Living in Extended Time: Second-Year M.F.A. Students Prepare a Musical Revue

By Annie Sears

A.C.T.'s M.F.A. Program class of 2020 perform the Creative Movement project in A.C.T.'s Costume Shop Theater in the fall of 2017.
Students will return to the same performance space next week for Fascinating Rhythms: Jazz and Blues on Broadway.

“Music is living in extended time,” says Milissa Carey, who teaches singing in our M.F.A. Program. Music slows us down, demanding that we move at its pace and no faster. It cycles through choruses, asking us to reflect on repeated words and phrases. It activates our emotions in ways that spoken words can’t, and it unites us as we slow down and reflect together.

Our second-year M.F.A. students are immersed in this hyper-emotive world, preparing a musical revue entitled Fascinating Rhythms: Jazz and Blues on Broadway. Directed by acting instructor Darryl V. Jones, this revue explores how early-20th-century African American music changed the name of the game for musical theater at large.

Jones has selected pieces for each of his students that will both suit and challenge them. M.F.A. student Jeff Wittekiend will sing “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” from the 1930 musical revue Americana. “That show was very up-front about its pro-labor sentimentality,” says Wittekiend. “That was frowned upon. You couldn’t talk about the plight of the working man in popular entertainment, but on Broadway, you could because you were telling a story.”

Not only will each student have a solo, but they’ll sing together in several duets, trios, and medleys. LeRoy S. Graham III and Kim Hollkamp will be singing “Love Will Find a Way” from Shuffle Along (1921), one of the first Broadway musicals to be written, produced, and performed by an all–African American team. “I get to replicate a 1920s soprano sound, which you don’t come across in contemporary musical theater,” says Hollkamp. “It’s very grandiose and dramatic. Picture the moments in silent films where the actor has a huge physical reaction, but only a few words are written across the bottom. So much emotion and feeling and big sounds. It’s so fun.”

Hollkamp is looking forward to another unique aspect of 1920s jazz: improv. “It can be a little frightening,” she says. “If you think too much about it—worrying about being dissonant to the key or sounding too much like the melody to really count as improv—you won’t sound true to the song. So you have to go with instinct and not second-guess yourself. Really scary, but also really fun!”

Improv can seem intimidating, and singing is nerve-wracking for several students. “You feel very vulnerable up there,” says Wittekiend. “But it’s only by the practice of doing those things that you learn how to utilize that fear and overcome it onstage. That’s a really valuable tool, one that’s really important for this type of work.”

“I’m an actor who sings, not a professionally trained vocalist,” says M.F.A. student Dinah Berkeley. “So I’m trying to calm the nerves by just having a good time. It’s working so far! If I’m having fun, then hopefully the audience will too.”

Fascinating Rhythms: Jazz and Blues on Broadway runs December 13–15 in A.C.T.’s Costume Shop Theater. Get your tickets today, and join us for a night of lively and emotive music.

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