Bringing Broadway to Your Backyard

SpotLight student Celena Morgan with Les Miserables cast member Natalie Weiss

Fun Fact: La Cage Aux Folles, Les Misérables and Disney’s The Lion King have all featured at least one performer who has at some point in their life called Minnesota “home”.

Fun Fact Bonus: In December, Hennepin Theatre Trust welcomed another Minnesota native, Broadway actress/vocalist and SpotLight Spokesperson Linda Eder, who performed at the Pantages Theatre.

For the roughly 150 SpotLight students who have had the chance to interact with these performers, it means an opportunity to meet and learn from people who started right where they did, making that dream of performing an in-your-face reality.

This year the Trust’s SpotLight Musical Theatre Program is pleased to offer nearly 5,000 students from 56 schools around Minnesota the chance to work with Tony nominees, Broadway veterans and touring cast members through interactive workshops. Each workshop offers students a different perspective, with classes ranging from stage combat to character development. In December, over 50 SpotLight students joined Les Misérables cast members Ben Gunderson (a graduate of Moorhead High School) and Natalie Weiss for a dual Broadway workshop.

Gunderson kicked off the afternoon with an introduction to stage combat class. Rebecca Meyer-Larson, the current Moorhead High School Theatre Director who also taught Gunderson, had the opportunity to watch her former and current worlds collide.  “It was a thrill to watch him interact with young artists from around the state. I was especially wowed at what a great teacher he has become. His stage combat master class was informative and fun.”

Following Gunderson’s workshop, five students were given a vocal master class taught by Weiss while the other students observed. At the workshop, Celena Morgan, a senior at the St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts, a first-year SpotLight school, commented “I’m very excited! I’ve been wanting to do this since my freshman year and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be the SpotLight liaison for SPCPA.”

Working with Weiss was a “dream come true” for Morgan. “With Natalie, I was able to improve my acting choices. It was good to have an outside source helping me beside my teachers at school.”

Both Weiss and Gunderson conducted a Q&A session with the students following their workshops, imparting advice about their own careers and life as “swings” on the road with Les Mis.

“We each have our own system for taking notes to learn our tracks. I have note cards. It’s really a matter of developing your observation skills. And also combatting your perfectionist personality because if you’re going to go out on stage completely unrehearsed with 30 other people, you’re going to make a few mistakes. But we all get over it and we all learn from it,” said Gunderson.  Meyer-Larson especially admired her former student’s final words of advice.  “I especially appreciated his advice to young performers- ‘Love yourself’,” said Meyer-Larson. “Ben wants to reach out to young artists, share his story and encourage them to write their own.”

Check out the video below with Gunderson, Weiss and Morgan in action and view highlights from the Les Misérables workshop!

Stay tuned for more videos of upcoming workshops with cast members from Lion King, American Idiot, Million Dollar Quartet, Mamma Mia and Blue Man Group. You can also visit Hennepin Theatre Trust’s YouTube page to check out highlight videos from workshops with other Minnesota superstars including two-time Tony nominee and St. Paul native Christopher Sieber, seen recently in La Cage Aux Folles at the State Theatre. To learn more about the SpotLight Musical Theatre Program, please visit our website.

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