Don't Strive To Be A "Triple Threat"
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Don't Strive To Be A "Triple Threat"

In musical theatre, acting, singing and dance are not of equal importance.

2013
Don't Strive To Be A "Triple Threat"
Dance Informa Magazine

On the Facebook page The Unified (class of 2018 college theater group), there is a list of musical theater colleges that are better for acting/singing/dance. Some schools are listed once or twice. Some are known as "triple threat programs," designed to give equal weight to all 3 areas. More and more, people ask "are you a singer/actor/dancer? Dancer/singer/actor? Actor/dancer/singer?" We aspire to triple threat status, or equal ability at acting, singing and dancing.

Here's why that's kind of bullshit.

First of all, acting is the most important part of musical theater or any performing art. Period. You can sing without acting, but it's boring). You can dance without acting, but it doesn't look as good. You can even act without acting. (I'm defining acting as Meisner did, living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Truthfully is the key word here.) Singing and dancing are means by which you can act/tell the story. That's why it bugs me when people separate them. If you see a really good piece of theater, the story, music, and movement are seamlessly interwoven. But that's not because acting, singing and dance get equal amounts of attention, it's because everything is done in service of the story. If you ask me, acting shouldn't even be the same plane as singing and dance. It's also quite hard to rank actors in order of best to worst because people excel at different things. You can tell exceptionally good from glaringly bad, but there's no real or reliable way to quantify acting ability.

I think singing gets ENTIRELY too much attention in musical theater. Even 20 years ago, not everyone on Broadway sounded the same. Not everyone on Broadway had the same vocal range or could hit show-offy high notes. I was listening to the original cast recording of Guys & Dolls a few weeks ago, and I noticed that Vivian Blaine, though a beautiful singer (watch State Fair), was a definite alto and did not sound pretty as Adelaide. An actor's singing voice has to fit the character the same way their speaking voice does. Beautiful wasn't this character. Adelaide's accent and nasal tone, plus the fact that she has a cold through the entire show, don't add up to a fabulous Sutton Foster I-don't-wanna-show-off-no-more mix belt. There are so many performers who don't have perfect flawless cookie cutter MT voices and many of them are household names. Personally, I find that if you act the shit out of something and hit all the notes, however loudly, technically or prettily, it's still effective. I've also seen performances where the vocals are SO good that they actually distract from the message/story/lyric of the song.

Many Broadway stars today also don't have super strong dance skills. There are musicals where extensive dance training isn't necessarily called for (although all actors need to be able to move and have an awareness of their bodies). A lot of college musical theater programs, including the one I attend, no longer conduct dance auditions or do not use them to determine who is admitted. That said, understanding the way your body moves is absolutely paramount for any performer. My mother even studied Alexander Technique at her music conservatory. But dancers still have to use their bodies to communicate a story.

I also take issue with the "threat" part of the term. It feels gross to me that one's hard work and skill would threaten other people, or that one would be motivated to increase their skill level for the purpose of threatening or intimidating others. Treating your life and your craft as a competition is so dangerous. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on that, check out this article I wrote for Diva's Guide To College Auditions last year.

Singing and dancing are important tools, and great skills to have, but at the end of the day, what you have to be is an actor. The lines between "straight" and musical theatre are increasingly blurred as new forms become popular. Aside from that, each performer's skills are different, and that's okay. We have to grade on a curve; not everyone should be held to the same standard. We can't all have the same career. We can't all be superb at everything -- that's just boring. Let's stop trying to achieve "balance," and strive for artistic integrity instead of technical perfection.

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