Graduates of Sheridan’s Bachelor of Music Theatre are widely respected in the industry as ‘triple threat’ talents, adept at singing, dancing and acting – each a challenging discipline in its own right. So what does it take to earn that moniker?
For Mélanie Paiement, a fourth-year student, the path to studying music theatre at Sheridan was neither straightforward nor easy. For one thing, she didn’t speak English when she first set her sights on applying to Sheridan. Born in Gatineau, Quebec, her mother sent her to music theatre classes at a young age as an outlet for her hyperactivity and innate theatricality. After taking vocal lessons for a number of years, she was accepted to appear on Star Académie, a Quebecois version of American Idol. To her chagrin, she was eliminated for being “too music theatre”.
Rather than accept defeat, Mélanie took it as a challenge. Already registered in law studies at McGill, she sent in her application to Sheridan, having been advised that it was the best place in Canada to study music theatre. And so began the grueling process of auditioning for the program.
“It takes a lot of preparation, because you have to show your skills at dancing, acting, singing and musicality. After taking music theatre tests, an ear training test – to see how well you can read music – there’s a dance call. After that, you sing two songs before a panel and perform a monologue. It’s a full day.”
“It takes a lot of preparation, because you have to show your skills at dancing, acting, singing and musicality” – Mélanie Paiement
Not to mention the competition. “In general, there will be 600 – 700 girls auditioning for 28 spots, and 300 guys going after 18 spots.” Despite “falling on her face” during her dance audition, Mélanie was accepted into the program, and dropped out of McGill. Then she embarked on four years of intensive work.
“Our schedule is crazy – we have 21 different classes a week from first to third year, and then in fourth year some of that class time is reduced because we’re in rehearsals for Theatre Sheridan productions.”
Students in third and fourth year are eligible to audition for parts in the Theatre Sheridan season, which runs from December to April, and features a mixture of mainstage musicals and smaller, studio theatre productions. Last fall, Mélanie lined up to audition for the role of Lola in Damn Yankees, a 1950s-era musical based on the legend of Faust, who sold his soul to the devil. Lola is a bewitching seductress who also happens to be the devil’s assistant. Dancing plays a big part in her scenes.
Having struggled to develop her dancing skills throughout her time at Sheridan, Mélanie wasn’t optimistic about being selected. So, when she was called back for a second audition, she chose a different approach. “I was just playing, having fun, because I was so sure I wasn’t getting this role. Then I got it!” That playful approach translated perfectly into a scene-stealing performance.
As big a thrill as it was to play Lola, it’s not Mélanie’s favourite memory of her Sheridan experience. That came courtesy of the Canadian Music Theatre Project, Sheridan’s own musical theatre incubator which workshops new musicals each year. Last fall, Mélanie was selected to play the role of Thalia in Atlantis, a musical by Matthew Lee Robinson about the ancient mythical kingdom. “Originating a role is such a unique experience, and it’s so rare an opportunity for students to have,” she says.
“Originating a role is such a unique experience, and it’s so rare an opportunity for students to have” – Mélanie Paiement
And that’s not all she is thankful to Sheridan for. The program brings in professionals to work with the students on Theatre Sheridan productions. Ray Hogg, artistic director of the Rainbow Theatre – “one of the most important people in the industry,” directed Damn Yankees. The musical director came from the Shaw Festival, while the show’s technical production crew had guidance from a stage manager with the Stratford Festival. Apart from helping to ensure professional-level productions, their involvement provides students with invaluable networking opportunities. “When we graduate and go into audition rooms, we already know many of these people,” says Mélanie.
On top of singing, dancing and acting classes, the program also provides business classes so that graduates have the skills and knowledge to manage their careers. And in the third and fourth years, they learn how to audition – the bread and butter of building a career in the precarious world of the performing arts. “It’s a very complete program – they send you off as ready as you can be,” says Mélanie.
There’s no doubt that she is prepared, having already landed an agent who was impressed by her performance in Atlantis. She’s more than ready for her next role – one that she will be developing from the ground up – in Little Miss County Fair, a musical by David Rogers, at the Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, Ontario this summer.
Pictured at top of page: Mélanie Paiement at the cast of Theatre Sheridan’s Damn Yankees
Written by: Susan Atkinson, Manager of Media Relations and Communications at Sheridan.