In BRAVO!, Experiential Learning, Musical Theatre

Goldsberry shared experiences that have shaped her performing career

Broadway master class with Renée Elise Goldsberry, September 7, 2017.
(Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

The BRAVO! Professional Performing Arts series does more than bring world-renowned artists to BYU’s stage. A key mission of the BRAVO! series is to set up experiences where the artists can work directly with students.

“Connecting our students with visiting professional guest artists through workshops, master classes and collaborative performances is a significant priority of the professional presenting program at BYU,” said BRAVO! Producer Jeffrey Martin. “These interactions greatly enhance the principles being taught in the classroom and create some of the most memorable experiences for our students during their entire time here at the university.”

During Renée Elise Goldsberry’s visit to BYU she participated in a workshop with Music Dance Theatre (MDT) students. Faculty and students were expecting to host a typical workshop where Goldsberry worked with students on their singing and acting. Instead, Goldsberry decided to change the experience to reflect an audition atmosphere. The students who performed were sent out into the hall then called in individually and asked to perform.

MDT student Daniel Wallentine, who was chosen to perform for Goldsberry, said it was a shock when Goldsberry changed the workshop to an audition workshop, but he thought it benefitted the students.

“I think it was a helpful experience for her to say ‘we’re going to shake things up,’” Wallentine said. “It’s great to work one-on-one and improve technique, but in a real audition you get one chance to perform and then you’re done. So it was neat to have more of an experience like that.”

MDT student Libby Lloyd performed for Goldsberry first. Lloyd said she was nervous and didn’t know what to expect but had a great experience.

“Renée created a positive environment and a safe place,” Lloyd said. “It didn’t feel like she was judging me poorly. It felt like, if anything, she was writing down things she could help me with. She wanted the workshop to be productive.”

One of the biggest takeaways for Wallentine and Lloyd was Goldsberry’s emphasis on allowing personality to come through in their auditions. Goldsberry recounted an audition where she read the wrong lines and did things the wrong way, but let her personality come through. In the end, she received the part because the casting directors saw her true personality, which matched that of the character.

“I feel like she was really good at fostering an environment where individuality was praised and accepted,” Wallentine said. “I think, especially in this industry, the push for conformity can feel really strong. Everybody wants to be the highest belter, or the best dancer or whatever it is. I really appreciated the fact that she stressed individuality, personality and a kind of non-conformity.”

Goldsberry also shared her own experiences relying on God in her Broadway career. Wallentine paraphrased Goldsberry’s words, “You cannot survive in an audition or performance if you’re confused about which part is your strength and which part is God’s strength. Don’t confuse the two.”

Lloyd recounted Goldsberry commenting on how refreshing it was that she could talk about God at BYU. Goldsberry talked about her first Broadway role as Nala in “The Lion King,” and her feelings of inadequacy in the role.

“She said her prayers at first were ‘Oh dear God, I’m having a hard time, help me through this,” Lloyd said. “She felt the biggest change in her performance when she changed her prayers to ‘God, I need you to defend me.’ Her view of how he was on her side changed, and it gave her the confidence to do what she needed to do.”

Renée Elise Goldsberry takes notes on student performances (Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

Goldsberry’s remarks about God rang true for Wallentine. Wallentine started at BYU as a pre-med student but felt strongly that he should look into performing arts and eventually auditioned for and was accepted into the MDT program.

“I really appreciated that she was in no way hesitant to talk about faith in God, the importance of having a relationship with God and how vital that is to the success of a performer,” Wallentine said.

Wallentine said he has times where he feels discouraged because he didn’t grow up dancing and singing like several of the MDT students. “Listening to Renée talk about the importance of a relationship with God reaffirmed to me that I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have such intense promptings to be here,” Wallentine said. “Looking forward, it reaffirmed the importance of keeping my relationship with God a priority.

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