Sunday, July 25, 2010

Guest Instructor - Alex Gemignani

We welcome back Alex Gemignani for a second year at Next Step Prep and were thankful to the weather gods who FINALLY let him land in Missoula after getting delayed by thunderstorms in the mid-West.

Alex worked with the students in the main auditorium. He introduced himself and shared a little bit of his background with the students (and I stole some of this from his online biography...gotta love the Internet). He attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, graduating with a BFA in Musical Theater. His parents are famed musical director and conductor Paul Gemignani and mother actress Carolann Page. He plays a number of musical instruments, which have helped him land roles in plays on several occasions. He played Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables" and Beadle Bamford in the revival of "Sweeney Todd". He even spent some time with the cast of "Avenue Q". AND, he has a great sense of humor, is incredibly down to earth, and the students really love him. He is married to our other guest artist for this week, Erin Ortman, and the two of them as a team had so much to offer the students.

The day started off with the entire group, reviewing one of the ensemble songs the group is singing. Alex helped the students really work through understanding the music, including where commas are placed (for breathing), why notes were written in a specific way, and the tempo. He stressed that in musical theater, songs needed to be interesting and needed to have a purpose because, well, in a play, "why else would you need to sing this?"




The students gave differing perspectives on the meaning behind the song, generating a lot of class discussion.

Next, it was time to warm-up and sing.

Warm ups include neck rubs...


Once warm ups were finished, each student performed for Alex for a coaching session. Nicky was up first. Here he consults with Anne about his music...


Alex gives some feedback, enlisting the group for suggestions as well...


That looks a little intimidating, huh? Alex made the experience very educational and fun (even though some of the students DID have some major nerves). I am constantly impressed by the students' ability to get up there and just do it, though. Nike's got nothing on this group :)


Sarah P. was up next with a John Legend song...




Maddy and Tessa relax during a little break...

Em was up next singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel...

Then Clayton was up, singing "My girlfriend, who lives in Canada" from Avenue Q.


This was an interesting exercise for both Clayton and the entire group. Alex wanted Clayton to really focus on the words of the song instead of the gestures used in comedy, so he had Clayton sit in a chair and then sit on his hands...it was really amazing how the focus of the song shifted...

Caleigh was up next, singing "Defying Gravity" from Wicked. I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but Caleigh hails to us from India (yes, I said India). She is one of two International students we have at Next Step this year.

Elinor was up next, singing "Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof. Now, if you remember my former blog post on Elinor, she got a bravery award from yours truly. Though she still struggles with nerves, especially when performing solo in front of the group, or in front of a guest instructor, she gets up there and does it. In the words of Seth Rudetsky, Eleanor...BRAVA!

To help combat her nerves, Alex had Elinor do a different exercise. This time he had her sit in a chair, but facing one of her peers whom she chose, and had her sing to her friend instead of to the group. Arielle helped her through this exercise and she really helped Elinor attack those negative thoughts.


Ana was up next, receiving some feedback from Alex on her performance of "Defying Gravity"...

Jacque sang next, performing "Baby of Mine" from Dumbo.

Jacque also faced down her nerves during her performance, but Alex helped her through this by having her walk around the room with him and pretend that she was singing to only him. This was pretty cool to watch as well.


Michael was up next, performing "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?" from Avenue Q.


Alex worked with Michael, encouraging him to think of the song as if he were finishing up college and wondering what exactly you DO do with a B.A. in English. I was laughing to myself, remembering my father asking my sister..."what are you gonna DO with a degree in History anyway?" There's more truth to this song than you realize, my friend!


Maddy was up next, singing "Alone in the Universe" from Seussical...she checks in with Anne and shares a little laugh...



Alex uses this performance to give feedback to the group as a whole...



Time was up for Day One, but during his next day of teaching, Alex had the students write down the lyrics to their songs and then write comments about the lyrics as if someone were speaking to them during the song. He encouraged the students to develop a storyline for their song, whether that be the storyline of the actual musical, or one they made up. He said it didn't really matter, as long as they worked on the emotion of the song.

Then when it came time to perform, the students had a partner who read the lines they had written, giving them the opportunity to "react" to their scene partner...

Here's Nyna and her scene partner, Caleigh...


This was a new exercise for many of the students, so Alex gave some suggestions for how to raise the stakes in their songs. He again reminded them that they needed to do this because they needed a reason to sing...

Alex is so awesome working with the students. He has a very gentle teaching style, encouraging the students to be introspective and come up with different ways to approach their performances...

The students are really good at taking notes during these coaching sessions, giving them something to refer back to after the summer is over...

Rylee was up next...



Nicky helped read the dialogue while Rylee sang...

Class is a really relaxed atmosphere, but the students and instructors are incredibly serious about what they are doing at Next Step...


Micaela was up next, singing "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" from The Sound of Music...


Alex worked with each student to think up ways to help them personalize their songs and relate them to real-life experiences (even if they were imaginary situations, they needed to be realistic)...

Micaela's partner was the other Mikaila, who was very supportive of her friend...


Sierra was up next, singing "Many a New Day" from Oklahoma! I'm not sure what feedback Alex gave her, but it was pretty funny.


Mandie was up next, singing "Sixteen Going on Seventeen"...

Nicky gets the "dialogue reader" award for the day...he's really good at it!

Anne accompanied the students during the time I was there. She listens to some of the feedback Alex was giving the students.

Alex talks to the group...


Mikaila was up next, singing "Good Morning, Baltimore" from Hairspray...


Alex helped Mikaila edit her scene partner's dialogue to raise the stakes much higher for the song. He really wanted her character to have a "I'm going to do this n


Alex was very intent during every student's performance, and his knowledge of musical theater was pretty amazing. The students found it amazing that he not only knew the score to most of their songs, but also the composer and the history behind the


Alex, it was an absolute pleasure to have you back at Next Step. Your genuine approach to the students was so great, and the improvement they made within the few days you were here was just incredible. We are so glad you are a part of this program and so grateful to your expertise and feedback.

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