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Series: Talking Shop With Rachel Bay Jones

Broadway Inbound

Broadway Inbound’s workshops and master classes can be a fun way to enrich your Broadway experience. Taught by real Broadway professionals, they’re perfect for students, social groups, corporate team-building, and more. Plus, they can be tailored to fit the needs of your group and customized to relate to the show you’re seeing. There are workshops for dance, vocal and instrumental music, acting, auditioning, improvisation, the business of Broadway, and technical theatre.

Last month, we shared Chanelle’s experience at the Living the Music workshop. Now, we’re excited to share what happened when Jacob got the inside scoop on another workshop. Here’s what he had to say:

I can feel the anticipation in the room. A girl cranes her neck to see into the hallway. “Is that her?” she asks, pointing to a passerby. Several other heads turn toward the hallway, and there's audible disappointment when they realize it's not her.

The reason for all this excitement? These students are at one of Broadway Inbound’s A Broadway Rehearsal workshops, and Rachel Bay Jones is on her way. Yes, that Rachel Bay Jones. The one who just won a Tony Award® for her performance in Dear Evan Hansen.

To say that these 13- through 18-year-olds are looking forward to meeting Rachel Bay Jones is an understatement. Many of them have every note from the score of Dear Evan Hansen memorized, and in the moments before she walks into the rehearsal studio, some of the students sit cross-legged on the floor while they sing songs from the show in tight groups. “I'll be Jared, can someone sing Connor?” one student says. Other students sit by themselves, nervously rehearsing the question they're going to ask Jones.

Then she enters in a flurry of smiles and quiet apologies (she's only two minutes late), and after an introduction from Broadway InMotion’s Michael Watson, the Q&A begins. The students have their questions ready to go, and while most of them aren't timid about asking, Jones goes out of her way to call on some of the quieter members of the group.

The conversation is free-flowing and covers a range of topics, but for the most part, the students want to know how. How did you get on Broadway? How do you keep yourself emotionally safe while performing such an intense show? How often do you hang out with Ben Platt? They want to know how she does it so that maybe one day they can do it too.

One student asks, “How do you find your inspiration?” Jones thinks for a moment and then says, “I use the entire world as food. I go on walks, and I keep my eyes open. You never know where you’ll find that little nugget that you’re gonna use. Steal things. Pick up things wherever you can, and don’t subscribe to one person’s way of doing it.” Each of Jones’s answers are like this: uniformly kind, thoughtful, and generous.

“How many of you want to perform full time?” Jones asks, and almost every hand in the room shoots up. Her face opens into a big, broad smile. She talks to them about what it’s like to be a performer. She’s completely encouraging, but she also doesn’t pull any punches when talking about how brutal the business can be. I can’t help but think about what it must be like for these high school students to be face-to-face with one of their idols, hearing her say, “If I can do it, so can you. You just need to work really, really hard.”

Many questions later, Rachel Bay Jones says her goodbyes. “I’ll see you all tonight!” she says, and the students cheer. “It’ll be nice to see so many familiar faces in the audience.”

After Jones is gone, the students get to work on the second half of the workshop. They’re going to learn to sing Dear Evan Hansen’s big Act I finale “You Will Be Found” from Steve Webber, a real Broadway musical director. They gather around the piano and plunk out some notes, running through the melody.

Webber quickly realizes how well the students know this song, and he decides to focus on something else. He has the students split up into two groups, facing each other. “Line up like the Sharks and Jets,” he says, prompting no fewer than half of the students to demonstrate some West Side Story finger snaps. Once they’re in position, he has the students sing the song, one at a time and line by line, directly to each other.

“Pick someone from the other side of the room, and say this to them. Really say it. Know that what you’re saying, they need to hear it,” Webber says. It’s a small change, but when they sing the song again, it’s completely different.

“Even when the dark comes crashing through,” one student sings.

“When you need a friend to carry you,” sings another.

“And when you’re broken on the ground, you will be found,” sings the last student, her voice breaking just a little.

Dear Evan Hansen is a musical about high school students who don’t feel like they belong. Anyone can relate to that feeling, but it was incredibly moving to watch these real high school students sing these words to one another. Each student instantly understood what it meant to deliver this message of kindness and hope to their classmates.

I stood at the back of the room, near the group’s director, Stephen Ward. As the music swelled, he leaned over and said, “I have chills.” I told him that I did too, rolling up my sleeve to show him my goosebumps. “I’m so glad they got to do this,” Ward said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I think we’re all going to remember this for a long time.”

After the workshop ends, the group will eat dinner and explore Times Square, before heading to the Music Box Theatre to see Dear Evan Hansen. Even though they’ll watch the show like everyone else, they also have a secret. They’ll laugh and cry together in the dark like the rest of the audience, but when they see Rachel Bay Jones perform, they’ll know where she’s coming from. When the cast sings “You Will Be Found,” they’ll know what it’s like to sing those words. Because they experienced the workshop, they’ll have a depth of experience that no one else in the audience will be able to match.

When I walked into this workshop, I never could have imagined how profound the experience would be. That’s the magic of workshops, though. You get to see the world of Broadway from a completely different perspective.

You can see the variety of workshops that Broadway Inbound offers and book your own experience by visiting our workshop page.

Author: Jacob Jones