By Tania Fisher
Music, theater and creativity never take a break, even when the rest of the world tells us we have to stop. Thanks to modern technology, we’ve been able to stream Broadway musicals and theater productions and anything else that takes our fancy. It’s also made training and auditioning still possible under Covid-19.
Tracey Grimaldi, New York’s premier voice coach for over 20 years, points out she’s been incorporating the online thing into her studio for over 10 years now, and so our current lockdown situation hasn’t hindered her drive or progress, nor the passion and skill development of the artists that come through her virtual door.
The Tracey Grimaldi Studio has an industry-centric, results-oriented approach to teaching. Tracey focuses on developing all aspects of a performer incorporating vocal technique for theatrical auditions and performing arts program admissions, live audition preparation, breath support and vocal health (in order to be able to sing eight shows a week and not get hurt), as well as expanding vocal range. She also helps develop lots of book building and works on producing audition videos for digital submissions, shooting self tapes and pre-screens; these being of particular importance in our current social climate.
“For me, rather than just thinking about musical theater and the training for it and doing it online during quarantine as something new, I believe it is very much a part of the process as it’s always been.”
Tracey has even taught a student waiting for a delayed flight who had her voice lesson right there in the Delta terminal waiting area!
The current Covid-19 situation has, of course, hindered in-person auditions, and so the self tape is of even greater importance than before with people auditioning in a virtual world without casting people in the room.
But this isn’t really something new. When Heathers was doing a very last minute cast change eight years ago, they needed to make a quick decision and didn’t have time to do full live auditions and asked for digital submissions only. At that point Tracey was probably the only voice teacher who was also a TV & Film technician, and soon had every high-belting brunette standing in her studio doing their audition and sending them in and that, subsequently, became a specialty of hers. She even taught a seminar on Self Tapes and was an Exhibitor at BroadwayCon. Tracey explains that (even without taking our current pandemic situation into consideration), a lot of casting begins in the digital form and that casting agents and colleges ask for digital first, then the people they like are invited in for a live audition. Tracey reveals that even during this quarantine there are castings going on in digital-only format, but that they are also starting to do some Zoom readings of new works, and even some rehearsals.
“Digital is still here to stay.”
Apart from her students regularly booking Performing Arts Programs at LaGuardia, she is also credited with helping them obtain roles in Hamilton, West Side Story, The Prom, Oklahoma, In The Heights, The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Cats, Matilda, An American in Paris, Kiss Me Kate, Hair, Fiddler on the Roof… just to name a few.
“Finding the right song is like finding the right outfit; it has to fit right for you.”
With thanks to current technology, virtual workshops can still happen. “I help my students each find their own songs, then let them go rogue and see how they work with each other. They come out of my hands and I’m not in control anymore and their talent and inventiveness takes over.”
The best part of her job? It changes from lesson to lesson and day to day, but to give an example, she recalls how one student told her that her lesson is the best hour of her week. “So that’s the trust that the students put in me and it’s a privilege and it’s an honor, and it’s satisfying.” From an industry point of view and being a results-oriented studio, when she receives calls or texts telling her they got the job, “that is the holy grail of what I do.” Most of Tracey’s students are referred to her by their agent. “It means the agent makes money because the actor will book a job because of my training.”
There are some with the point of view that Broadway has had no new ideas and is merely taking popular films and making them into musicals. However, Tracey makes the point that this actually makes musical theater more acceptable to like and attend, citing that In The Heights had rap in it, Beetlejuice already had a fan following, that The Wedding Singer was one of the funniest shows she’d ever seen, and that Hamilton became the number one rap album, and for Idina Menzel to be a household name – it’s a phenomenal time for musicals.
“There’s a bigger diversity of shows now. While some audiences still enjoy revivals of traditional musical theatre pieces (pre 1965) and more interesting, esoteric works were composed in the 70s and 80s, the past two decades have seen projects that draw from mainstream movies, pop, rock, rap songs, and Disney animated features. These are much more accessible to the contemporary mainstream theatergoer.”
Speaking of Disney, if one of Tracey’s students is coming in having a bad day, “I say, let’s sing Disney for the next 45 minutes just to feel better! I’m not a snob.”
What brings her joy? “Sitting at my piano, with the student on the screen, or standing next to me (when that’s possible again); that’s my happy place.”