I’m Michael Leadbetter. I recently graduated Greece Athena High School, and I’m going on to attend Carnegie Mellon University this fall for major in Musical Theatre. This past June, I was chosen to be a Presidential Scholar in the Arts and got to go to Washington D.C. to “sing for the President”. I put that in quotes, because that’s what the job was supposed to be, but the President ended up going to Mexico City for G7 conference on the day of our Kennedy Center performance. Although that was disappointing, I’m still able to find humor in it because performing at the Kennedy Center was an amazing experience and I met life long friends through the rehearsal for the performance. However, on the night of the medal ceremony I was offered some great advice from one of the guest speakers. He said to all of us, “Although your accomplishments here tonight are great, always remember that whenever you walk into a room, every person will be smarter than you in some way.” In a business as tough as performing, I found that advice very comforting almost.
I’ve always thought that there’s a healthy balance between being self-indulged and modest. It’s important to know and be confident in who you are. In fact, in this business, I like to think your past is your most powerful weapon in an audition. No two people are made the same or have the same experiences-use that to your advantage. Coming out of College Auditions, I would say the audition staff at any school is definitely looking for the best performers, but they’re equally looking for the RIGHT ones. As I’ve seen others do, don’t go into an audition belting like Sutton Foster or Aaron Tveit if you’re a guy. Sing and Act like YOU. No one else can! When I sang for Gary Kline (Voice teacher @ Carnegie Mellon) for the first time, I sang “Maria” from West Side Story. I went through all of my acting “beats” and emotions that I had rehearsed for months, until he stopped playing and simply told me to stop being “Tony” and just be me. Bring my own journey into the song, if you will. I just sang and let my past tell the story of the song. As you prepare for college auditions, obviously prepare your songs and monologues to the point of extreme comfortability, but don’t beat yourself up over the idea of the auditions. The stretch of time before college auditions can be very stressful. It’s very important to practice, but absolutely make sure you’re taking time to have fun, be you, and mostly maintain your sanity.
Each unique experience at RAPA has taught me something new about performing, myself as a person, and sometimes both. The second show I did at RAPA was Sweeney Todd. I remember I almost didn’t do the show, because I had been cast as “Toby”. I wasn’t happy with that specific role, because as a sophomore in high school at the time, I wanted to be done playing the “boy” roles and move on to “man” roles. My whole freshman year I was barely five feet tall and got cast in roles like “Baby John” and “Doody”. A year later, because I had grown six inches I thought that made me the leading male. I’ll be honest I was very foolish, but it’s okay because i had to learn. I took the role and to this day I’m very thankful I did. In my preparation for the role, I unearthed that I related a lot to the character. He was a teenager trying to become a man, but the world kept putting him in his place. Of course, at the end Toby in one way or another becomes a man through taking matters into his own hands and killing a man, which I clearly haven’t done, but that transition into madness offered me something that was finally complex and more challenging. It was a perfect segue into more adult roles.
Last year, The Roc City Singers was formed which was also a very new experience for me. I had done show choir at my high school with Judith Ranaletta before, but this group was truly something else. I met some amazingly talented new people that spanned from all over the Rochester area. It was an amazing year. We got to put together our own sets, including a Lady Gaga medley, that was popular at each place we performed at. Being a lead member of the group was a very big responsibility, as I would have to know my parts and dances to teach and even fill in for others. Although it was tough to keep up at times while balancing schools and shows and whatnot, we all had things to balance and still met every week to rehearse. Practice was a home away from home for some of us- it being the one time of week where we could all just get together and perform. Being a part of this group, is being a team player and definitely being adaptable. We all learned multiple variations of choreography, and once gave a performance with a few girls and only two guys, and still rocked it! I’m thankful for being a part of the group as it will certainly help me to prepare for future shows and job opportunities.
Roc City Singers definitely had an impact on me as I approached College auditions, competitions, etc. First off, the work ethic. Each week it was very important to go home and practice choreography and vocal parts, even if only for a few minutes a day just to keep it fresh. The expectation was set to always know your parts to the very best of your ability, which is an extremely valuable skill in this business. Before I went to Washington D.C., I had a very short period of time to learn my song that the staff of Young arts had assigned me. Thanks to this work ethic however, I arrived in D.C. and was one of the few performers that was already “Off- Book” and on to working on my interpretation and acting in each song. For that level of preparation, I am grateful for the discipline that was instilled in me through this group. One of my favorite things about the group, is that you are a TEAM. It’s no “Glee”. And by that I mean, that each song is not dominated by the “Rachel Berry” character or what have you, because that doesn’t exist in the group. Everyone who is hardworking and deserving will be showcased and featured in whatever way, especially because the group will always be full of rich and diverse talent.
This simple concept of teamwork is another amazing thing to know. In college and beyond, it’s a treasured quality to look out for your colleagues and value the goal of the team or cast over your own. Also, to new members out there- Don’t be afraid to express yourself inside the group dynamic. There are no “seniors” or “freshman” in the group. The expectation is that you are all talented and creative artist and should therefore be respected no matter the age. The lessons and skills you will learn are numerous, and the experience you will take away will truly be one of a kind.
Check out the entire live performance at the Kennedy Center or
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President O’Bama addreses scholars Michael Leadbetter performs