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‘Fame’ an intense study for PHCC's Patriot Players
Musical to be presented Saturday at PHCC
Brent McBeth (front) leads “Fame” dancers (lower level) Caroline Harris as Carmen Diaz, (from left) Sidney Coulson and Stacey Davis in a routine on stage. McBeth, a professional dancer, spent a week with the Patriot Players at Patrick Henry Community College to rehearse and prepare for a production of “Fame — The Musical,” which will be presented Saturday. (Bulletin photos by Holly Kozelsky)
Patriot Players actors and campers got a taste of Big Apple footwork with choreographer Brent McBeth.
He spent the week with the Patriot Players at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) in rehearsals for “Fame — The Musical” and at drama and dance camps at the school.
“Fame” will be presented at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday at PHCC. Ticket prices range from $8 to $25.
McBeth, a Houston native, has been dancing since he was 3. Now age 33, he has a bachelor’s degree in musical theater from Sam Houston State University, and he has been in New York City for 10 years.
His career is a combination of teaching musical theater, performing dance and leading choreography. He spent two years on tour in the U.S. and Europe with “Fosse.” In January, he will start a year-and-a-half stint in Germany with his group Parallel Exit (see www.parallelexit.com).
Parallel Exit is “Vaudevillian-style comedy,” he said, “with tap dance, clowns and live percussion.”
In 2015, McBeth will be one of the two main clowns in Big Apple Circus.
“I grew up thinking musical theater and dance was all I wanted to do,” he said. “When you have to pay the bills, you have to have multi-faceted careers.”
The basic choreography for the Patriot Players’ “Fame” production already was in place when he arrived, he said. He is adding “more levels to it.”
During evenings, he worked with the “Fame” actors as they danced through routines that involved platforms, spotlights, haze and glittery costumes. He directed their movements, perfecting their looks.
Along with teaching dance, he also taught what it’s like to be a professional dancer.
It is more important in an audition to demonstrate that you have a great attitude and can work with instructions than it is to be a great dancer, he said. “I can teach you that later,” McBeth added.
During a camp session Tuesday, he led the students through a mock audition.
The students all filed out of the room, and they came back in as strangers. He played the role of director.
He taught the six teenagers how to perform a jazz combo. They practiced in front of the mirror over and over together and then in small groups.
“Let’s try it from the top,” he said as each round began again. “We do five, six, ah-five, six, seven, EIGHT!”
As they got better at learning the steps, McBeth pointed out elements of the movements. “Put that foot flat on the floor so you can push off that way,” he pointed out.
Then he had them perform the routine on their own, two at a time. He watched them critically.
When their audition dance was over, McBeth said, “wait a minute. I want to make sure of something.” He pantomimed getting out a notebook. He scrutinized each dancer and pretended to write notes.
“Great, thank you. Great. That’s all we need for now,” he said, dismissing them blithely before motioning for the next pair.
After all the students had their turn, McBeth talked about the experience. He said the dancers may sit in the hall for three hours awaiting their turn, just to feel like the directors don’t pay much attention to them while they audition. That’s because the directors are extremely busy and rush through things, he explained.
“They’re not judging you as a person. They’re judging you as a commodity,” McBeth said. A main thing directors look for is that dancers respond well to criticism and direction.
“You feel silly sometimes. You just have to put it in your book of ‘Yeah, I’ll remember that forever.’”
“It’s a hard business, it really is, because you hear a lot of noes,” he said, “but then you get those yeses” that make it all worthwhile.
Dance is great not just for physical fitness but also for the psyche, McBeth said.
“There’s something incredibly gratifying about using your body to tell a story. You become in tune with your emotions when you are forced to remove words — (giving instead the question) ‘how does my body emote a feeling?’”
Dance is a passion that McBeth said he could “not imagine living without.” The times in his life when he couldn’t dance, such as with a broken foot or a day job that left little spare time, “were the unhappiest times of my life.”