How Musical Theatre exams led one student to choose performing arts at university

How Musical Theatre exams led one student to choose performing arts at university

Picture of Tom Inniss

BY: Tom Inniss
20 May 2022

In this blog, one student with a passion for musical theatre explains how working through Trinity grades has kept him motivated and offered him insights into the performing arts that have led to him looking to the profession for his future career. Having achieved Grades 4, 5 and 6 with Aberdeen Academy of Performing Arts, Cameron is currently preparing for Grade 8 alongside applying for musical theatre courses at university. Read on to find out how Cameron's experience of exams is assisting with university auditions and has supported his wider school studies.

Cameron Vargesson, Grade 6 Musical Theatre Cameron Vargesson

Cameron is 17 years old and has a long-held passion for musical theatre. His interest in musical theatre stems from a decision his Mum made to take him to a class to try it out when he was just five years old, and he ended up loving it. ‘We started seeing shows at my local theatre – His Majesty's Theatre – and it developed from there. We also started watching musicals at home. We started with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and they’ve driven me forward.’ He took his first graded exam at just eight.

His love and commitment to the craft is such that he attends dance and musical theatre lessons at the Aberdeen Academy of Performing Arts after school on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He also assists there on Friday evening and all day on Saturday.

Cameron’s artistic talents extend beyond musical theatre. A current student at Aberdeen Grammar School, Cameron has musical instrument lessons, takes music as a Highers subject and is the lead violist in the school’s string orchestra. Outside of school, he has taken dance exams in ballet, tap, and jazz – and feels that tap is his favourite.

He is currently working towards Grade 8 in Musical Theatre and intends to complete it before he heads to college to study musical theatre further. Following that, his aim is to find work in the performing arts industry.

Cameron's experience of working towards Musical Theatre exams

Cameron has undertaken Trinity Musical Theatre (solo) exams at Grades 4,5 and 6. For Grade 7, the exam he most recently achieved, Cameron worked largely with his singing teacher Alisdair Sneden and his acting teacher Sali Kindley.

‘They helped me with my monologue and how to link my pieces, and the acting within the songs. My singing teacher helped me with learning the songs and delivering them as well as the context behind the songs and why they were being sung.’

Cameron commented on the step change in expectation on moving to the Grade 6 exam which presented both new challenges and opportunities for growth.

‘For Grade 6 there more or less had to be a continuous programme where the songs link together in some way that you can make a story. That was perhaps the most challenging.’

Cameron chose ‘love’ as the theme for his pieces and took a lead in selecting the pieces themselves. His first song was about looking for love when he had lost it by accident; ‘not realising that I was leaving my entire life behind’. The second song was about ‘going back to find my love, and seeing it had crashed down, and it was all in pieces, and they’d moved on. My third piece was a delve back in time with me first seeing this girl’. For the exam, Cameron also chose the Lunchtime Monologue from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Cameron was afforded a lot of creative control over his pieces. He chose the blocking for his songs (how and where he moved as he performed) and how he expressed the sentiment of the pieces via his performance. For his monologue he got to pick the props that he used, and generally had a say on how he presented the programme as a whole.

He also used the opportunity to learn more about the musicals he was studying and develop his understanding of what made the storylines and themes powerful; ‘I got to watch the musicals that I was working on, learn about the composers and characters and really delve deep into that – which I quite enjoyed.’

Welcoming new opportunities

Cameron found the process of preparing for Musical Theatre exams particularly helpful when it came to the university auditions he has currently been involved in. Nearly all auditions require him to perform a song and a monologue, and through his Musical Theatre graded exam studies he has gained experience in dissecting pieces to explain the theory and emotion behind them.

‘Preparing for the exams certainly helped me when it came to preparing for auditions, because it’s a similar skill set when it comes to knowing the context behind songs and knowing why they’re being sung. It’s helped me with my musical ability as well. Doing it in front of an external panel for exams has also helped get me used to performing for other people.’

Impact of the experience

As is so often the case, Cameron immediately identifies the ways in which taking graded exams has made him more confident in his craft, and more assured generally as a person. ‘It’s certainly made me more confident in my abilities and getting the feedback has helped me improve. When I’m working in a group I feel more confident to maybe take the lead or just join in and participate.’

Working towards Musical Theatre exams has also benefited his wider studies: ‘It’s helped with researching subjects such as history, and Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies where we have to do external research. It’s helped me to find more accurate and precise information quicker.’

That confidence boost also extends out to his wider life. Cameron confessed to not being a particularly confident person as a child, and he wouldn’t participate in group activity or ever raise his hand in lessons. ‘I compete in dance competitions quite a lot, and now I will do solo routines in addition to group routines.’

Next steps in Cameron's journey

It’s unlikely that Cameron would ever have considered a career in the performing arts if it wasn’t for Musical Theatre graded exams. Working his way through the grades kept him connected to the wider musical theatre world, and gave him a reason to keep coming back.

‘They certainly kept me interested in musical theatre throughout the whole of my childhood. I’d be constantly thinking about how to prepare for them, and obviously watching musicals – it gave me a reason to watch a musical. If I ever went a specific amount of time without watching a musical, [working towards a graded exam] would bring me back to them.’

Now, Cameron is applying to study musical theatre at university, and his dream is to one day be in a West End production: ‘Two of my favourite musicals are Top Hat and Singing in the Rain. If I could be in one of those musicals, I’d love it!’

He would also consider going into film, and enjoys the differences in performance each necessitates: ‘On stage, there’s more of a bigger persona required, and more projection – everything is bigger, especially in the face. On film it can be more pulled back and natural.’

Tips and advice for other candidates

From his first exam at just eight years old, preparing for Musical Theatre exams has remained a constant in his life, and given how enriching the qualification has been for Cameron, it's probably no surprise to hear that he highly recommends anybody give it a go.

‘I definitely would. It originally got me into Musical Theatre, and it was one of the first things that got me thinking ‘this is fun, this is interesting’ and
 to seeing it as a viable career option as well.’

For those who want to follow in Cameron’s footsteps, or are already on their way with their musical theatre journey and are looking for tips, Cameron has a few.

He first suggested that you spend more time than you’d think exploring the context behind the pieces you’re working on. ‘Watching or reading the musicals you’re doing something from, and getting really deep into the piece, is really helpful.’

He is also keen to emphasise the importance of not getting stressed - as long as you do the work in advance, you should be able to walk into the exam and just enjoy the process: ‘Don’t worry about the exam, as long as you know what you’re doing, don’t stress. Just go in and do the best you can, there’s nothing you can do but the best you can do.’

Find out more about Musical Theatre exams

We hope you have enjoyed reading Cameron's story. If you'd like to learn more about how Musical Theatre exams could support your students to follow their passions and develop relevant skills, take a look at our recent blog on our Music Theatre syllabus specifications. Or if you would like to explore other proven tactics to keep students coming back to performing arts classes, you can take a look at our guide to retaining students at your performing arts academy.

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