Taking center stage with Krystal Joy Brown & Darnell Abraham
While the curtain is still closed and the theater lights are turned down, two Broadway stars will introduce students to the people behind the onstage characters and give an inside look into producing the critically acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton.
Laurie Hernandez: Hey there.My name is Laurie Hernandez. I'm an Olympic gold medalist for Team USA, and proud to champion literacy and learning efforts with my friends at KPMG. I'd like to take you all on a little journey. One we can learn from and apply to our own lives. And learn from some special guests from across the country and space.
Seth Curry: Welcome to Philadelphia's home court.
Krystal Joy Brown: Welcome to Broadway.
Leland Melvin: Welcome to the International Space Station.
Laurie Hernandez: Welcome to Costa Mesa.
John Rost: Welcome to Crown Holdings.
Laurie Hernandez: This is KPMG Virtual Field Trips. Have you ever heard of musicals like "Wicked", "Mamma Mia", "Phantom of the Opera", and "Hamilton", my favorite? These are all examples of theater shows where actors and actresses performed plays and musicals in front of a live audience. There's so much that goes into putting on the big show. Big ideas need to be written into a script and songs need to be written for musicals. The actors and actresses need to learn their lines and how to sing the songs. Backstage crews need to build set pieces and the lights so everything on the stage is visible to the audience. Costume and makeup crews need to get the actors and actresses looking just like the characters that they're portraying.
Putting on a play or musical is no small feat. While it isn't easy, live theater is very important as an art form. Unlike movies and TV, theater makes a connection between the performers and the audience members in real time. Since everyone is in the same room, the performers can actually see and hear the people watching them. The audience participates in the show by clapping and laughing. And the performers can usually respond to the audience in a unique way on any given night. There's so much we can learn from theater. It influences the way that we think and feel about our own lives. And encourages us to take a hard look at ourselves, our values, and our behaviors. As an added bonus, there's even practical ways to apply what you're learning in school to live theater. Let's take a closer look. To learn more about theater, we need to head for the Entertainment Capital on the East coast. Today, we're going to Broadway. NYC where the bright lights of Times Square illuminate the biggest stars in live theater. We'll learn all about live theater from two of the best in the business. Darnell Abraham and Krystal Joy Brown, best known for their roles in the hit musical "Hamilton." Let's go.
Krystal Joy Brown: Welcome to Broadway, the theater capital of the United States, located in New York City. This collection of 41 theaters has seen the debut of some of the best live shows ever put on stage. While that's impressive, the Broadway we know and love today has gone through a lot of changes over the years
Darnell Abraham: Back in the 1890s, it wasn't even called Broadway. The first name for New York's theater district was the "Great White Way" because it was one of the first streets in the city to be fully lit by white electric light bulbs.
Krystal Joy Brown: About 30 years later, Broadway debuted "Showboat", the very first musical. Instead of performing songs randomly, "Showboat" used its songs to tell the story.
Darnell Abraham: In the 1940s, Broadway saw golden age where its songs were massively popular. Famous singers at the time, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby recorded versions of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" from the musical "Oklahoma" and both versions reached the top 20 of the American charts.
Krystal Joy Brown: Fast forward to the 1950s where things started to get a little tough for Broadway. People were less interested in seeing live theater because of the invention of the television. They could find entertainment at home in TV shows and sports broadcast. Just like TV, movie theaters also became very popular with the invention of Technicolor. Old black and white movies could now be converted into full color. On top of that, New York City was seen as a dangerous place to visit.
Darnell Abraham: Things weren't looking good. But then, the 1970s brought a Broadway revival. "Grease", "Chicago", "A Chorus Line", and "Oh! Calcutta!" premiered and were wildly successful. "Phantom of the Opera" came later in 1988 and became the longest running show on Broadway.
Krystal Joy Brown: Today, many people associate Broadway with classic plays and musicals of years past. But new hits like "Wicked" and "Hamilton" proved that Broadway is still a great platform for new ideas and top of the line entertainment.
Laurie Hernandez: Now that we've got some background on Broadway, let's ask Krystal and Darnell a few questions.
Krystal Joy Brown: Hey guys, I'm Krystal Joy Brown and I play Eliza in "Hamilton" on Broadway. I have also been in four other Broadway shows and I do lots of different things. I write, I direct, I produce.
Darnell Abraham: Hi. My name is Darnell Abraham and I play the role of George Washington in "Hamilton." And I am just excited to be here today. I've been acting for as long as I can remember. Started as a little kid and since then, I've been very fortunate to be in several shows, "Hamilton" being the current. In addition to being an actor, I'm also a singer. I've had the opportunity to sing back up for Seal, will.I.am, Fantasia Barrino, here in Los Angeles. And so it's just good to be able to share a little bit about my journey and talk a little bit about the industry.
Leland Melvin: Hey, Krystal and Darnell, what does it take to produce a Broadway show?
Krystal Joy Brown: So performing on Broadway is it's like an Olympic sport of acting, right? I mean, there are so many moving parts and they're often 200 people working behind the scenes to make sure that it is all running smoothly. We have lights. If you are wearing makeup in the show they kind of give you a suggestion of how they would like to have your makeup but then you do it yourself. There's a lot of things that go into it and you also are making sure that everything is right. You're doing quick changes backstage so you wanna make sure that, okay well actually it's hard for me to make this button happen. So then that means it has to go to costumes. What is it like on tour? Touring is so hard.
Darnell Abraham: You're right. I mean, enduring in many ways, it's Broadway. But it's like Broadway 2.0, because we're moving every four to six weeks. In addition to all the things that you said, I like to think of it, it's like this organized chaos where you're doing the show, you're doing the thing, but also it's, what we do when we're off stage also matters too, because we have to think about self-care. We have to think about what we eat. We have to think about exercising. We have to think about resting and all that stuff because we have to do this thing at a high level eight times a week. It's insane. So yeah. I mean, it's all of that plus more.
Laurie Hernandez: Hey, Krystal and Darnell. What's your favorite memory from working on "Hamilton?"
Krystal Joy Brown: There's so many special moments that happen in the theater. And especially with "Hamilton", everyone is a character. There is a lot of personalities and we all are trying to keep it fun. And so we're making fun of each other all the time.
Darnell Abraham: I love it. We definitely have our gaps on onstage. There was one time without being too detailed, I missed my entrance and I was so embarrassed. All I can say is that coming off that stage, everyone just had tears just from laughing, just from laughing so hard. But you keep going, you just keep doing the thing.
Krystal Joy Brown: You just got to keep going and you got to, and hopefully no one will pay that much attention. And you're just like, "They won't see that. Hope not."
John Rost: Hey, Krystal and Darnell. How did you get introduced to theater?
Darnell Abraham: I was in first grade. My parents sent me to Performing Arts Academy. It was a new world, a new experience and it was exciting for me. Those were the early years of formation for me and my grandmothers, God rest their souls, they would both say, "One day you're gonna be an actor." How about you, Krystal?
Krystal Joy Brown: I always watched all the Disney movies and learned every word with my sister. And my sister is also a musical theater nerd as well as I am. And we found this show called "Rent." We had been listening to a lot of other musicals like "Les Mis" and "Secret Garden" and all this other stuff. But for the first time, we were hearing black people, Latino people really talking about their lives and talking about their experiences and living in that dream city of New York City. It hit me. it just was like, "Whoa, that's something I could do." The representation matters. It matters to see that.
Seth Curry: Hey Krystal and Darnell. Was there a time in your life where you had a challenge or obstacle you had to overcome?
Krystal Joy Brown: Life is going to always be about facing challenges and obstacles. In this industry, rejection is a big one. Self-care is so deep. It's about really loving yourself and understanding that if you don't get a role or if you don't get something that doesn't because you're not worthy of anything or love or attention or all of these things, it's just that wasn't for you. And there might be something around the corner that is even more right for you. But it's taken me a very long time to realize that.
Darnell Abraham: One of the challenges for me early on in this industry was learning how to know who I am, how to love myself. So much of this experience has been one about self-discovery. I am grateful for the arts because it has been a place where I have been able to overcome a lot of things and that because of people. That's because of the community that I've been surrounded by both family and castmates and people like Krystal. Just that energy, that love and support. It means a lot.
John Rost: Do you have any tips for aspiring thespians who wanna perform on Broadway?
Darnell Abraham: I think if you're interested in pursuing a career in Broadway, in this industry, my advice would be try everything. Try dancing. Try different methods of acting. All of that will help in form and shape your experience in this industry. How about you Krystal? What do you think?
Krystal Joy Brown: One of the biggest tips I can tell you is that you are enough. You are worthy. You deserve to be here. We wanna see you. We don't need the next Audra. She's amazing, okay. No, we need the next you.
Nobody thought "Hamilton" was a good idea. Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation. Someone had given him this very big book called "Hamilton" by Ron Chernow. And he was like, "Okay." And he starts reading it on the beach. And he starts hearing lyrics and music coming. And he was like, "Oh my gosh." He starts rapping when he was having this idea. And so he was like,
"I have to get in touch with this writer because I want to make a musical about this." And the writer, he was like, "Uh, no." And he kept having that vision and kept having that pride in his idea. And he had this confidence even when other people don't see it. Because some people may not see it when you know it's good because they're not ready. But you can’t get them excited and you can’t bring that enthusiasm, "Hamilton" would not have happened.
People said no to investing. People said no to producing. And it was called "Hamilton Mixtape" at the time, and people were like, "Absolutely not." And then look, at what it's become and how many lives it's changed and how many minds it's opened.
Laurie Hernandez: How awesome was it that we got to hear from Krystal and Darnell. If all this talk of theater has you feeling inspired to take to the stage and play a character, we've got you covered with a breakdown of an acting technique that Darnell and Krystal have used. And for set some props, you can use common household objects like chairs, tables and pillows to build a set. Be creative and use your imagination.
Here's how you can do it at home. We'll be learning The Meisner Technique, which has three parts, emotional preparation a repetition exercise and improvisation. For emotional preparation, you need to determine your character's background and how it influences their decisions, feelings, reactions and thoughts. Once you have your characters background figured out you can use the repetition exercise to really feel the emotions of your character. This is done by partnering up with another actor and repeating a phrase again and again while building on what your partner says on each iteration. The repetition will immerse you in your characters emotions.
The third and final part of The Meisner Technique is improvisation. Improvisation is when you come up with a dialogue and actions for your character that aren't in the script. Instead of using the words on the page, you act as your character based on instinct and emotional connection. Improvisation can bring so much life and spontaneity into a scene. Now that you know The Meisner Technique, it's time to practice what you've learned. Now, get out there and break a leg. And remember, breaking a leg is just another way of saying we hope you make it into the cast.
Wow. We learned an awful lot about live theater today. Let's review everything with our takeaways from the day. For one thing, there are all sorts of ways to contribute to a theatrical production. Theater needs directors, writers, actors, and actresses, set designers, costume crews, lighting crews, and so much more. We also learned a bit about the history of Broadway in New York City. For over a hundred years, it's impressive collection of theaters has been the birthplace of so many wonderful plays and musicals while serving as the United States Capital for live theater.
Additionally, Kristen and Darnell taught us that performing on Broadway is not as easy as it looks. The physical toll of acting, singing rapping and dancing on stage takes so much out of you that it should definitely be considered an Olympic sport. We also learned that so much of what you're learning in school can be applied to the world of theater. A strong background in English is essential to writing a good script. And a good understanding of history can be a great help as well, as we all saw in "Hamilton." Perhaps most importantly, Krystal and Darnell taught us that we are enough. We all deserve success in life and no matter how big our dreams are, we can achieve them with hard work and perseverance.
Well kiddos, this is where I bid you goodbye. But before we say goodbye, let's hear once more from Krystal Joy Brown and Darnell Abraham.
Krystal Joy Brown: We know that sometimes it can be hard to connect the things that you're learning about in school with your future plans. But a good education is the foundation for the limitless possibilities you saw on today's episode. We encourage you to be a lifelong learner.
Darnell Abraham: To learn more about KPMG and its commitment to education and lifelong learning, please visit www.kpmg.us. Until next time. Take care.