My experience as a BA (Hons) Musical Theatre student

by JG Daniels-White


The thought of developing my skills as an actor specializing in musical theatre has always excited me. At age 16–18, I had the most fabulous time at The Brit School, and it gave me an insight into what it would be like to train full-time in musical theatre. Towards the end of my time at The Brit School, I had heard of drama schools but didn’t think I was quite ready for that step. If I’m honest, I probably didn’t believe I was good enough or that someone like me would be suitable.

Fast forward a couple of years. I’m binge-watching Brooklyn 99 (again) during lockdown, thinking to myself, “I want to get out there entertaining, bringing joy, and growing as a performer.” So I spoke to some friends who had been through or were still going through drama school, and I concluded that for me to reach my goals and fulfill my passions, applying for drama school would be a great avenue into the world of entertainment.

First-year on the BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Course

There are many challenges that come with being a first-year student at university, and drama school has its own challenges on top of that. I won’t lie to you and say that it’s easy; in fact, it’s been one of the most challenging experiences I’ve faced, but my god, it’s been a laugh and so much fun. As a musical theatre student, you are consistently encouraged to be outside of your comfort zone, but you know what they say: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there” and after all, I came here to grow. During the first year, I learned about my voice, I learnt acting fundamentals, I gained confidence in my singing voice, I learned technically how to use my body in dance, and, most importantly, by the end of the first year, I quickly learnt I had a long way to go, and as cliché as our teachers sounded on day one, they were right. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Second-year on the BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Course

The second year at GSA is all about integrating the three disciplines (singing, dancing, and acting). We started working on projects that required us to draw on some of the individual skills you were taught in the first year. It’s also a chance to start working on actual pieces from musicals. In the first term, you work on a legit project (musicals written before 1965). We were given three 20-minute sections from White Christmas, Hello Dolly, and 110 in the Shade. Day 1 of rehearsals, I found out I would be playing a significant part in 110 in the Shade. A charming con man with more charisma than a box of celebrations. As we sat in a circle and did a read-through, I felt overwhelmed; my palms were sweating, and as I listened to everyone’s American accent flow naturally while they seemed to sight-read perfectly, I dreaded my scene, which was just a page away. The read-through was fine in the end, and 7 p.m. had arrived. I left the studio and ran to the bathroom, feeling panicked. The reality of what I had to do had hit me—it was a combination of fear to sing and lead a number in a style that I had never done before, doing a Southern American accent, and just feeling nervous. At that moment, I didn’t think I could do it.

Photo Credit: Craig Fuller

With that, I emailed the director, who also happens to be the course leader, and I asked to chat with him. And there I was in his office crying, explaining exactly how I felt and, to be honest, how scared I was. In that office, I felt heard, understood, reassured, and, most importantly, supported. He believed in me, and for the rest of the process, he provided a safe space for me to start believing in myself and grow. As the weeks went on, I was able to draw on things I learned in my first year. My singing teacher helped me work on my song and in voice lessons, we worked on the accent. This whole process was a big learning curve for me. I came out of it feeling confident and able. I exceeded my own expectations and had grown as a performer. From that term on, I learned to trust the teachers and myself, and I realized I was in an environment where it was okay to struggle and okay to make mistakes. The rest of the second year was up and down. We worked on contemporary musicals, an Arthur Miller play, acting through song, and more. Throughout the year, I learned about myself as a performer and what I bring to the table, and I gained more confidence in my singing.

Third-year on the BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Course

When it came to my third year, I was very excited to start doing public productions. I had been cast in Soho Cinders as the narrator, which was right up my street. And it was so fun to be a part of it; it was also a chance to work with an industry-working director, a musical director, and a choreographer. The second production I was cast in was Violet. Initially, I was cast as the preacher, but I was then asked to take on the lead role of “Flick,” a tenor—a hyper-masculine soldier who falls in love with Violet. I wasn’t in Soho anymore. Anyone who knows me knows that this is so far from who I am as a person, and I couldn’t get my head around how I was going to pull this off. But I had been challenged before, and I was used to it by now. My response was to rise to the challenge and remind myself that I was still learning, and that this was another time to allow myself to learn and grow. Yes, we were doing a show, but I was still a student, and this is the time and place to experiment and really immerse myself in the experience. It was a struggle, yes, but I worked hard and used all the resources the school supplied, including the director. The result was so rewarding, I’m still buzzing, and to think back to my 2nd year of crying in that office, I couldn’t be prouder.

Photo credit: Steve Gregson

The Future

Going forward from GSA, I feel more than ready to enter the industry. Along with all the techniques I have acquired, I’ve been taught how to be a professional and how to conduct myself in auditions and rehearsals. Aside from that, I’ve learned to trust myself, be myself, and own my space. I believe the best way to learn and grow is through experience and trying things out, and GSA has provided experience in abundance and the time, space, and delicacy to try things out.

My Advice

My advice to anyone thinking of training at GSA is that if you are passionate, if you enjoy performing, if you have the potential, not perfection, and if you are willing to grow and change, GO FOR IT. Once you are here, be brave, be bold, and be you! Laugh whenever you can, and cry when you must.