APATA – The Australian Performing Arts Teachers Association

Studio News > Article

What we learned: Day 2 of the Broadway Teachers Workshop

Posted by Team APATA | Aug 5, 2021

Another day, another exciting line up. Though we can’t share the video from the Broadway teacher’s Workshop we will let you know what we’ve learned. Share incredible journeys and point you to the work and teachings of these amazing presenters.

1. Meet the Artist: Josh Groban

Born in LA I was exposed to so many facets of the arts from a young age. At school I was struggling, but I knew the arts were part of what worked for me. My first theatre teacher gave me my first part as Sailor #5 in Anything Goes, but it was a choir teacher who noticed me and said, ‘Hey, there’s a shy kid back there and he’s got something special,’ and gave me my first solo in 7th grade changing everything. That year I was diagnosed with ADD, and I was given the tools to unlock my education. Having the arts in my life as a way of magnifying those tools, the sky was the limit. I had the missing structure in place to help me through the rest of my schooling at LA County School for the Arts.

What at the high school of the arts influenced your future?

Every kid at that school had it cranked to 11 as per the bug for the arts. There was something about the type of student at that school – it was eclectic, with kids from every walk of life. They were creative, bright, and often didn’t fit in at their previous schools. Having a school where there was so much inclusion of the arts the whole school felt like they had finally found their club. That’s a powerful thing to discover at a young age. That sense of community and sense of self was absolutely lifesaving.

Groban goes on to say, Schools need to make sure that there is not just one route for students to succeed. Sometimes school is the only place a student had to express themselves. Finding a path of learning for each child and putting that extra effort into unlocking a student’s potential can literally save lives. Being told that I didn’t care and that I didn’t engage in school was so untrue. Teachers are a key. There may be a reluctance to go the extra mile with your students, but by being given the keys to my own way of learning, I am an example of how that extra effort can change a life.

High School and beyond.

Once I realised my best path for succeeding in school, I wanted to choose a College program that wasn’t going to be cookie-cutter, I couldn’t do strict. I needed to find a program that would appreciate where their students were and not categorised into a one-size fits all program. I chose Carnegie Melon. Our class was like the Marvel Universe, every member of our class members has gone on to do amazing things.

Discovered during high school and working for top producer David Foster, Groban was torn between two worlds. He had to decide whether to continue at college or take a leave of absence to work with the multi-Grammy award winner. Foster of course was someone most people are lucky to have a 1hour masterclass with and yet here he was offering Groban a 24/7 journey to make an album. He and his parents looked at it through an educational lens: This was an experience in which he would learn so much, mentored by Foster, with a chance to make an album. A teacher told him to toss a coin – ‘You’ll know how you feel, and you can always turn it over.’ The rest is history as they say, with Groban knowing he could always come back to college.

Thrust on to the world stage at 20 yrs old.

I had done a few big events with David before the album came out. Doing TV shows like Oprah took the exposure beyond. I was 18 going on 15, and trying to deal with the pressure of being a professional and a student at the same time. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I slipped messed up the mic would be passed. Your self-worth revolves around your last performance. It’s a lot like sports. Sometimes an athlete needs to step back and look at why they started playing in the first place. It can give you, a warped sense of who you are in the world. It was an education on steroids and I had to pull myself up throughout the years.

Regathering practices.

It took me a long time to realise that it didn’t need to be in activity all the time. I didn’t need to be ‘doing’ to be of use or to feel vital. I was so used to having months and years blocked out with what I was doing – so I learnt to say NO. When you’re in the arts professionally you’re leaving it all out there and it’s quite masochistic. So it takes a lot of courage to say, ‘ I’m going to take some time out for my mental health, I’m going to take a week off, a month off a year off. I’m going hiking, I’m going to learn something new. It’s a luxury to be able to do that, but it could be as simple meditating for 15 minutes or taking an hour’s walk without your phone. Saying no and setting boundaries. As a young performer you think you’re not allowed to make boundaries for yourself, you think you’re not allowed to say you’re uncomfortable or not inspired by this and having people ‘not pleased’ with you. You’ve been trying to make people happy from for so long you need to realise that you need to do what’s right for you and let those people, who want things from you professionally, be unhappy. Setting boundaries has been the most important lesson in my career.

The Find Your Light Foundation.

My foundation is about giving to future artists. Performing at Charity Events with David Foster my fans early on, wanted to be philanthropic. One concert a bunch of fans caught my attention with a jumbo cheque. They had raised $70K so they handed me this giant cheque saying, ‘We love the charity work you’re doing. At some point you’ll start a charity of your own and we, the fans, want to be the first cheque your charity receives’, which is still mind blowing to me. So, we then had to figure out what we would do – we asked fans to give back – at the beginning we donated all over the place.

It wasn’t until I was invited by Americans for the Arts to testify to Congress on Arts Awareness Day, talking about the importance of education, not just in the arts around the country, but the jobs s around the jobs that thrive off the arts. I realised while telling those stories that that was my personal story and that was where my focus would be. The Find Your Light Foundation gives grants to students all over the country, whether they remain in the arts or not. We’ve been going for 7, nearly, 8 years now.

Find Your Light Foundation

Instagram @fylfoundation

Facebook @FYLFoundation

YouTube @FindUrLight

Returning to Musical theatre.

My friend convinced me to go and see this offbeat show called Great Comet. This was a genre bending, music experience in a tent with the wildest score I’d ever heard. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had no idea that years later I would be doing it on Broadway. I put musical theatre on the shelf because it meant so much to me. I just loved how new ‘Comet’ was and I wanted to put my all into it. I met with the composer Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1912 became a Broadway Show in 2016. It was the most challenging, beautiful experience in my career. Teachers should check it out because it has so many elements to it. Every Wednesday we would have 30 tickets for students and because the show was built on 70 pages of the novel War and Peace, and we would have a literary Q & A afterwards with these students discussing the story and characters. The world it opened to these students was incredible. Having the arts in my life is incredible.

Everyone is different, learning is not a one size fits all thing. The Arts was my hyper-focus. Because of the way the way music and theatre are naturally taught I was able to fully immerse myself in the arts. When you get to express yourself you fill up your tank. The Arts gives kids a voice. Make sure there is a platform for kids to be lifted, instead of letting them slide to the back.

Here is a conversation from the Psych Hub Podcast with Josh Groban – The Link Between Music and Mental Health where Josh Groban, multi-platinum, award winning singer/songwriter, opens up about his personal experience with anxiety and attention deficit disorder. Josh shares why the arts have always been an avenue for him to find balance, and why he is so passionate about the link between musical education and mental health.

2. Hip Hop Workshop with Devon Glover

The Sonnet Man, brilliant rap artist Devon Glover, sets Shakespeare’s love sonnets to Hip Hop to both entertain and educate. Conceived and produced by Broadway Playwright Arje Shaw, The Sonnet Man brings Shakespeare to young audiences in a genre they know and love, which introduces young people to classical literature, raises literacy, improves communication, creates greater enthusiasm for learning, increases creativity, raises confidence, and sets a foundation for the appreciation of the arts.

Through Hip Hop, Shakespeare is exciting and fun. The Sonnet Man is perfect for schools, theatres, and organisations. Featured artist Devon Glover delivers the sonnets as originally written, and then breaks it down into “spoken word.” Mr. Glover’s flow embodies the richness of Shakespeare’s language, and his passionate, yet natural delivery offers an inspiring, creative experience audiences love.

Mr. Glover’s story is an inspiration in itself. Born and raised along with two brothers by a single mom in Brooklyn, he strives to make something of himself and to give back to his community. He went through the New York City Public School system and is a graduate of Ithaca College. Mr. Glover teaches and conducts workshops/performances in Harlem, Queens, Brooklyn as well as teaching nationally and internationally in England, Canada, Netherlands, Bermuda, Prague, and more. He performed The Sonnet Man in Negril, Jamaica by special invitation from the Board of Education in the Soul Rebellion Hip Hop Festival.

His Hamlet music video was an official selection of the Shakespeare Film Festival in Stratford, England.


Facebook: TheSonnetMan

Instagram: thesonnetman

3. Meet the Artist- Brian Stokes Mitchell – “I learn the most when I teach“.

Brian Stokes Mitchell’s extensive screen credits began with a guest starring role on Roots: The Next Generations, which led to a 7-year stint on Trapper John, MD.  His 40-year long TV/Film run continued with memorable appearances on everything from PBS’ Great Performances to Frasier, The Prince of Egypt (singing “Through Heaven’s Eyes”), Glee, Jumping the Broom, Madam Secretary, The Blacklist, Bull, Elementary and Prodigal Son.  He has had recurring roles on numerous series of late including Mr. Robot, The Path and this season on Evil.  As a voice-over artist, he has portrayed dozens of characters on hundreds of animated TV episodes. NPR aired his narration of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the U.S. Marine Band. His second performance at the White House, “A celebration of American Creativity”, was aired on PBS.  This season, Stokes begins a new segment of his career hosting a live-streamed talk show called Crossovers. The show will feature icons who’ve made the jump from stage to film, television or music.  The six-part series will livestream from New York City and will also be available on video on demand at StellarTickets.com.

Stokes has received a number of other awards for both his charitable and artistic work including the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical (Kiss me Kate), the Tony’s Isabelle Stevenson Award, New Dramatist’s Distinguished Achievement Award, the Actors Fund Julie Harris Award, Canada’s Dora Mavor Moore Award (The Canadian “Tony”), the Americans for the Arts Outstanding Contribution to the Arts Award,  The Actors Fund Medal of Honor, Chicago’s Sarah Siddons Award, and the Distinguished Performance Award from the Drama League. In November of  2016 he was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.

Stokes’ father was one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen and an electronics engineer. The family lived in Guam and the Philippines until he was in 9th grade and Stokes realises now that he and his brothers inherited their autodidact (self-taught) trait from their father.

“I taught myself orchestration from books and by copying charts of Stravinsky and Aaron Copeland. By hand-copying their work I could understand what they were doing. I’m teaching myself editing now off the internet. I love learning things on my own.”

Once they returned to San Diego and his Brothers were in high school, Stokes found he had the freedom to stop trying to compete with them and follow his own path. He started taking drama for the first time with his teacher Kathleen Lund. Stokes began studying acting, singing and dancing at the San Diego Jr. Theatre. Within two years he was performing on various San Diego stages, including the Old Globe Theatre and San Diego’s Starlight Opera Company.

During a performance as the lead for Bye-Bye Birdie Stokes felt an energy coming from the audience. This was a pivotal moment for him where he thought that this could be something he’s actually good at, but never did he think that it could be a career.

“I did a test that tells you what your career path you lean toward, and I did this test and it was so weighted towards performance that it surprised me.”

On graduating high school, he got a call from one of his castmates in Godspell. As the Artistic Director for a new theatre company called the 12th Night Repertory Company he asked Stokes to lead the Company performing multi-cultural theatre for students. A transfer to Los Angeles with the 12th Night gave him the opportunity to start a long career in Television and film.

“I auditioned for the first crazy thing I saw an ad for, a part in the second TV series of Roots. And I had to learn how to go from the stage to television. Luckily I had found a brilliant acting teacher in Sal Dano. That stint led to an audition and a 7-year role on the TV series Trapper John, MD. To get a show at twenty years of age from your first audition and then for that show to go on for seven years, let me tell you, luck favours the prepared.”

As the youngest child, he watched his older siblings and learned from their mistakes and successes. Working with older castmates while in high school, he was also able to view their journey and learn from them.

“Even if you’re incredibly talented, if you’re not nice to work with, you’re not going to get the job. I knew that if I ever got to lead a show, I would want to be just like Chita Rivera, one of my greatest mentors. Chita was always on top of her game. She knew everyone’s names in the cast and crew, she treated everyone with respect and led with kindness. I chose the people to learn from. Colleges sometimes liked to tear people down and build them back up. I had the choice, if someone blew my mind, I would choose to learn from them.”

Qualities for an Artist’s success.

A teacher once told Stokes: ‘You don’t want a job, you want a career. When you watch a movie or a TV show and you see those secondary players that you always see, always doing good work. That’s who you want to be. Those are the people who have a career. They can buy a house, and a car and have a good life. You may not know their names, but they are the people who work and work consistently. Be like them.’

“Fast forward I’m getting on a flight and this guy says, ‘Wait, I know you. You’re that guy. I know you. I see you all the time, what shows are you in?’, and I realised I had become that person my teacher told me to be, the person I had always wanted to become.”

To succeed in this industry you have to have curiosity, kindness and what Stokes calls the 5 T’s:

  1. Talent – the raw material someone naturally brings, that spark that makes you think they have something.
  2. Technique – this is what you learn in school, what you have to study. It’s structure. Technique is what gets you through a show when you play eight times a week. Technique is what you keep going back to. “I still learn, I still take classes, never stop learning. I do classes all the time.”
  3. Timing – Luck favours the prepared. Everyone gets a chance, and if you’re ready for it, it can open pathways to the next step in your career. Be prepared.
  4. Tenacity – “You must want this! This is not the easiest way to make a living. Showbiz has been hit hard this past year and it may take five years before we get back on our feet. Most arts workers in the USA make $34K a year. You get more no’s than yes. There’s a lot of rejection. It’s hard not to take that personally. So you have to want this!”
  5. ‘Tude or Attitude – “Don’t be a horrible person, nobody wants to work with a horrible person. Energy vampires aren’t wanted. Be someone who people want to work with. Have a giving spirit. Be open, listen to people and work hard, work hard and work hard.”

‘With all those things in play you might have a chance. It’s not guaranteed, but you might have a chance.”

This past year Brian Stokes Mitchell has been putting himself in the service of others more than ever before. He has been Chairman of the Board for the Actor’s Fund since 2004. The Actor’s Fund normally gives out 2 million dollars worth of emergency assistance. This year, Stokes’ says, they have given out 21 million dollars worth of assistance to 16 thousand people to fund life basics like food, rent and prescriptions. He is also on the Board and Artist Committee of Americans for the Arts, and is a founding member of Black Theatre United.  He is a tireless advocate for both artists and the importance of the Arts in a healthy society.  This year the city of New York honoured his contributions to charity and the arts by awarding him the Key to the City.

For more information go to:
Twitter: @bstokesmitchell
Facebook: Brian Stokes Mitchell
Instagram: BrianStokesM
The Actors Fund:  ActorsFund.org
Americans for the Arts:  AmericansForTheArts.org
Black Theatre United:  BlackTheatreUnited.com

Broadway.com – #LiveatFive: Home Edition with Tony Winner Brian Stokes Mitchell (around 6minutes in Stokes’ is introduced and the conversation will begin)

Sign Up to our newsletter and be the first to hear about the latest news and events.

Sign Up to our newsletter and be the first to hear about the latest news and events.