Preston Yates and Timothy Threllfall, Theatre and Media Arts
Last January at BYU, we had the incredible opportunity to work with one of Broadway’s best composures, Frank Wildhorn. This came about due to a master class that Frank was holding at BYU in October of 2013. He was very impressed with the level of talent the students that he worked with possessed. After the master class he talked to some of the staff including Tim Threlfall and thought that doing a new work at BYU would be a good idea. It allowed him not only to work on his new show, but it gave us students the opportunity to work with a renowned composer on a new work. In March of 2014 I was cast as “Edmond Dantes” or “The Count” in BYU’s production of The Count of Monte Cristo. Frank was in the room for the entire audition process, so it really felt like a Broadway audition. The entire process was very positive and enabled me to learn things in this situation that I wouldn’t have if we had been working on a more well-known production like Les Miserables. We were working directly with Jack Murphy, the playwright as well. He would change the script and we, the actors, would have to learn the new lines immediately and then act the scene. This part of the process is not often experienced at a University level but is experienced at a professional level. Many of the things I experienced in preparation for The Count of Monte Cristo are learned in the professional world of acting, but I was able to gain this knowledge first hand during my time at BYU before ever entering the professional world.
After the production was finished my faculty mentor, Tim Threlfall, approached me about possibly going to a conference in Perth, Australia and sharing a presentation on the process we went through in order to mount “The Count of Monte Cristo”. We were able to receive the Orca grant to go and share the presentation at the teacher’s conference. In June of 2015 we traveled to Perth, Australia and attended The Musical Theatre Educators Alliance Conference (MTEA) at the Western Australia of the Performing Arts (WAAPA). WAAPA is the top musical theatre program in Australia, with graduates like Hugh Jackman and Heath Ledger. This conference helps teachers from all around the world come together to exchange teaching strategies, new information, as well as marketing ideas to help build up the musical theatre programs they are associated with. Our presentation focused on BYU’s musical theatre program and how we are becoming known as ‘the school that produces new works’. Tim Threlfall shared the process that we went through in this presentation to be able mount The Count of Monte Cristo, along with other new works BYU has done in the past few years including Berlin, Single Wide and Love Struck. Each of these works had different challenges, but each one was a success and provided the student’s experiences to grow in ways that they couldn’t had it not been a new work.
I was also invited by Tim to sing as a part of the presentation. I sang two songs, “The Man I Used To Be” from The Count of Monte Cristo and “Overdue” from Single Wide. While at WAAPA I was also invited to sing a duet with a junior in the program named Matilda Moran. We rehearsed once and then performed in front of all of the teachers and students that attended the conference. It was such a great experience to see an American art form be so adored by so many people from all around the world. I was also able to attend many classes taught by some of the best acting and singing teachers from all around the world. This gave me a wide range of knowledge as to what new techniques are being used internationally.
Overall this was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much in such a short period of time. Tim Threlfall and I were able to help others to understand what learning opportunities new works can provide for students in an academic setting. I believe because of our presentation many other universities all around the world will begin to incorporate new works into their production seasons. The University setting provides the perfect situation for this kind of work to thrive, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.