arts school auditions. We both have been working with kids in the elementary and middle school age bracket and share our love of this age group. We kept getting approached to coach kids for auditions while both working for an awesome college prep coaching company called MTCA (Musical Theatre College Auditions) that were we both still teach. We started with the goal to do a weekend workshop with younger kids ages 8-14 to experiment with the techniques we both received in college, the professional world and that we were applying to older kids as well as adults.
In the promotion of this workshop, we realized we needed to form a company to get the word out. We asked for a lot of input from parents on what their kids were going through in the audition market. We also talked about the assets of training in theatre at a young age and how it helps to develop the kids as people, even if they don’t pursue performing in their adult life. There is something about getting up in front of people in an audition and presenting yourself that just changes your confidence and awareness.
We were able to form a clear company mission pretty quickly, which is to ‘help develop confident and extraordinary kids inside and outside the audition room”. Our mission statement supports what our entire team believes, that our company is not about developing kids into “Broadway stars.” We focus on the child, the family, their goals and take practical steps towards achieving those goals. For us, BKA is about giving kids the opportunity to get up and express themselves through material they love. To inspire. To have a creative experience. To tap into their own extraordinary talents. We also strongly believe in parent education. We support parents learning about the creative process, the business as well as audition and performing commitments.
We are constantly amazed by how the kids walk away more confident, excited and grounded in their work after our workshops and coaching sessions. This, we believe, underscores the fact that kids can work from a place of ingenuity no matter what they choose to do later in life. We strive to offer opportunities and experiences that are a catalyst for their success as people and performers and will help them tackle auditions and show up for performing opportunities in a new way.
You offer a variety of training, from individual coaching and regular workshops. Are there different focuses based in the various types of training?
Our training for kids looking to coach privately versus in a workshop is pretty much the same. Obviously, a private coaching is an hour spent on that student alone and in a workshop, we are in a group setting. In a private coaching, our goal is to explore the various material the student has been given, different scenarios, issues with technique, phrasing, breathing, etc… In a career coaching, we are focusing on that student’s career alone. Workshops are an opportunity to work with others, learn from each other and get up in front of a panel as they would in an audition. However, we have designed our workshops to be small so we still have the opportunity to focus on the needs of each individual child. A student usually works on one new song given to them in a workshop, where a private coaching would include two or more songs. Private coaching also focus on one element at a time, a song performance session, a career session, a monologue session. A workshop touches on all of these elements over the course of many weeks or a weekend.
I’m sure many parents ask themselves when they should get their kids interested in studying theatre. What are your thoughts?
My feeling is it’s never too early. The awesome thing is there are so many options for kids these days – from toddlers through high school – to learn creativity, expression and performance. I can’t encourage students enough to keep training in every medium. This is the only way to see if they love it. Then, students often have the desire to audition for performing arts schools, community theatre, summer programs, regional theatre and Broadway shows, TV, Film and commercials. These opportunities require an audition. BKA is really about having a place where students can study all facets of performance while helping them to answer questions like: “When should I start auditioning?”, “What should I sing or what monologue should I do?”, “I want to be on Broadway. What should I do?” and “When and how should I get an agent?” We help students focus on all the elements of auditioning. So parents often come to us asking, “Is my kid ready for this?” We help to break things down, work on material that they love, make practical suggestions and also encourage them to dream big. We help them become ready.
I see a lot of young people (mainly high school students) audition and am often concerned by their (lack of) technique. Can you share some of the ways you help students find an organic way of using their instrument?
In this age group, kid’s bodies are growing and changing. Their voices are often in transition and they may not have a clear idea of how to technically produce a sound. We run into problems when kids come in having listened to YouTube – and recordings of various people who have sung the song – and then try to mimic the style and sound. They jump over developing their instruments and try to produce something they are not capable of singing. I have found the key to everything is breath. Consistently incorporating proper breath and vowel placement in the mouth is important. Relaxing them and letting their voices find their natural way is also important. We focus on selecting appropriate material. Often, we can encourage a child who may not have completely found their voice yet to sing something less vocally demanding that still tells their own unique story. Having them consistently vocalize is encouraged. I wouldn’t want a student to push their voice in an audition and then get a job for which they can’t deliver the song eight times a week.
We have a fabulous certified voice therapist, Ellen Lettrich, on our the team who is a kids voice coach at MATILDA. She does private sessions and always does a seminar in our workshops to make sure the kids are singing and speaking properly.
What are some of the joys and challenges you face in working with young performers?
I love how kids ages 8-14 are really open to playing. There is less self judgement. Most are still playing with dolls and trucks, so it allows us to really create scenarios they can connect to. Plus, they are just fun. We find it challenging to make our workshops simple and clear to keep their attention. Even though they have big desires, we have to remember they are young children. So we constantly keep a playfulness and get the kids involved creatively.
What are your goals for the company as it continues to grow?
In the next year, we would like to be able to offer a wider variety of workshops that more fully incorporate the needs of our students and families. I just want our students to be as prepared for their auditions as possible, show up in the healthiest way and book work. In the next three to five years, we would like to be able to extend our services nationally and be able to coach around the country and the world online and in person. We also want to continue learning on our end by connecting with other teachers and coaches and becoming better teachers ourselves. We desire to continue to keep the focus on the kids and families, being honest and helping them achieve their goals.
How can people find out more information about BKA and your upcoming workshops?
Our website is www.broadwaykidsauditions.com and our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always up for chatting with anyone who wants to know about our services. Also, ‘like’ us on Facebook under Broadway Kids Auditions and ‘follow’ us on Twitter at @BKAkids.
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