Avigail Herman takes Downstage Centre, Hobart

Downstage Centre is a musical theatre workshop presented by Tasmania’s Festival Of Voices this weekend at the Peacock Theatre. 

Avigail Herman. Image by Blueprint Studios
Avigail Herman. Image by Blueprint Studios

From 10am to 4pm on July 7 and 8, Downstage Centre, vocalists will have the opportunity to enhance their vocal performance and communication skills with musical theatre greats:

Kellie Dickerson (musical director of Wicked, Dr Zhivago, Legally Blonde), Avigail Herman (former head of the NIDA musical theatre program) and Kris Stewart (resident director of Wicked and artistic director of the New York Musical Theatre Festival).

Avigail Herman, who will be taking the Saturday workshop, is thrilled to be working as a part of the Festival of Voices for the first time.

She spoke with AussieTheatre about her passion for pedagogy and the thrill of passing her experiences onto up-and-coming performers.

“I really do love doing these things. They are quite challenging but they are exciting”, she began.

“Basically it’s to give the participants a greater range of skills and to help them understand text and music and emotional content and also the audition process”, she explained.

[pull_left]Basically it’s to give the participants a greater range of skills and to help them understand text and music and emotional content and also the audition process[/pull_left]

“The thing about these kind of workshops and masterclass situations is that if you really want to learn, you learn as much from observing and paying attention and listening and being interactive in terms of the process.”

Each participant will prepare two songs from musicals and Herman will spend the day working on the material with each participant in an interactive forum.

“If someone is up on the floor and I am working with them, I always throw out to the people that are watching, observing and say ‘Ok what did you see, what changed, how did that work?’. So it’s an interactive situation and you learn as much from doing that as you do being on the floor”, she said.

It is evident listening to Herman speak about this masterclass and her previous work at NIDA that she is passionate about passing her knowledge of the craft on to her students.

“I love it. My favourite class when I was teaching the music theatre course at NIDA was my masterclass, because it was all about stagecraft, it was about text  – and when I say text I mean music as text AND lyric as text – understanding the world of the song. Understanding what you are trying to say and how you can do it better.”

Detailing, Herman says, is what it’s all about. And her workshop at the Festival of Voices will be based on a similar process.

“It’s like being a sleuth – you know, composers and lyricists spend a lot of time creating a work for you. And your job is to figure out what the intention is and why. It’s all in the material, so you delve and you discover and you find all the nuggets of gold. I love that stuff!”

The 2012 Festival of Voices commenced tonight in Hobart, and Herman says the expansion of the festival this year has done wonders for Tasmania’s biggest Winter Festival.

“What’s great about it is it canvasses all areas of voice – everything from choirs of all different persuasions and genres, getting people from overseas to do concerts and take workshops”, she said.

While there is always a lot to learn from a masterclass in music theatre, Herman hopes that if nothing else, her participants understand the importance of text.

“The biggest thing that most people do is that they don’t understand that music theatre is not all about the singing. It’s storytelling. It’s about marrying the music and the lyric together. The marriage of both that create the song”, she explained.

“We all want everyone to have great technique and a great voice and all the rest of it, but at the end of the day, if that’s all you’ve got it’s not enough. It’s what you DO with it. You need to try and make the instrument you have the best it can be so you have the freedom to do whatever you want in terms of the storytelling.”

Participants in the Downstage Centre workshops will perform at the Downstage Centre Concert on the Monday evening in the Festival’s cabaret space, Voicebox at City Hall.

From this performance, one voice will be chosen by the masterclass leaders to perform at the prestigious Rob Guest Endowment Concert, sharing the stage with musical theatre greats like Lucy Durack (Wicked, Legally Blonde), Marina Prior (Mary Poppins, Phantom of the Opera), David Harris (Miss Saigon, Wicked), Lucy Maunder (Dr Zhivago, Rocky Horror Show), Amanda Harrison (Wicked, An Officer and Gentleman) and Rhonda Burchmore (Hot Shoe Shuffle, Sugar Babies).

For more information about the Downstage Centre concert, visit festivalofvoices.com.au

Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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