The Main Differences Between Theater And Musical Theater

 

As someone with an illustrious theatrical career, I’ve had the opportunity to do both theater and musical theater and I’ve grown to accept that they are two very different art forms. I’ve learned that you do not necessarily need extensive training or experience to work as a successful actor. It’s an art form that is rooted in innate talent and natural instinct. Musical theater, on the other hand, is a lot like being a doctor. In order to be successful you need to receive training from a very young age. You need vocal training, theatrical training and dance training- on top of having  innate talent. You can’t just decide one day that you want to be a musical theater performer- not unless you sing like Jennifer Hudson and dance like Michael Jackson.

What I’ve learned from doing both is that those who major in theater and those that major in musical theater are extremely different. Let me list a few of them for you:

1.) If you’re a gentleman who does theater then chances are you might actually be straight. If you’re a man who does musical theater then the odds of you being a flaming homosexual triple.

2.) It’s not entirely impossible for a theater major to communicate with those who don’t perform. Musical theater majors, on the other hand, struggle with communicating with ‘others’ because if they go even three minutes without mentioning the ‘Tony’s’ or someone else’s vocal range they might explode.

3.) If you ask a theater major why they love theater they might mutter something about ‘the craft’. If you ask a musical theater major the same question they’ll most likely respond “I LOVE DANCING!” or “I was born to perform!”

4.)  You don’t necessarily have to be the most attractive of people to have a successful theater career…but if you’re a fugly musical theater major then you’re just going to have to accept the fact that you’ll only ever be cast in character roles or as human props.

5.) Theater majors tend to be the more moody, tempestuous type as they think human suffering somehow  translates to better acting . Musical theater majors, on the other hand,  are only programmed to smile and when they try to express emotions besides happiness they risk the chance of short circuiting. 

6.) Theater majors don’t need to be good singers or dancers to be able to succeed in their field. Musical theater majors don’t need to be good actors to succeed in their field.

To say that both musical theater and theater are industries overcrowded with women would be a bit of an understatement. Men have always had it easier because there’s simply less of them. When I was a kid I didn’t have that much difficulty getting parts despite my lackluster voice and complete lack of dance ability. But as I got older,  I realized early  that I did not have the same innate abilities as some of my peers nor did I have the motivation to strengthen them. After getting cast repeatedly in the ensemble and feeling like how well you were treated was dependent upon how talented your peers thought you were, I no longer wanted to perform. I still loved theater obviously, as I worked as an usher at a musical theater, but I knew deep down that I didn’t fit in with those that did musical theater. I mean I didn’t give a flying fuck who Alice Ripley was nor did I think Wicked was anything to write home about, so clearly we were too incompatible.

I found theater to be a lot more accepting. And I think part of the reason why I did is because talent isn’t always the main factor when it comes to casting. I’ve seen extremely talented people not cast in parts simply because they didn’t meet the physical description of the character.  Not getting cast became less of ‘I’m not good enough’ and more ‘there just wasn’t any part for me.’ And while I didn’t always get cast in big roles or anything, I felt that when I was cast appropriately that I was given the opportunity to shine and show people my talent. I also loved the people a lot more.  They were misfits- but accepting misfits. Although I will admit, some theater people can be HORRENDOUSLY douchey!

I think part of the reason the reason why theater people are more accepting than musical theater people is because they’re less competitive. We all know that everyone wants a part, but theater people are more likely to be involved in theater because it’s a creative outlet or a way of making friends. Musical theater  people are the same except most of them plan on pursuing it as a legitimate career. Most people I know who love musical theater go on to major in it in college, whereas I know far less people who love theater and decide to pursue it in college. And maybe that’s because musical theater majors are more confident in their abilities because they know their training is more likely to land them parts more so than those who major in theater whose casting depends on looks and whether or not a casting director sees your ‘natural instinct’.

What I’ve learned from doing both is that they really shouldn’t be compared.  People who do musical theater do so because they love dancing, singing and acting. We shouldn’t look down on non-musical actors who decide not to pursue or develop dancing and singing abilities. Sure musical theater majors might technically have more ‘talents’ but for most theater majors those talents are irrelevant to their field. I think what’s most important is whether the actor (both musical and otherwise) can tell the story in an honest way.  Because at the end of the day I don’t care if you’re a great singer or dancer, if you can’t sell the story to me or act your way out of a paper bag, then I think you suck.  Actually this is the perfect time for me to get something off my chest (excuse the yelling)- MUSICAL THEATER MAJORS, PLEASE LEARN HOW TO ACT!  I CAN FORGIVE YOU IF YOU CAN’T DANCE OR AREN’T THE BEST SINGER BUT IF YOU CAN’T ACT PLEASE SIT THE FUCK DOWN! It’s my opinion that acting is the most important part of either field, so please learn how to do it before pursuing a career. And yes, most college musical theater majors, I am talking to you. I’ve seen some immensely shitty acting (even at professional venues) by musical theater actors who think ‘smiling’ is the only way to convey emotion.

If you are truly a triple threat, I am in awe of your talent. I find having the ability to do all three to be super impressive and if your acting is so strong that you could be successful doing straight theater then yes, you are more talented than those theater majors.  The job of theater is to take people to another place and convince them that what they’re watching is real regardless of how absurd the scenario may be. Singing and dancing can often be vital to building this world and can enhance a performance in incredible ways- so they’re immensely important- but the best performers are the best liars.  Before you prioritize that singing and dancing are more important than acting remember that it’s musical theater. If you wanted to strictly be a dancer you should have joined the ballet, or opera if you’re a singer. Theater is about acting- don’t forget  it, bitches.

 

 

8 comments

  1. Hi there! Sophomore BFA Musical Theatre Major here. I just want to say that I think there’s a lot more overlap between the two than you’re giving credit. It really depends on the program. At my school in particular, I know a lot of Acting or theater majors who can sing and dance on the level of any Musical Theatre major (MT), and I know some MTs who fit the exact description (moody, intense, not into the business) of the “theater majors”.

    I guess you could use me as an example. I’m an actor first and foremost. I’m straight. I’m not a good dancer. I was accepted into more programs for BFA Acting than I was for BFA Musical Theater. I’m equally comfortable in straight plays (I was even cast in one as a leading role at my school next semester).

    I really don’t mean for this to sound rude, but I just wanted to come out and say that I think that this stereotype is a little harmful. I know that there is a grain of truth there, as there are a lot of MTs who can only sing and dance and are a little bit “much”, but I’ve noticed a lot of people judge me or avoid me for being an MT. People openly talk about how crazy or annoying or exclusive or horrible at acting MTs are and expect me to agree with them. In fact, once, when I told some people I was eating dinner with that I was an MT, the first thing that someone said was was “But you’re so normal!”. Yes, I am a human being, not a stereotype, just like most other people. Thank you.

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    • I’m sorry if you found this to be harmful in any way. It certainly wasn’t my attention. I am very good friends with both MT majors as well as just Acting ones and I know that the people I was referencing were the extremely vocal sect of majors. I would never want my writing to compel to avoid MT people at any cost because we’re all people at the end of day. I used stereotypes to prove a point and this article is supposed to be criticizing a very particular group of people based on my own personal experience. I know everything is not black and white in reality, but I had to commit to a viewpoint to make the article cohesive. Thanks though for commenting I appreciate! I also see you go to Emerson. I love that place. I actually considered going there for some time when I wanted to be a Writing for Film and Television major and some of my very good friends go there!

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  2. I’m not saying all of them are like this, but I had a very bad experience with MT girls. I was in a mixed acting workshop for MT and acting, and some of the MT girls were just straight up mean and would straight up reject you for NOT being into MT

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    • Perhaps they weren’t meaning to sound mean (pun not intended 😉 , it’s just that musical theater is their passion, and they’d rather converse with someone who can also appreciate it. Though I know MT girls who seem really nice. I wouldn’t call myself Idina Menzel with singing and I’m not much of a dancer, but I still love musical theater. It can truly be magnificent, but I don’t perform–yet the girls still seem nice. It might be that group or the location.

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    • Perhaps they weren’t meaning to sound mean (pun not intended😉 , it’s just that musical theater is their passion, and they’d rather converse with someone who can also appreciate it. Though I know MT girls who seem really nice. I wouldn’t call myself Idina Menzel with singing and I’m not much of a dancer, but I still love musical theater. It can truly be magnificent, but I don’t perform–yet the girls still seem nice. It might be that group or the location.

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  3. I agree with you about that acting statement–but I must say, I don’t think musical theater people are so barren when it comes to good acting. I’ve seen PHENOMENAL acting from musical theater performers, and I’ve met musical theater performers that are welcoming, straight, and CAN communicate without mentioning the Ton’y (which are cool) and vocal ranges (also cool), much more than I’ve met exclusive, non-communicable ones. I feel you are being needlessly judgmental, yet I can’t help but hypocritically chuckle during this article sometimes.

    Plus non-musical theater involves theatrical training and other things besides innate talent and natural instinct, like stage presence and the knowledge of how to express inward emotion without a song number to do it for you. I’m not bashing musical theater, because it’s awesome! If I could sing, you’d be seeing me up there.

    By the way, ‘Wicked’ and Alicia are certaintly magnificent things to write home about if the whole production rocks! I’m talking acting, singing, dancing, crew . . . . Oh, yeah, that’s another thing–the crew is another important puzzle piece. I’ve done crew for a musical before, and it was amusingly fun.

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