8 Things They Don’t Teach You In School About Becoming a Triple Threat
So you’ve heard it all before: If you want to make it on Broadway, you need to be a ‘Triple Threat’. The two word expression that tends to be the bane of any Broadway hopeful’s adolescent musical theater career. The characterization that you are a master of not only one seemingly difficult art form, but three is coveted by all that desire a place on the great white way. But how do we ensure we are on the right path toward becoming a triple threat? How do we know that all these teachers are teaching us what really needs to be taught to ensure we have the best chance of beating out the competition? Below, I have pinpointed 8 tips and tricks you need to know to lead you on the path toward becoming the triple threat musical theater performer you aspire to be. This is coming from a professional who had to learn this the hard way:
1. Always be early…ALWAYS.
Live by this rule as if it were the golden rule of life: 10 minutes early is on time, on time is late and late is UNACCEPTABLE. Mathematically, this would mean 10 minutes early is unacceptable, but we’re not talking math here, people. If you follow this rule you are GUARANTEED to make a fantastic first impression in any situation and you get the best treatment by the instructor or whomever you’re meeting. In regards to becoming a triple threat, if you’re in the front of the classroom, you get the most attention and learn the best. Do this and you will succeed.
2. Ballet, Ballet, Ballet….oh and MORE BALLET
I cannot stress this enough. If you want to make it as a professional musical triple threat and actually book work, you MUST be a sufficient dancer…and not just any dancer, a dancer with CLASSICAL TRAINING. Ballet is the foundation of all dance, and any triple threat that has intermediate ballet skills will tower over any competition that does not. You are almost GUARANTEED to get through the first 2–3 dance cuts if you focus your dance training on classical technique instead of settling for the typical Jazz or Hip Hop class. Because I was more than a mover, I worked consistently.
3. Get to know the people checking you in, you never know when they may be promoted
For the most part, the individuals who are checking you in and calling out names at the auditions (moderators) are interns or assistants to the casting directors or at the agency. These guys may be at the bottom of the barrel in regards to casting decisions on that day, but you never know how quickly someone may be promoted and calling the shots at the next one. I’ll tell you a quick story of how this worked for me:
I was auditioning for the revival of ‘A Chorus Line’ on Broadway and I was cut after the Ballet cut (see #2) and as I was leaving, I stopped the moderator and thanked her for all she was doing that day. She stopped, looked at me and said “Thank you so much for saying that, I’ve been nervous all day…you did so good in there, please come back!”. I thanked her, then asked her what her name was and she said “Nicole Smith” and I thanked her for her work again. A few months past and I decided to take another crack at it. I went to the open call for a Chorus Line and instead of seeing the Official Casting director next to the show director at the table, I saw Nicole. After I made it past the first cut, I asked the then-moderator who the new casting director was, and he said “It’s Nicole Smith, she got promoted”. Sure enough, I made it through the entire audition that day (even past the ballet cut). So you never know who may be your ticket to heaven…be nice to everyone, even the janitor.
4. Practice until your feet bleed…I mean it
Earlier I said that Ballet is the most important part of becoming a triple threat. In addition, practicing this will seal the deal. And by practicing I mean practice for hours. When I first got to acting school in New York City, I was the BEST dancer at the school. I took years of ballet and jazz and I could dance circles around anyone…except anyone who could tap. I had never even put a pair of tap shoes on my feet until reaching school and I was TERRIBLE. I knew that I needed to master tap to become the triple threat I wanted to be, so I would rent out my dorm’s rehearsal studio at 5 in the morning and I would do time-steps and traveling flaps for 3–4 hours before class. I would do this until my ankles and feet would blister and bleed…but I would soon move past the best tap dancer in class, because while he was sleeping, I was working. Or in my world, #winning.
5. You don’t have to be the best singer, but you MUST make it up with acting
Let’s face it, most of us were NOT blessed with a singing voice. Why, God, WHY? But don’t worry, you don’t need to bury all your playbills yet, my child. If you look at every Tony Award Winning musical theater performer, you will find a wealth of performers who can’t sing worth shit. Yet how did they get the highest award in the land if one of the 3 threats is bile? Because they acted the shit out of the role and the audience never cared about the voice. Its about the total performance, it’s about how you made your audience feel, not how good you sound. I promise you that if you focus the majority of your energy on improving your acting and dance skills, all the rest will pale in comparison. This is why we don’t hate Catherine Zeta Jones too much over her role as Velma in Chicago…she may have been a weak singer, but she deserved every once of that Oscar.
6. Be nice and don’t be difficult to work with
They say gratitude and appreciation are the key to life and happiness. In all reality, gratitude, thankfulness and perfection seems to dominate the lives of performers. But after we’ve been fawned over for our talent for so long, our ego’s can tend to run away with our brains. You MUST learn how to check your ego at the door in ANY audition or rehearsal situation. Relationships and reputation are very important in your success in this industry and if you choose to be an asshole or difficult to work with, you will never achieve the true art of the triple threat. If you’re too difficult to work with, no one will ever want to work with you again, no matter how talented you are.
7. Keep your reel updated
Ever heard of an acting/dance/voice reel? I hope so because in this ever changing digital age, every triple threat performer needs a reel that shows off every corner of your talent. And make sure you keep this reel updated as you experience new gigs or opportunities. Also, learn how to piece together your reel yourself using simple computer tools like iMovie. You’re too far into the 21st century NOT to know how to use these simple instruments to push you forward and ahead of the game.
8. Don’t ever give up…use the 40/80 rule
If you haven’t heard the 40/80 rule, today is your lucky day (or your worst day, depending how you look at it):
40 Auditions gets you your first callback, 80 Auditions get you your first role.
Now, it doesn’t always happen precisely like this, you may have 5 auditions before your first callback, or 500…but this is a general rule of how long it will take you to get noticed in the sea of YOU. You’ll soon realize when you enter into an audition room in New York that most of the guys look exactly like you…they even sing just as good as you (or sometimes better) and they may be even be an inch or two taller than you…most of the time, other people who are further down the line in their 40/80 timeline will get the job over you. But if you apply all I mentioned today and keep consistent, you will eventually get that callback and that job…but it will take you 80+ tries. Also remember, if you give up, you will NEVER make it there. So never, ever give up. Everyone is going through this, you aren’t alone.
I hope this gives you more of an insider’s look at how to maintain your triple threat mindset, while also having the street smarts to get the job done. Everyone’s journey is different, but if you apply these principles to your overall strategy, you are destined for greatness.
Want more awesome musical theater tips and tricks? Click here and sign up for our Broadway Masters education series and get ahead of the game!