A group of students gathered in a semi-circle on the Roberts Stage at Kingswood Oxford watching each other perform a clip from a song. In the midst of the students sat Broadway actress Autumn Hurlbert as attentive, invested and supportive as the coterie that surrounded her. Hurlbert, who performed in Legally Blonde, Something Rotten, Little Women, Beauty and the Beast, and Les Miserables, was at KO to offer advice and insights to the students in a masterclass, "Broadway at KO," organized by Theater Director Kyle Reynolds and underwritten by Goodman Banks Performing Arts Series. Over the course of the year, KO students will have the opportunity to work with several Broadway actors, actresses and dancers to refine the skills and expand their practice.
As each student rose in front of Hurlbert, she empathized with their nervous emotions. “I audition for a living 90% of the time. It’s the most nerve-racking part of my job,” she commiserated. To combat their stress, Hurlbert offered them this tool: “You need to live in the story. Tell me the story,” she said.
After Maggie Eberle ’20 sang “I Love the Way,” from Something Rotten Hurlbert recommended that Eberle find the “moment before” - that place in the story where the character, in this case, a Puritanical young girl, finds the impetus to sing that particular song. She noted that by finding the context, the actor can better deliver the connection to the material, thereby enhancing the meaning behind the song. Following Remy McCoy’s ’20 performance of “The Life of the Party,” from The Wild Party Hurlbert tasked McCoy to sit in a chair to sing the song and strip the performance of any gimmicks. “This song is a challenge. You have to get the audience to party with you.” McCoy then powerfully commanded the crowd while seated to great effect.
McKenzie Campbell ’23 sang an introspective number, “The Dark I Know” from Spring Awakening from her chair, and Hurlbert suggested that she deliver the song standing up. She advised the students to constantly experiment with the song from different positions to achieve the most impact. Spencer Schaller ’20 apologized for his tentative start to “All I Need Is a Girl” from Gypsy, and Hulbert gently chided him. “Don’t ever apologize. I used to do that early in my career. Fake it until you make it. During the auditions, they’re not paying attention. It’s 100% confidence,” she said.
Petite yet persuasive, Hurlbert jumped off her seat to impel Schaller to free himself in the song. By skipping around the stage together, dancing a jazz square and singing directly to two friends, Schaller was able to expand his delivery and get the most out of the song. Hurlbert complemented Sadie Margolis’s ’21 “great focus” in her rendering of “Pretty Funny” from Dogfight, a song about rejection and dashed hopes.
Hurlbert reiterated a not-so-subtle message about the facade of many actors. “One-third of the people I work with are not qualified, but they are confident in aces,” she said. This was a tremendous opportunity for KO students to learn how to convey the most nuanced and commanding delivery of a song. Hurlbert offered wonderful observations and sensitive commentary for the student-actors to add to their toolkit.