Natalie Toro, star of A Tale of Two Cities on Broadway, took some time during her run as Camila in In the Heights at Pioneer Theatre Company to teach a master class to local actors: "Acting Through Song." The class was held in the rehearsal hall at West Valley's Hale Centre Theatre; it was an intimate gathering of fewer than 20 people, including her castmates in In the Heights and cast members of Hale's regional premiere of A Tale of Two Cities.
Ms. Toro opened the class with a mini-concert of three songs, featuring "Here I Am" from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, an affecting arrangement of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables, and her signature "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" from A Tale of Two Cities. The performances showcased her gloriously bombastic belt with a gritty edge, and she was completely transformed into the characters she portrayed.
She asked the students to critique her performances, asking them three key questions:
- "Do you believe me?"
- "Where do you go on the journey?"
- "Am I connected to the material?"
She then spoke about how she taps into her life experiences, including her childhood in the Bronx, as well as her personal character traits, both positive and negative.
"The honesty of the truth is what we're looking for, within the lyrics of the song," Ms. Toro said. "Your gift to the audience is the journey you take them on."
The majority of the four-hour master class was filled with one-on-one interactions with the students, helping them refine their ability to act through song.
Ms. Toro was kind enough to speak with BroadwayWorld about her master classes and recent experiences in Utah.
1. What led to you teaching these master classes?
I wanted to teach a skill that I use, a technique that is not well known. I studied at The Boston Conservatory (BOCO) with a teacher, Fran Charnas. This was a sophomore class and she just blew me away. She taught me a priceless "gift": to connect with my material in the most honest way possible.
2. How often do you teach the classes?
I have taught about five classes now. It's the beginning of something wonderful for me and the people that take it.
3. What ages do you teach? How is teaching adults different from teaching children/teens?
I teach from the ages of 12 to adult. It's quite interesting the difference. Teens are so open and able to dig deep into their feelings much faster that adults. I think adults have more layers of "stuff" to get through. Also adults have had time to develop their habits, so breaking down the walls makes me work a little harder. But I LOVE it!
4. What is the structure of the class?
I usually do a mini-concert, like three songs, and ask them to be prepared to critique me. I usually ask them three questions. Then after the concert, I tell them how I work, and talk about the technique that they have probably heard of but not the way I teach it. It's quite unexpected.
5. How does the mini-concert at the beginning set the tone for the class and instruct the students?
Because I tell them to critique me, it sets the tone that I am also vulnerable to the work and that I am someone that is their equal. Then I set up a trust circle.
6. Why did you choose the topic "Acting Through Song"? What does the topic mean to you?
I chose it because I am very serious about it in my own work. I wouldn't give myself the job if the journey of the song didn't take whoever was watching on their own personal journey. I don't like it when I see a performance and the dialogue is great. Then the song starts, and the performer doesn't connect with the material. It's as if they stopped acting cause they are singing.
7. What important concepts do you strive to get across to the students?
That whatever they choose to sing, they have to make it personal, something or someone out of their own lives. We have to see where they are, who they are talking to, and what they are feeling right at the intro of the song. If that doesn't happen, they lost me.
8. What is the most important thing you hope students will leave the class having learned?
That they can pull experiences out of their own lives via past, present, even future. It starts with the first word of the song. It's complicated to really explain here. But most students don't get past the first line of the song.
9. Can you give us an example of a success story from one of your classes?