Junior Mike Collier took psychology as an elective during his freshman year and did not like it.
While scrolling online for classes the next semester, he decided to sign up for introduction to theatre. That changed his life.
“On the first day of class, we talked about elements of theater and what makes it so special and unique,” Collier said. “My love for theater all rushed back to me from my first part when I was 9 years old, and I realized it wasn’t something I could stop doing.”
That Friday, Collier tagged along with his roommate, Matthew, to the on-campus auditions for Little Shop of Horrors. He won the lead role of Seymour.
The veteran of more than 30 musicals now credits these events for helping him make the decision to major in theatre arts.
“I never thought that majoring in theater was a viable option because I didn’t want to be one of those starving actors who weren’t good enough, because it’s so competitive,” he said.
Recent graduate Kevin Rose said his mother was responsible for initially getting him involved. She helped him overcome his stage fright in fourth grade for an audition of Beauty and the Beast and encouraged him to hone the skills he would need.
Rose said his family has always supported his major and believed in him.
“My mom found every theater company, every voice teacher and every academic institution,” he said. “She found everything that got me started.”
At UM, theatre arts majors’ required classes include visits from image consultants that prepare them for auditions.
Collier said that resumes don’t matter as much.
“If the director casting doesn’t like the way you look, he won’t hire you,” he said. “You can’t control that. It’s so unpredictable.”
Junior Annette Navarro sang pop music until the end of her junior year of high school when she took an acting class.
“I was so happy that I could do all three things in one profession, singing, acting and dancing,” she said. “That’s what makes musical theater so hard.”
Musical theatre students generally don’t earn internships while in school like other majors. Their experience is based on actual paid or unpaid jobs.
Department of Theatre Arts Chair Vince Cardinal said that the biggest difference between a theatre major and other majors is that actors sell themselves as “brands” when they audition.
“Most of them end up going to New York City because that’s the nexus for all kinds of work, and out of there they can get jobs at regional theaters, dinner theaters, TV and film,” Cardinal said. “Most of them make their way up the ladder.”
He said that once students take on a role, they must balance rehearsals and schoolwork.
Rose’s break came this past spring when he earned the role of a male understudy for the production of Forbidden Broadway at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
Mollye Otis, the program director of vocal performance in musical theatre, said she jokingly tells her students to get her front row seats when they make it to Broadway.
“There’s a really special thrill when you see students make it and get out there and really get to work,” she said. “You see them through the formative stages of their career paths and sometimes you make or break a person in a college situation.”
Rose plans to look into regional and professional theatres on the eastern coast and move to either New York or Chicago.
“You have to be willing to change and to be vulnerable on a daily basis because as a performer it’s really not about you,” he said. “I think I’ve been following this career path for a reason, and it’s where I’m supposed to be.”