Theater students met and learned from Patrick Vassel, the assistant director of the critically acclaimed Broadway musical “Hamilton,” during multiple events on campus last week.
Tommy Newman, a theater lecturer, invited Vassel, a friend from his time working in New York. Newman organized Vassel’s survey of the theater and dance department, starting with a musical theater masterclass on Friday.
Vassel tutored the theater students in the art of auditioning for musicals by allowing them to “try out” for an actual musical.
All tryouts got to go a second time after Vassel gave insights and guidance on stage presence. During auditions, Vassel gave direction on communication, the accompaniment, slate (introducing yourself) and pauses.
“It’s important to know kind of where you are in that moment while you’re singing that song,” said Micayla Johnston, a freshman theater major from Wetumpka. “And being able to try again is really cool because you get to apply some of the directions, corrections — or rather suggestions — that he gave before to kind of see how it feels.”
The students also asked questions to help each other understand their characters better, such as “Who are you singing to?”
Vassel suggested that the students rehearse to learn how to let the emotions of the character take over the performance while still being in control. He also said to try to block the voices of doubt during auditions.
“Everyone you’re going to audition for wants to hire you,” Vassel said. “They’re looking for someone to come in and kill it. Nobody wants anyone to fail.”
Newman said he was happy with the way theater students presented themselves.
“I was happy to see (that) freshman students stood up and took some risks, and happy to see some older students prepared and better resolved, as was expected,” Newman said.
Dance students received Vassel’s feedback on several fall dance performances at the choreography review with dance faculty.
“It was really beneficial,” said Dominique Angel, a dance lecturer. “It was really wonderful for someone who works out there in the field, sees so much and so many different types of dance and works and individuals, to be able to come in here and just off the cuff give an opinion, ‘Oh, I see what you’re trying to do, and maybe you thought about this…’”
The review ended with a hip-hop routine by Jarvis Williams, a senior dance major from Phenix City, set to “Rake It Up” by Yo Gotti and Mike WiLL Made-It.
Vassel said that the performance was rich with focal points in “the best possible way of not knowing where to look.”
“I loved it,” Vassel said about Jarvis’ piece. “I love the — you know there’s so much about we can talk about in hip-hop but — the audacity of hip-hop, the audacity of doing what people do not think you can do or don’t know that you can do yet and the fun of that and the number of ideas that you guys are playing with.”
On Friday night, there was a four-hour session where students had the opportunity to audition for Vassel again, this time as a mock audition for “Hamilton.”
Students performed a 30-second pop, rap or Hamilton song and then moved on to audition with a dance from Hamilton. Vassel gave each student individual feedback and then held a talkback at the end for questions.
“He told us what it was truly like to audition in a Broadway setting, and he really talked to us about the social importance of Hamilton,” said Aly Scarbrough, a freshman theater education major from Thomasville.
Students enjoyed being able to interact with Vassel in a more relaxed setting and talk with him more directly to receive personal feedback.
On Saturday morning Vassel held his last event, a two-hour talkback, where he answered an array of questions students had relating to the musical theater industry.
“We got very personal, and he told us different paths we could take for each of our own personal careers,” Scarbrough said.
“On Saturday morning, I got to talk to him about the world of Spanish theater,” said Rogelio Ramirez Hernandez, a freshman theater major from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. “He gave me a bunch of information about it, and I got to explore that more, which is important to me just ’cause I’m trying to learn more about my culture.”
Students praised Vassel for his patience, kindness, helpfulness and relatability.
“Patrick really got to immerse himself with the students here, and we really got to have one-on-one conversations with him, so everyone got something if they went up and talked to him,” Scarbrough said.
“You really learned something, and you got to meet a professional who’s actually doing what you want to do in the real world.”