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.