Sophomore Mike Collier took psychology as an elective during his freshman year. He did not like it.
While scrolling online for classes the next semester, he decided to sign up for professor Patricia Dolan’s introduction to theatre. That changed his life.
“On the first day of class, she 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.
Senior transfer and theatre arts major Kevin Rose says his mother was responsible for initially getting him involved in the arts. 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 to become financially successful.
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 in acting.
“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.”
Sophomore musical theatre major 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 for roles regularly.
Community theatres around the country often offer parts to students who wish to sharpen the skills they learn in class before they head to Broadway.
“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 as well as their health.
Navarro recently had rehearsals for a production of Fame every weeknight from 7-11 p.m. and for Beauty and the Beast on weekend afternoons. He also teaches a small children’s choir, Broadway Voice, at the Key Biscayne Community Center every Friday night.
“It’s exhausting and I don’t go to sleep late, so I can be energized and keep my voice healthy,” she said. “I keep a water bottle in my bag all day and eat a bowl of oranges.”
Like Navarro, Rose tries to act in several plays a year at the university’s Jerry Herman Ring Theatre.
His 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 in downtown Miami.
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, who expects to graduate after the spring semester, hopes to get a summer job at the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions. He also 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.”