I believe that there is a large correlation between singing and performing well with being surrounded by those who support and encourage your potential. The best performing arts educators foster their students’ growth by challenging them with projects where they can grow as independent artists. They provide their students with specific tools to successfully accomplish their task, while at the same time offering a sincere and honest critique for how students can improve their craft.
Having pursued my education at the Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral level in vocal performance, I am well aware of the attributes and deficiencies that many collegiate singers bring to the stage. Though most students have taken a battery of voice, piano, and theory classes that prepare them to successfully approach solo music and operatic repertoire, very few collegiate singers have time in their schedules to take acting and scene work classes outside of their department. It is likely that their very first exposure to this type of work occurs while taking an opera or a musical theater workshop class. As a result, many young singers feel deficient in their abilities to communicate text and drama while singing—and, in fact, often do not have the means to internalize the text beyond a superficial level.
As I am training future professionals in the performing arts, I want to make sure that my students’ skills are competitive in the world of young artist programs and regional and national opera companies. I believe that students have the most success when they train as complete performers who can sing, act, and move well on stage. As an educator, this translates to not only having high expectations on how prepared my students need to be throughout my classes and throughout the rehearsal process in a production, but in addition, I believe that a crucial element in the teaching/learning component is to give them the opportunity to have ownership on their own projects. My goal as a performing arts teacher is to provide my students with a motivating atmosphere that brings out the potential in each student, where each individual can have the confidence and the knowledge that they can audition at a competitive level, and have the tools to create their own performance opportunities by the time they leave school.
As a director who was initially trained by working on plays, I approach productions by starting with a day or two of table-work—first reading the opera as a play, while at the same time discussing and analyzing the characters and dialogue within the context in which the story takes place. Throughout the rehearsal process, I encourage my students to ask questions and maintain an open dialogue as new discoveries are made. I believe that if performers have a thorough understanding of the story and why things happen throughout, they are better able to bring a developed and nuanced portrayal of their characters to the stage.
Within my opera and musical theater workshop classes, students are not only expected to participate as performers, but are also given the opportunity to direct, choreograph, and music direct their peers for some of the scene work that we put together. This type of activity not only creates a true company environment where students are invested in the performances of their peers, but also provides them with the opportunity to be leaders in the types of entrepreneurship projects they may need to create for themselves on the outside world.
As an educator, I want my students to learn that there are many ways to be a performer and that you cannot wait for opportunity to come find you--you often have to create it for yourself. My central role is to guide and shape the development of my students as complete artists and performers, equipping them with tools and strategies to help them find success beyond the walls of academia.
Working with Singers:
A Dramatic Coaching with Dr. Tania Arazi Coambs
© 2023 Tania Arazi Coambs