UNC Musical Theatre students spent spring break in New York City performing and gaining theatrical experience — and getting a glimpse of the life they’ve been working toward for the past four years.

By Briana Harris, Photography by Michael Noble Jr.

UNC Musical Theatre students spent spring break in New York City performing and gaining theatrical experience — and getting a glimpse of the life they’ve been working toward for the past four years.

While waiting this spring to perform on a New York City stage, UNC’s Musical Theatre seniors couldn’t help but feel like they’d reached a turning point.

“I was definitely nervous,” says Brianna Faulk. “As much as our teachers try to tell us this isn’t the end-all be-all, it’s our senior showcase, and we perform in front of agents.”

Fellow senior Rose Van Dyne agrees. “It’s hard not to put all your eggs in one basket.”

UNC’s School of Theatre Arts and Dance has organized an annual Senior Showcase spring trip to New York City for its senior class since 2002. It began as a way to jumpstart the professional careers of the school’s performance program graduates. The trip includes a showcase performance for theatrical agents, casting directors and professional contacts. The model has proven to be an effective launch pad: 27 alumni from the school have appeared in 57-plus Broadway productions.

Many of the school’s Musical Theatre majors hope to move to New York following graduation; for some, the showcase marks their first taste of what life as a professional actor might look like after UNC.

To prepare, students spend about seven months making song selections — material totaling around five minutes in performance. During the yearlong senior showcase class, the 18 students enrolled perform new material for the class every few weeks, then get feedback from professors and guest artists to find and perfect the best material for New York. This year’s guest artists visiting campus included Broadway director Jeff Whiting; Broadway actor and feature film director and producer Aaron Galligan-Stierle; and casting director Rachel Hoffman of the award-winning Telsey and Company.

After feedback from Hoffman, senior Jill Engstrom ended up changing her solo song selection. “I only had a few weeks with the song that I chose,” she says, which added an extra level of pressure.

Students traveled to New York City during the first weekend of UNC’s spring break. On March 12, it was showtime. They arrived at the Jerry Orbach Theater just off-Broadway on West 50th Street.

“The vibe before we left for the trip was really tense and nervous,” says Engstrom, “but once we got there, we were really excited.”

Students warmed up and engaged in pre-show group rituals and acts of support. Since most of these students have taken classes together their entire time at UNC, showcase day is an emotional moment.

“That’s family — you’ve been with these people for four years,” Faulk says.

Many students received multiple inquiries and callbacks from agents, and some took other auditions for shows while they were in town.

They also had the opportunity to experience Broadway stars and trends in person. “Seeing shows is almost like studying for us,” says Engstrom, who saw six productions while in the city.

“I was so amazed and excited about the diversity I saw on stage. Not only were there people of every race, but also size,” says Kellar, adding that it was exciting to see the opportunities that will be available for everyone.

For Faulk, the trip confirmed her goal of moving to New York to become a professional actor. “I’m from a small town, so going to New York was a huge deal for me,” says Faulk. “Sure enough, I fell so in love. I’m ready for the city life.”

For many students, following the performance process from start to finish allows them to picture themselves taking their next professional steps.

“It confirmed that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” says Faulk, after seeing the revival production of Once On This Island. “Seeing that I could be up there doing the exact same things they are doing gave me hope.” UNC