On Oct. 28, Broadway actress Autumn Hurlbert led a masterclass for Kingswood Oxford students, which I was able to attend.
Hurlbert is most known for competing on the reality competition series “Legally Blonde: The Musical — The Search for Elle Woods.” She was then cast in the Broadway show “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” More of Hurlbert’s credits include the national tours of “Something Rotten,” “Little Women,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Les Miserablés,” and “Evita.” This is the fourth masterclass that KO students have had the opportunity to attend since last year. In this masterclass, Hurlbert chose to work with students on a song of their choice by giving them feedback and ways they could improve.
Hurlbert greeted us all with a warm welcome and thanked us for having her. Before the performances began, she gave everyone a few words of encouragement as we think about our dreams and aspirations, saying, “Nothing is permanent. If you want to do something take it one step at a time.” These words of encouragement, along with her valuable feedback, were the reason why I thought the masterclass was so successful.Hurlbert had an extremely bubbly and energetic personality that radiated throughout the room, which helped every student calm their nerves before performing. Even when some students were not able to fully calm their nerves, she had words of wisdom: “To combat anxiety,” she suggested, “live in the story of the song.” She made it very clear that the most important thing an actor needs to do while performing a song is connecting to the lyrics and communicating to the audience.
I have heard this many times from Broadway stars at masterclasses, but Hurlbert was specifically able to get students to achieve this through a series of activities. In one student’s song, the character was expressing their forbidden love for someone. Hurlbert really wanted this message to come across to the audience, so she had the student perform the song while others sat around them in a circle. This forced the student to intimately express their character’s emotions like they were talking to a group of close friends. After the activity, a clear improvement could be seen, as the students intended emotions were able to be clearly communicated to the audience. Another activity that I found extremely interesting was that Hurlbert chose to change the style of some students’ songs in order for them to form new connections to the lyrics. Hurlbert took the widely known ballad song, “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music,” and told the accompanist to make it sound like a Katy Perry song. The next thing I knew, the song transformed into an upbeat pop song. Hurlbert’s reasoning behind this style change was to once again help the student discover new ways to connect with the songs lyrics. This was one of the standout moments for me in the masterclass because it was something I have never seen a Broadway professional attempt to do in a masterclass.
These intimate physical activities Hurlbert had students perform were some of the most creative and effective teaching styles I have seen from a Broadway masterclass. She spent time to find the most perfectly fitting activities for each individual student in order for them to learn something new. At the end of the masterclass, Hurlbert opened the floor for any questions students had about her career and experiences in the theatre industry. She was asked about what her best and worst auditions looked like and humorously described her worst audition to date. On the other hand, she made it clear that without those bad auditions, she would not have been able to have good auditions. I found this extremely validating as a student at the masterclass because it shows that valuable lessons can be learned from failure. Hurlbert left us all with one last phrase that she stands by. “You gotta play the game to beat it,” she said.
As I walked out of the masterclass, I began to reflect on how great of a teacher Hurlbert was.
She was able to bring students out of their comfort zones to communicate their character’s emotions to the audience. I witnessed masterful teaching techniques and learned new ways to dissect a musical theatre song from attending this masterclass.