While being a musical theater major may seem like it’s all fun and games to audience members, there is a lot of work put into a single show with performers always bringing their best to the table. And that commitment to the stage doesn’t stop, especially during breaks between semesters.
“It isn’t easy. It is work. There’s a reason it’s called show business,” said Student Government Business Office Coordinator and regular Maine State Musical Theatre employee Ray Dumont, “but that’s what everyone wants to do. You just want to work. You’ve got to be hungry.”
And performers at USM are always hungry.
Throughout the summer break while many students are working part-time retail jobs, taking a summer course here and there or binge-watching every season of Breaking Bad, most musical theater students are auditioning and performing for theater companies and trying to get a leg up in the professional world.
Senior musical theater major Danie Lane has been performing all summer at Maine State Musical Theatre. This summer she performed in MSMT stagings of Hair, Les Miserables and Cinderella.
“It is important to always take work,” said Lane. “I was very lucky to work at Maine State, because they treat their workers well. Even if next summer I only book places that don’t pay or barely pay, I’m determined to do theater work, because that is the only way to get more work.”
MSMT is well-known for casting a mix of performers from local, regional and Broadway theaters. USM students are encouraged to audition and are often competing for roles with students from Bowdoin College, high schools students from around New England and even students from out-of-town universities such as Penn State and Boston Conservatory. The auditions take place at the beginning of the summer for all shows MSMT will be staging.
“You go through the audition process, and then you go home and you wait. All you can do is wait,” said Lane.
A few days later Lane was contacted and offered a role in Les Miserables. Soon after that show closed, she was asked to intern for Cinderella.
“If I had it my way I’d have been in all of their shows, but I didn’t fit in Gypsy or Mary Poppins,” said Lane. “You always want to be busier.”
While Lane was busy in Maine, other students were traveling to find work. Senior musical theater major Carolyn Glaude has been busy interning at Theatre West Virginia throughout the summer. Theatre West Virginia is an outdoor theater that casts performers from around the entire country.
“This is my very first internship, and the first outdoor theater I’ve ever work for, but it is not my first job in a professional theater,” said Glaude. “Even so, I was still very nervous on my first day, especially meeting all of the super talented people I was to work with all summer. But I was instantly welcomed very warmly.”
Glaude performed in all four shows the theater staged throughout the summer, along with taking classes in acting, dancing and singing on the side.
The rehearsal process at many professional theaters is more rigorous than university-affiliated shows. The average show is rehearsed and put up within two weeks. Lane and Glaude both had to adjust to a new pace, but felt that they were well-prepared.
“I feel like USM has done a great job preparing me for ‘the real world’ of professional theater. I’ve been greatly supported in this endeavor by my professors and private teachers, which has been a huge help,” said Glaude.
“The setting [at USM] is very different with no fault to the faculty,” said Lane, “because we have classes and only class periods to rehearse in the fall there is no way to really make it like a professional setting. The faculty is clear about what professional theaters expect though.”
Lane went on to say that there’s no way any school can completely prepare students for working professionally, because every theater, even every show is a different experience and environment.
“The level of energy and creativity at Maine State is astounding,” said Dumont. “I think it’s the perfect environment for some of these students to get out into the world and see what the business is really like.”
Dumont’s work with MSMT dates back to 1993, when he came in as a performer. From there, he climbed the ranks, returning as a performance intern for multiple seasons, then running the intern program for years before becoming managing director. Coming into a role that was on the business end of the theater, Dumont ran an unprecedented capital campaign to purchase and upgrade facilities that MSMT had had to rent previously.
“We gutted an old bus garage in Brunswick and turned it into our production facility, which is state-of-the-art. Air conditioned rehearsal halls, beautiful scene shop, big garage bays so that they can move things in and out, executive offices, costume shop, the works,” said Dumont. “Everything we ever rented from everyone else is now in a space that Maine State owns.”
Dumont has been living as a working actor for most of his life, but no longer works full-time.
“I consider the theater my career,” said Dumont, “I don’t do it full-time anymore, but that’s my career and I never say otherwise. It’s always about that. It just doesn’t fit into my life right now. I have another life that’s amazing and I’m working with that.”
Dumont choreographs and directs shows in the region part-time now and worked on Gypsy at MSMT this past summer. This role allows him to work a few weeks here and there and still spend time with his family, instead of working as an actor, which would require him to travel for ten to twelve weeks at a time.
Having spent a lot of time in the business in just about every role possible, Dumont has some words of wisdom he always gives to budding theater professionals.
“Always be nice on the playground” says Dumont. “Today’s intern is tomorrow’s casting director. Kindness can go a long way.”
It’s understood that in show business, who you know is an important factor in finding work. A young actor getting their foot in the door early and doing well can open many doors.
This idea has become a staple of the MSMT culture and is already something students know they need to focus on.
“The raw truth of it is your career in this world no longer solely relies on talent. You have to be a nice person who is easy to work with,” said Lane. “At school you don’t think about that aspect because you’re with people who are already your friends they you know you have to work with.”
As the summer season comes to an end and the fall semester begins, Lane and Glaude will both be returning to USM to finish off their degrees, bringing everything they’ve learned back to the classroom and looking for the next stage to takeover.