“Boom bah boom bah pah pah boom bah.”
Assistant professor Jacob Brent shouted at his class about musical theater styles. They pirouette, clap and slide in rhythm as Brent stands in front of the class, watching. Brent, a former Broadway and West End artist, is the Musical Theater Coordinator at JMU.
Brent’s success story is not traditional.
“It happened at lightning speed for me,” he explained. “I was in the right place at the right time and I was able to put on the costume.”
At age 20, Brent was cast as Mr. Mistoffelees on “Cats” less than a week after moving to New York City, and he ended up staying on the show for a decade. Brent’s background in ballet helped him secure the role, but other than playing in a Starlight Express production in Las Vegas, he had little experience in musical theater.
“The universe kind of aligned, and I was there, and I was ready and prepared, and they needed a niche and it just happened,” Brent said. “It sounds a bit magical, and it was, but it was also a lot of hard work.”
Although he had done a show in the past, Brent was new to Broadway and was looking to learn from his fellow cast members, some of whom were Broadway veterans.
“I was conscious enough just to keep my mouth shut and listen and watch and learn from these people,” Brent said.
Brent jokes that he had “an undergraduate degree and a masters degree in ‘cats’ and a residency.” He said that “it was really my schooling”.
As Brent grew into a seasoned artist, he said he gained confidence in his skills and abilities, which he now shares with his students. He became a teacher who wanted to make a change in the music theater education industry, he said, and one of the ways he does that is by teaching in a different way than he did. has been taught.
“It’s a different world with different students,” Brent said. “How can we improve it? ”
Brent has personal connections with many students. Brent can’t walk for more than a minute in the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts without a student stopping to say “Hello.” He speaks to every student and tries to help them in any way possible.
“He’s definitely just, like, a bubbly guy, and he really makes an effort to know everyone’s name,” said Makenna Stergion, a musical theater major and one of Brent’s students. “Even if you are not a musical theater specialist in the classroom, he still engages with you and makes a connection with you.”
In class, Brent takes the time to joke with his students. They all answer him laughing and joking while waiting for the music to start. Then all Brent has to do is count “five, six, seven, eight” and the class begins to dance.
Students work on a black Marley dance floor in a large dance studio. The studio, their classroom, is located in a back corner of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, in large hallways with dressing rooms and prop stores. The classroom entrance leads to the stage, with rows of students facing the mirror eager to learn. Past the large red curtains is a wooden floor where the audience could sit if the hall was used for a performance. The ceilings are high, but the backstage of the stage is small. Brent stands in front of the class, dressed in black sweatpants and a black t-shirt that says, “You can’t fight jazz. His hair is silver and his voice is strong as he projects himself in class.
At one point, he asks Stergion to demonstrate his favorite movement for the musical theater styles class. The whole class laughs and claps as she dances.
Stergion later explained how she had taken this class in the past and knew the combination dance he was teaching. She said she took several classes with Brent and appeared in two musicals that he directed and choreographed: Twelfth Night, a musical adaptation, and Side Show, a musical about Siamese twins at the search for fame and acceptance in the era of vaudeville.
“In, like, every class I’ve been with him, he will bring his friends to Broadway,” Stergion said. “Honestly, it has been very helpful to have so much contact with him and to learn on his own how to prepare to enter the real world of the theater industry.”
Colie Vancura, senior major in musical theater, said she was grateful to have been taught by a Broadway artist.
“His first-hand knowledge and experiences are so helpful,” said Vancura. “It doesn’t seem unreachable. “
Vancura explained how Brent “doesn’t wrap him up” when talking about his experiences, and he tells stories about the good and the bad in preparing his students well.
Brent’s class focuses on the chronological shift in the world of theater, starting with classical styles and moving towards the contemporary. Brent also adds some of his own knowledge of the history of musical theater to the class, exploring topics such as the anthropology of dance and the roots of African dance. Sam Sinnott, a senior musical theater student at Brent, said dance and musical theater have a complex history, and he is thankful that Brent is taking the time in class to address these issues.
“It’s important that people who train in this area know, in some way, our history,” Sinnott said.
Sinnott said his Tuesdays and Thursdays are busy, but he enjoys starting the day with Brent’s class. Not only does Sinnott love to dance, but he says he loves the energy Brent brings to class every day.
Sinnott said Brent constantly encouraged his students.
“If you hit a triple pirouette, it screams your name across the studio,” Sinnott said.
Contact Grace Feuchter at [email protected] To learn more about the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture office on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.