There’s a training ground for Broadway performers no one’s talking about: not-for-profit Broadway Dreams. Annette Tanner (who has a background as an agent and a casting director) founded the organization 13 years ago to create a program that mimics the standards and processes of the industry to train musical theatre performers. In a career that requires performers to be self-starters, Broadway Dreams provides a map saying, “Here’s what you need to do.”
The volume of Broadway Dreams alumni employed at the top level of the industry affirms the program has unlocked something about the business of auditioning.
After Blake Daniel booked Spring Awakening and became the first Broadway Dreams alumnus cast on Broadway, the flood gates opened. The next year seven Broadway Dreamers booked Broadway or national tours; the year after, the total hit 20. “In 2017, we had 64 students who booked professional shows—either Broadway, national tour, international tour, the Muny, TV, or film,” says Tanner. (Comparatively, NYU boasts the most alumni of a university in the 2017–2018 Broadway season with a total of 43.) “We have students in every company of Hamilton, we have Waitress, Escape to Margaritavile, two in Frozen, Jai’Len [Christine Li Josey] in SpongeBob.” Tanner and team have built a new dream-to-stage pipeline.
In the U.S., Broadway Dreams offers ten week-long summer intensives in ten different cities (and international intensives in Canada, Russia, Sweden, Brazil, New Zealand, and—just announced—Germany). Entrance into the program is by audition only and Tanner and team accept the most focused, passionate, and willing to work. “This [program] is rigorous and not a summer camp by any means,” says Tony-nominated choreographer Spencer Liff, who has worked on the faculty.
Also different from a summer camp? The age range. To date, their youngest participant was six and the oldest 67. The program also caters to a population of diverse actors, ethnically and socioeconomically; approximately 40 percent of Broadway Dreamers attend on scholarship.
The week is split between master classes in a given track (acting, dance, vocals), audition workshops, and rehearsals for the fully-produced show presented at the end of the week. Custom-built around the participants’ talents, past shows have ranged from original musicals (like the one produced at the Wallis on Los Angeles last year about a high school cafeteria lunch period) to musical revues. One production director spearheads the show and multiple directors (who each serve as core faculty in a specific discipline) direct individual segments—be it a scene and a song, an 11 o’clock number with a dance break, etc.
“[Last year] in Charlotte, Spencer was doing his pre-production of So You Think You Can Dance,” Tanner explains. “So he cast what he called his company and all of those students got to actually work on his creations for the [TV show’s] season.
“One of the things that sets us apart from a lot of other arts organizations is that we have been so careful about choosing faculty members who feel passionate about helping the next generation,” says Tanner.
As for those staffers, the energy of the students fuels their drive, as well. “There is an undeniable force that exists within the experience of Broadway Dreams,” says Stafford Arima (Allegiance), who has directed past intensives. “How could you not want to be a part of that energy and collaborate with performers whose enthusiasm, raw talents, and spirit overflow?”
Core acting faculty members Christopher Hanke (Rent), Quentin Darrington (Ragtime), and Craig D’Amico (Fiddler on the Roof) agree, as do dance directors Liff (Spring Awakening), Dan Knechtges (…Spelling Bee) and Tyler Hanes (Cats), and vocal coaches Tituss Burgess (The Little Mermaid) and Alex Newell (Once On This Island).
But for all that passion, the program focuses on honest, critical—albeit respectful—feedback. It pushes students towards the areas they actually need to improve. “Annette and I created a class called ‘Do You Really Wanna Know the Truth?’” says Arima. “I think that class sums it all up.”
“One thing we are not is politically correct,” says Tanner. “At Broadway Dreams we really try to reflect what the industry actually is like.”
“We make sure they can walk into any room and do anything asked of them,” Liff adds. “In an industry with shrinking casts and budgets, our students are extremely employable.”
And theatre pros know that. The faculty are as much there to train up-and-comers as they are to scout talent. “I remember when [Jai’Len] auditioned for SpongeBob, Tom Kitt said, ‘I knew that this Broadway Dreamer was going to blow us away,’” says Tanner. The reputation Broadway Dreams carries and the connections it forges between artists and members of the industry—not to mention the showcase for agents and casting directors—positions students to book jobs. “The reality is it’s all who you know. You can have the best training in the world, you can be the best, but if you can’t get in the room, and you can’t get seen, the best equals nothing.”
Click here for more information about Broadway Dreams’ summer intensives and additional programming, including Broadway Dreams University (catered to students looking for feedback prior to college auditions), triple-threat weekends, and more.
See Spencer Liff, Tyler Hanes, and More at the Annual Broadway Dreams Showcase
Ruthie Fierberg is the Senior Features Editor of Playbill covering all things theatre and co-hosting the Opening Night Red Carpet livestreams on Playbill's Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain, on Instagram @ruthiefierceberg, or via her website.