There is still a little bit of disbelief that the second interview I am posting is with such a successful woman. Liz Caplan is one of the world’s best and most highly regarded vocal coaches out there. Some of her many high profile students include: Stephen Colbert, Ana Gasteyer, Cheyenne Jackson, Megan Hilty, Amanda Seyfried, and Tony Award Winners Steve Kazee and Nikki M. James. Lucky for you, Liz also has a new vocal training app where you can learn her techniques straight from the palm of your hand! In this interview read about how Liz got her start and how she gets her students in tip-top vocal shape!
MC: When did you start singing?
LC: I remember singing “God Bless America” in kindergarten. Singing was just natural expression for me. I didn’t begin studying towards a professional career track until I was 13 years old.
Was there a point in your life when you wanted to be a singer or a musical theater actress, or did you always want to be a voice teacher?
I did think I wanted to sing professionally, and did have the opportunity for many years to perform, but always found myself teaching and coaching all along.
I have never thought about singing and teaching separately. I have had a teaching practice of sorts since I was 15 years old. It was my job to teach technique and interpretation to all of the singer/actors in school musicals in high school and in college, even when I was participating in the musicals myself.
Teaching to me was its own art form-expressing a concept that was successfully communicated to a student who could translate my speak into their own vernacular. Singing is always a part of my teaching as a way of facilitating the musical point.
I was a voice major in a school of music at a university, but also musical directed and performed in Theater school productions simultaneously. At a certain point, teaching became so completely rewarding for me that I devoted myself entirely to it.
“Ms.Caplan draws upon many diverse disciplines in her approach to teaching voice.Her innovative use of physical alignment, exercise, and nutrition help to build and maintain a healthy instrument. Yoga, breathing, and relaxation techniques,along with Alexander and Linklater philosophies, are also explored regularly.Vocal exercises, tailored to the individual student, aim to strengthen the larynx and vocal cords as well as releasing the tongue and jaw, yielding increased range and flexibility.” –from lizcaplan.com
How did you develop your teaching technique?
My own technique began as a breaking down of the scores of musical theater composers-finding a vocal exercise derivative of passages that seemed repetitive in different composers’ material.
Then I started apprenticing with dance therapists, movement specialists and choreographers to learn how dancers moved and understood language. As well, I consulted with every possible alternative practitioner in order to learn about the human body, nutrition and balance of all systems. My technique was born of a curiosity of the whole of the person, not just specifically the voice.
How often do you suggest your students practice their vocal warm-ups?
Since the majority of vocal sessions are private, motivation has to come from the students’ desire to improve, move forward and succeed in order to have gainful employment in music and theater.
I think the vocal muscles benefit from daily workouts. Even 10-15 minutes daily will provide noticeable improvement. And then as many 30-45 minute work sessions a week including the actual voice lesson make for tremendous forward movement and ultimate success.
What do you tell your students before a big audition? What do you tell them in terms of acting a song?
When it comes time to preparing for an audition, interpretation is the most important element of the song. Vocal exercising should be happening all along, so that the instrument is ready to be functioning independently of analytical thought.
Getting into the character of the song, including how the character breathes and lives before during and after the chosen piece is of paramount importance. The more organic the connection of actor to song, the more accessible the performer will be to the casting director and creative team of a production.
I always hope that preparation for any audition would include some relaxation techniques, breath work and vocal warm ups. All of these steps will inform the integrity of the character that lives inside a chosen song.
As well as a voice teacher, you are also the vocal supervisor for many of Broadway’s most popular shows! For those who don’t know, can you explain a little bit what that job involves?
I’m very fortunate to be able to work with full companies of Broadway shows as well as high profile actors in my private practice.
When I’m working with full companies, I try to assess what issues might be prevalent on a given week of a show, especially those with long runs. I would note the show (usually for the music supervisor) on a given night before rehearsing with the cast. I would then choose a series of vocal exercises that I believe will benefit the company as a whole while also addressing individual vocal issues. There is usually a matter of pacing energies, both physical and vocal from week to week, month to month and in many wonderful cases, year to year. My job is to help support and maintain the vocal integrity of each performer in the production so the production as a whole sounds fresh and healthy.
When you work with a whole cast on a show what are your expectations for the work that they do outside of rehearsals?
Working with a whole cast has its rewards as the company can implement the new ideas while on stage eight shows a week. It’s like being paid to experiment with new concepts that benefit their work in the immediate.
You also just worked on the upcoming Les Mis film,congrats on such an amazing project! What was that experience like and how was it different from working with a Broadway cast?
Thanks for the congrats. My work on the Les Miserables film was to prepare the lovely and brilliant Amanda Seyfried, in particular, for her role as Cosette. We worked for six months before her actual audition for the film. So when she was told that she got the role,we were beside ourselves with joy! I got instructions and suggestions from the musical supervisory team in London as what specifically to address with Amanda in our work. Then came intensive drilling of the appropriate exercises that strengthened her upper register (where she lives quite naturally). We worked on all of the Cosette material throughout the prep for the actual filming. Amanda and I skyped lessons from my studio in New York City to Pinewood Studios in London. Navigating the time difference was interesting, but we made it work. I would check in with the team in London weekly and would get the day-to-day reports as to how she fared during filming. The most challenging part of this particular musical film experience was that there was no pre-recording of the vocals. They were sung in real time. Seriously. So the scene work was entirely in the moment theatrically/cinematically. And the voices had to be quite sturdy to repeat songs over and over again during different takes and at different angles.
I reconnected with Amanda at this year’s Tony Awards directly after she wrapped her part of the filming. We are looking forward to the end result.
In general, this particular work was the same as if I were given a charge to prepare any actor for a principle role in a Broadway musical.
Do you have to alter the way you teach when you are working with a more classical score versus a contemporary score?
I think of the human voice as a palette of colors that should be available in order to sing many styles of music.
An actor might go from a rock show like American Idiot or Rock of Ages to performing in a Sondheim musical. These styles vary tremendously. But it’s all music- some lyrical and fluid, some a bit harder on the larynx and vocal cords. It’s all about the vocal muscle preparation. The breaking down of the musical score, no matter the style, proves to be a most helpful approach in my work. And it’s entirely possible to navigate all styles with the maximum of health. That is my main mission statement.
What advice do you give your students to survive eight shows a week?
I try to advise students to see the big picture. What sort of stamina and endurance is required? How can maximum enjoyment of the work take place with the least amount of fatigue?
Gaining an innate intelligence of their instrument and how they might pace themselves accordingly helps with the eight show a week schedule. Broadway schedules are notoriously unforgiving. There might be two- two show days in a row. This leaves little time for recuperation. No sooner is the show coming down on a Friday night, that the actors (who have to eat something afterwards, digest fully before sleeping) are back at the theater for the Saturday matinee performance. Following that is the evening show, a minimal rest and another two shows the following day. It is only grueling because the down time for both physical and vocal recovery is so limited.
I take each production on a case-by-case basis based on the role requirements. I would advise a specific template for pre show warm ups and post show cool downs. The cool downs actually act as fatigue busters. If the vocal muscles are kept facile in their warming and cooling, they will withstand the eight-show week.
I also advise a certain dietary routine based on energy needs.
It’s quite a complex labyrinth that must be navigated in order to keep a performer in top condition to make it through their week. Performing the Broadway show schedule is truly an Olympian feat.
What advice do you have for aspiring musical theater performers and singers who want to be on Broadway?
The best advice I have is to train. Take classes. Take lessons. Either go to a conservatory program or apprentice/ get mentored with chosen teachers of voice, dance and acting. Work on your physical body as it is your instrument.
Love the art of learning so much that the goal is to simply be the best performer you can become. Your work will speak for itself.
Always be professional. The most successful students and colleagues I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside have always maintained a professional attitude. They are always prepared, always humble, and keep perfecting their disciplines. The work is so joyous. To be able to make a living in music and theater is tremendously rewarding. It is a privilege. It doesn’t get handed to you. Be prepared to work for it. ♦