We recently caught up with our Musical Theatre tutor, Adam Pettigrew – West End performer, actor, and teacher on our Beginners, Improvers, and Summer School courses. Adam’s professional performance credits include Wicked (West End), Avenue Q (UK & Ireland Tour), and the movie Muppets Most Wanted (Disney). Here he talks about the thrill of teaching, the accessibility of Musical Theatre, and life as a professional Musical Theatre Performer…
How would you describe your classes?
Fun, creative and energetic! Musical Theatre combines three disciplines – singing, dancing and acting – so it’s a very challenging class, but also a very rewarding one. In Beginners we explore commercial Musical Theatre repertoire and introduce basic technique. We try to create a relaxed and supportive environment for our students, so they feel safe to try out new skills and build confidence. In Improvers we start to work at a more professional level and expect students to become more independent in their learning. We also try and expand students knowledge of the genre by studying more obscure Musical Theatre material.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
I really enjoy helping people have “epiphany” moments. This is when things just suddenly click into place, or when a student tries something new for the first time and their face lights up in a mixture of astonishment, confusion and wonder! At City Academy this happens mainly on the “Master Class” week of the course where I work one-to-one on vocal technique. I use simple exercises to get students to make new sounds, or discover a voice they never even knew they had, which is very exciting.
Do you think anyone can learn to sing/dance/act?
In a word, yes! For me everything is about muscle memory. Just like going to the gym you need to train musicals repetitively to see improvement. As with any exercise some people find it harder than others, but with enough commitment you can see massive improvements.
I really enjoy helping people have “epiphany” moments. This is when things just suddenly click into place, or when a student tries something new for the first time and their face lights up in a mixture of astonishment, confusion and wonder!
You trained at the BRIT School. Had you always wanted to be to be a performer? How did the experience help you?
Performing is in the family blood. My Grandma was a dancer and my Grandad a ventriloquist. My Grandma set up her own dance school in South London 50 years ago called the Betty Wivell Academy, which still trains children in the evening and weekends. I started there when I was three years old, and after a shaky start, I found my feet and started to really enjoy it. I went to the BRIT School when I was 14, this worked well for me as I struggled in mainstream school to fit in and make friends. It felt good to be working with like-minded people all interested in the same things. After four years at The Brit School I gained the skills and drive to finish my training at ArtsEd, where I gained a degree in Musical Theatre.
What was your first professional Musical Theatre job?
I was quite lucky to have a little taste of professional work as a child, performing as an extra with a touring opera company when it visited my local theatres, and also as a child dancer in Mother Goose at the Hackney Empire one Christmas. My first jobs when I graduated were on the fringe. This generally means small rooms on top of pubs with around 50 seats for a few pennies. Nothing glamorous about it, but I learnt a lot and it got me on the right path.
What’s your favourite show that you’ve been part of?
Everyone expects me to say Wicked, but for me it was Avenue Q. This was my first big show, and it felt crazy to be trusted with playing the leading role, whilst touring number one venues around the UK for the biggest musical theatre producer around – Sir Cameron Mackintosh. This show was such hard work, and looking back, I don’t know how I managed 8 shows a week, but it was an amazing experience.
Performing is in the family blood. My Grandma was a dancer and my Grandad a ventriloquist.
What you say to someone who was nervous about trying a Musical Theatre Beginners course for the first time?
Give it a go! The brilliant thing about Beginners is that everyone is in the same boat. Each student has an area they are most nervous about, so between the group everyone is really supportive. All of the course tutors are working professionals, so you get relevant first-hand information and training from individuals that really know their craft. The courses are normally just 6 or 8 weeks, so you can test the water, and then if you love it there is always the Improvers course, and the chance to perform in the two big annual shows as a member of one of the Companies.
What are you working on at the moment? Do you have any projects lined up for 2016?
I’ve just finished working on a new musical called The White Feather at the Union Theatre, and I also have been workshopping another new musical with the National Theatre. I haven’t got any performing work planned for 2016 yet, so we will have to wait and see what the new year brings. I’m obviously teaching on the City Academy Musical Theatre courses and Summer Schools as well, so lots to keep me busy already in 2016!
Find our more about Adam Pettigrew by taking a look at his biography here. If you’re interested in taking one of Adam’s Musical Theatre courses in central London, have a look at our timetables for Beginners and Improvers.