Acting through song is one of the biggest skills to develop in musical theatre. During a show, a character will only break out into song when words are no longer sufficient to describe their emotions. As an actor, it’s your job to use all the components of the song to communicate your character’s message. So, if you’re a singing actor (or an acting singer) but want to dive deeper into the world of acting through song, here’s some tips to get you started!

1. Prep Work

This one might seem obvious, but before you can perform the song, you need to do your homework! Do a text analysis to make sure you understand what your character is saying in the lyrics; learn all the notes of the melody and decide if there’s any places you want to differentiate from the notes on the page; and work with an accompanist or backing track to understand how the piece will sound when you perform it. There can be a lot of information in the music that will help you to understand the character’s emotions. The more you know the song, the more comfortable you will be developing your own interpretation of the piece. It can be difficult, but try not to rely heavily on cast recordings or videos of other performers. These can be helpful resources, but can also really influence your interpretation of the song.

Preparation is key!

2. The Moment Before

While you might have figured out all your acting beats throughout the song, “The Moment Before” is one that many people can overlook. Especially when you’re performing a song out of context of a musical, it’s so important to communicate where your character is emotionally at the beginning of the song. In “Journey to the Past” from Anastasia, Anastasia is trying to find the courage to begin a huge journey. The journey of this song doesn’t begin when she starts singing, but before she decides to sing. As soon as the first note of the accompaniment is played, you already need to be transported into the character’s journey. Decide what is happening to your character the moment before they begin singing and where they are in their emotional journey.

3. What Do You Want?

Another major question to answer is “What does my character want?”. There is always an objective or goal to a song. This is so prevalent in musical theatre that there is even a type of song called the “I Want” song! In a song like “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s goal is to be part of Prince Eric’s world. While that might be a more obvious example, sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint the most important “want” of your character if the text isn’t as clear or if there are multiple objectives of the song. Not only do you need to decide what your goal is, but you also need to decide whether or not your character achieves their goal by the end of the song.

4. Know Your Stakes

In any song, the stakes will be high. The character has moved from speech to song, so we already know that the character is in a heightened state. Once you’ve decided on your objective, you need to decide how important it is for your character to achieve their goal. Sometimes, the stakes will be life and death; other times, they might be much smaller. Even if the stakes seem small to you, they must be huge for the character. If the character didn’t care about the situation, they simply wouldn’t be singing about it. As the song progresses, so can the stakes. The stakes should get higher as the song progresses to its climax. Experiment with where you make the stake the highest and see how that changes the journey of the song!

Definitely a case of life and death here…

5. Keep Discovering!

As you work on a song more and more, you can unlock new ideas and develop a deeper understanding of the character. It can be tempting to set acting choices in stone once you find something that feels good. While it’s a good idea to mark out big moments in the song and decide what emotional state or height you want to be at at certain moments, it’s important to keep discovering different ways to get there. Every time you perform the song, it’s as if the character is having these thoughts/feelings for the first time. Find ways to keep the performance of the song feeling fresh and exciting for you too!

Looking for more? Here’s a quick 5 minute masterclass with West End star Kerry Ellis as she talks through her acting through song top tips!

Now that you’ve armed yourself with some acting through song tools, grab a song out of your rep book and try them out! Everyone will have different interpretations and bring their own artistry to every piece & we can’t wait to see what you will bring with yours.

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