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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

Blog

Ensemblist Training at Florida State University

Mo Brady

What makes a musical theatre program successful at training ensemblists? Is it their focus on creating triple threats? The streetwise business savvy they teach their students? Or is it just something about the school’s culture?

For this series, I interviewed faculty and alumni at some of the American colleges and universities that send the largest number of graduates into the ensembles of Broadway shows. By asking them about their training and how their students define career success, I hope to unpack the commonalities between some of the country’s most prolific breeding grounds for Broadway ensemblists.
— Mo Brady
FSU-Seal-full-color.jpg

Florida State University

School of Theatre

BFA in Music Theatre and BM in Music Theatre

Founded in 1981

 

The Music Theatre program is a joint program between the College of Music and the School of Theatre at Florida State. “During their four years at FSU, they are expected to take the movement and dance classes as seriously as if they were dance majors, pass their dance juries and grow significantly in their technique,” says Kate W. Gelabert, Associate Professor of the School of Theatre. “From the first year in Movement I through their last semester in Workshop, they have been in movement and dance training to work together as an ensemble.”

“FSU’s training is a truly well rounded experience, which makes for a very useful ensemble member,” says Michael Fatica, most recently an ensemblist in Broadway’s A Bronx Tale. “The MT students study acting technique ranging from realism to Shakespeare. They study voice with graduate opera students. They study all types of movement, dance and choreography, learning to incorporate acting and intention into their dance vocabulary.”  

 Christiani Pitts and Michael Fatica backstage at  A Bronx Tale

Christiani Pitts and Michael Fatica backstage at A Bronx Tale

“I didn’t really grow up dancing but when I got to school I was placed into dance/movement related classes for multiple hours a day every day,” says Justin Bowen, Fatica's classmate veteran of four Broadway musicals. “Since graduating, every job I have had has had moments of heavy movement and dance. This is something I never would have been comfortable with were it not for my experience at FSU.”

In addition to their focus on dance and movement, the FSU MT program also encourages students to develop the talents which make them unique. “The program is really good at bringing out the best in everyone as an individual,” says Christiani Pitts, original cast ensemblist of A Bronx Tale who took over the principal role of Jane last year. “They do a great job of fine tuning what makes you special, all the while still training you to improve your weaknesses. This is so helpful in ensemble work because your skill set will be well-rounded.”

Part of the reason FSU’s program is able to develop so many artists into working ensemble actors is that the faculty values ensemblists. “I tell students it is easy to be a soloist or principal but it takes great skill to be a successful ensemble member,” says Gelabert.

While well-known FSU alumni include Tony Award nominee Montego Glover and former Phantom of the Opera Davis Gaines, more of the school’s talented actors trod the boards of Broadway ensembles from Cats to On Your Feet! Last season, three FSU grads played missionaries in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon: Stephen Christopher Anthony, Christian Delacroix and Hardy Weaver.

 Justin Bowen, Leslie Donna Flesner and Amanda LaMotte in Broadway's  Hello, Dolly!

Justin Bowen, Leslie Donna Flesner and Amanda LaMotte in Broadway's Hello, Dolly!

Many of these alumni return to the FSU campus to assist in current students’ training. This winter, FSU alumnae and Broadway stalwart Jessica Lea Patty (9 to 5, Bandstand) returned to campus to direct and choreograph their production of The Addams Family, which she also performed in on Broadway. “We bring back as many alumni as possible to give them their stories of the business and what success means to them,” says Gelabert.

FSU graduates certainly find success in Broadway ensembles. Alumni currently working on Broadway range from Tiffany Everiste in Aladdin to Morgan Rose in School of Rock - The Musical. The Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! features three classmates from Florida State University, Justin Bowen, Leslie Donna Flesner and Amanda LaMotte, who all happened to be roommates during their time in Tallahassee.

“Working with Leslie and Amanda is a dream,” says Bowen. “No matter what we’re going through I have family with me in the building. There’s an incredible feeling of support having them with me at work every day.

On a recent trip to New York City, Gelabert was able to watch her former students perform in ensembles of three shows: School of Rock, Groundhog Day and Hello, Dolly!: “Watching two of my former students, Amanda and Leslie, next to Bette Midler in her entrance to Hello, Dolly!, it made me cry. I love my job!”


For more, read our feature on Ensemblist Training at Point Park University.