Musical theater performers entertain audiences with narratives driven by song and dance.
They are actors, dancers, and singers - often all three. They can pick up any role and play it convincingly, all while carrying a tune and moving with skill and precision. They are professional entertainers who work in musical theater, a popular theatrical art form featuring music and dance. Musical theater differs from classical drama in that it features songs between dialogue and often involves choreographed movement.
Working in musical theater is as demanding as it is rewarding; it involves endless rehearsals during shows and constant hustle outside of them. Performers must learn and perfect an array of songs, as well as memorizing dialogue and blocking. It is physically challenging work that requires personal study and independent work. An ordinary week might contain several dance rehearsals, dialect coaching, run-throughs or scene studies, and vocal practice. Songs have harmonies, voice parts, and ways the director wants them sung; dances can require extensive training and practice before they are ready for the stage.
Work as a musical theater performer may include...
- Learning songs and memorizing lines
- Rehearsing complex choreographed movement
- Auditioning for roles and preparing for these auditions
- Doing character work and preparing for difficult roles
- Singing, dancing, and acting in front of an audience
Musical theater performers tend to work on a show-by-show basis, which is to say they audition for parts and work regularly in that role until the end of the production. When a show closes, it's back to auditioning until another role is found. For this reason, many performers have other work or day jobs they can return to between roles. Some actors sign up with agents, who set up auditions and professional networking opportunities, so that they are able to work more regularly, though some interim performance work may not always make use of all of their skills. Most shows occur in the evening, and performers must be ready to work nights.
There is no one way to become a working musical theater performer. Some lucky actors, dancers, and singers are lucky or talented enough to get their start with very little formal training. However, musical theater is a small and incredibly competitive sphere where many performers spend years developing their skills. Some performers, particularly dancers, start their training during early childhood. Many actors and singers played roles in school or community productions as children and then went on to more formal lessons, either privately or at performing arts academies. Certain schools have programs that prepare children and teenagers for auditions, which can make them more likely to get into conservatory programs. At the college level, students may hone their skills and participate in large-scale productions. Upon obtaining a Bachelor's degree, many graduates enter the audition circuit, hoping to land a role that will get them noticed. Others pursue further study in performance MFA programs; completing a Master's degree can qualify performers for positions as teaching artists or drama instructors, which can net them great experience.
If you're a hard worker who lives for the stage, a career as a musical theater performer could be the path to your dreams.
The American Guild of Musical Artists is a labor organization representing America's operatic, choral, and dance artists.
The Actors' Equity Association is the U.S. labor union for actors and stage managers, working to advance member's careers and fostering the art of live theater.
The National Alliance for Musical Theatre is an organization serving the musical theater community to foster innovation and collaboration.