Defining ‘show business’

“You’re a special kind of people known as show people. You live in a world of your own. The audience paid plenty to sit there and clap, hearing you sing, watching you tap.”

These lyrics from legendary composers John Kander and Fred Ebb may have said it best when trying to describe what it means to be in “show business.” What does it take to make it in this business? Many have their opinions, but they all have the same goal: to be in the spotlight.

Any professional who is already in the business will tell you that loving what you do is an absolute must. Not only is it a necessity for a career in performing arts, but in any career.

For some, beginning to grasp the skills of acting, singing and dancing at a young age is important.

In the Pittsburgh area, there are several programs, such as the Pittsburgh CLO Academy and the Richard E. Rauh Conservatory, which is part of Pittsburgh Musical Theatre, that begin to teach these skills from pre-school all the way through high school.

For those that discover the joys of performing later in life, there are several colleges in the area that have degrees specifically designed to prepare students for a career in the theatre. Colleges like Point Park University and Carnegie Mellon are among the few that even have alumni on Broadway.

However, sometimes there are those hidden gems that are not necessarily a degree specifically for musical theatre, but still have plenty of experience, training and exposure to theatre on a professional level.

Someone in the performing arts must be a well-rounded individual, which doesn’t always involve a degree. Sometimes it is not as important to simply have a degree in performance, but instead, to be exposed to it and make connections.

Dr. Brent Alexander, who teaches private voice lessons at RMU, is one of Pittsburgh’s highly regarded talents.

“You don’t always need a degree in theatre to be successful,” said Alexander. “College programs are great options but super expensive. If you haven’t already, start studying voice and dance privately…. If you look at most of your favorite screen actors, you may be surprised how many of them can sing, tap dance and do ballet as well.”

Most recently, Alexander served as the musical director of “Spring Awakening” at RMU and has since been hired as the musical director for “Ruthless!” which will open in January at the CLO Cabaret.

When it comes to hidden gems in the college department, RMU is no exception. Students are lucky to have a connection with Pittsburgh Musical Theatre, which is one of the very successful and active theatre companies in the area, through its founding director and RMU professor Dr. Ken Gargaro.

“Through an exposure to PMT, they are able to perform on a regular basis at a variety of venues around the area,” said Gargaro.

Students involved in PMT productions are introduced to the way professional companies work when dealing with union rules, pre-production and fast pace rehearsal process.

“It’s like college football compared to professional football, it’s so much faster,” explained Gargaro.

Making your way into professional theatre is not easy. Fortunately for RMU students, they have many valuable resources available to them if they choose to move forward.

For many, being a professional means being on Broadway, but Alexander will tell you differently.

“There’s never a good time to go to New York and ‘make it.’ If you want to do it at any point, go and try it if you have the means. But you can always make it without even going to New York.”

Perhaps a career on the local stages is more attainable, and with the connections that are available here in Pittsburgh, it may be easier than you think to be known as “show people.”