The pros of Professional Development

Continued professional development is vital to maintaining the longevity of your career in this ever-changing landscape of Music Theatre, writes Rob Guest Endowment winner and current The Book of Mormon cast member, Daniel Assetta.

Daniel Assetta. Image By Kurt Sneddon
Daniel Assetta. Image By Kurt Sneddon

Whilst most elements of a musical have remained the same since the early 20th century, we have seen, over time, that it is an ever-evolving art form. Theatre composers and writers are constantly pushing the boundaries of what a musical can be, and fighting for originality. This contributes greatly to the continually changing landscape of Music Theatre. As the creation of diverse new works continues, we as actors, need to focus on being versatile in order to increase our chances of being employed in the theatre industry.

The genre of a musical, as we know, can vary immensely in style, ranging from English operetta (Pirates of Penzance) to jazz standard-style shows (Anything Goes); classical and operatic shows (Phantom of the Opera); rock (American Idiot); country/folk (Bright Star); theatre pop (Wicked) and recently, to R&B/rap (Hamilton). The demand to stay on top of every genre is increasingly high. As singers, we are expected to have equal access to our head, mix, chest and falsetto voices so we can cross over between all of these styles of music. It is therefore crucial that we are educated correctly on how to maintain this vocal versatility.

At one point in my career, I was required, over the span of a couple of weeks, to sing a song in a production using a more ‘legit theatre’ vocal quality, then a song in another show which required a contemporary pop sound, belting at the top of my range. It actually seems that my job over the last couple of years has been learning how to adapt to the requirements of the projects that I have been a part of. It may not have been Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, but I never thought that I would ever in my career be delivering a song through rap. But I did it for 9 months in the revival production of CATS, which toured around Australia, giving me my first big break in a featured role. It was definitely a challenge, as I had never done anything quite like it before. It used a certain vocal energy that required power and diction, which at first seemed straight forward, however, when doing it eight times a week was quite exhausting. Through the help of a vocal coach, I was able to find a much easier approach, allowing me to sustain a strong, healthy vocal performance throughout the duration of the tour.

Daniel Assetta as The Rum Tum Tugger in Cats Auckland, 2015. Image by Hagen Hopkins.

The voice is a physical, mechanical and acoustic instrument that, when equipped with the proper technical foundations, will allow a performer to sing any style that may be required of them. Whilst in New York, I was fortunate enough to work with Speech Language Pathologist and voice teacher Tom Burke, who also has an online training program. His lessons are grounded in the Estill Voice Training method, which he has taught for the last 20 years. His teaching approach is both informative and fun, which immediately resonated with me. Tom’s signature system, called the ‘Twang Farm’, helps singers easily access their voice in any genre through the use of animal vocal imagery — sounds quite strange but it actually works. I had many ‘light bulb’ moments in Tom’s classes and it was exactly what I needed at the time.

It’s important to recognise that we all need different things at different points in our careers. There are always various training options available to performers, whether it be to gain confidence singing in front of others, find new repertoire, prepare for a specific role in a show or audition, or gain further knowledge in a particular vocal technique. There are a variety of coaches in Australia who provide these services and it is essential that we can acknowledge what we require. Of course, not every approach will work for every performer; I had a session with a coach that came highly recommended by colleagues and, whilst the methods may have been successful for some, they unfortunately didn’t resonate with me. I could appreciate the teacher’s techniques but they were not useful to me at that particular time, and there is obviously nothing wrong with that.

As actors, we must continue learning about our craft. This means that further study is always required. If there is one thing that I have learned over the past couple of years, it is that there is no limit to our learning. I had the incredible opportunity to partake in a master class with Tony Award-winning actress Betty Buckley, where she enlightened us with stories of her journey as performer over the course of her career. Something she said that day really stuck with me: there is always more knowledge that can be gained. Despite her age and career successes, Betty has never stopped trying to better herself, constantly seeking out coaching and new ways to learn and grow as a performer.

It is easy to become complacent, however, we must fight against this feeling, letting our passion and excitement for theatre be the driving force behind our success. This is a highly competitive industry, and with the ever-changing landscape of music theatre, we must be prepared for anything. In order to give ourselves the best chance, it is vital to continue our professional development and constantly refine our skills, so that we can maintain longevity within the industry.

Daniel Assetta made his musical theatre debut in Wicked (GFO) and then went on to perform the reimagined role of the ‘Rum Tum Tugger’ in Cats (RUG). Most recently, Daniel appeared as ‘Luke’ in The Gathering (Vic Theatre Company). Other credits include Funny Girl and Curtains (The Production Company), Follies In Concert (StoreyBoard Entertainment), Carmen, The Magic Flute and Tosca (Opera Australia).

In 2015, Daniel was the winner of the prestigious Rob Guest Endowment Award, allowing him the opportunity to travel to New York and perform alongside Broadway stars in Darren Criss’ Elsie Fest and the Michael Mott & Friends concert at The Astor Room.

He is now performing in the original Australian cast of The Book of Mormon.

Erin James

Erin James is'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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