McALLEN – Down the gray hallway here at All Star Theater Studios were posters of his productions – The Little Mermaid, Willy Wonka, Frozen and Matilda – that led to a room where laughter could be heard was.
Behind those doors stood a Broadway Original cast member. Behind those doors were the hopes and dreams of young theater students who learned what it took to make them come true.
Laura Bell Bundy, the original Elle Woods in Broadway’s Legally Blonde, was in town on Thursday to share her experiences on the world’s biggest and brightest stage.
“Helping young people to be better at expressing themselves and managing their emotions is in a way my responsibility because I’ve learned how to do that,” Bundy said when asked why she decided to work with to speak to Valley drama students. “So, there’s that part of it. It’s my way of giving back the things I’ve learned over the years and I just enjoy helping young artists feel more confident in their art.”
Bundy’s visit was made possible thanks to All Star Theater’s summer program, which has brought performers like her to the Rio Grande Valley for years.
Joel A. Garza, the studio founder and professor of communications at UTRGV, first floated the idea of attracting Broadway stars to the area five years ago.
He wanted to create a program that he didn’t have and would have benefited from as a young theater student.
“It must have been 2017, I think that was the year I started setting goals and I knew one of my big goals was to get a professional to work with individuals in the Valley.” Garza said, adding that the program aims to give students a Broadway perspective without having to leave the Valley.
Garza hopes the summer camps will enable students who choose a career in theater to forge connections with Broadway stars and guide them through the process of becoming stage actors.
The list of visiting professionals over the five years includes Clay Thompson, Thayne Japserson, a member of the original Hamilton cast, and Tyler Mount, three-time Tony Award winner and Olivier Award winner.
With each visit, Garza saw his students gain confidence in their acting skills that transcended the confines of the stage.
“You can really see the growth. You see it in the students who come and spend their summer week with these individuals, learning from them and growing from them, but then also transferring the education they got here (studio) to the stage and other parts of their life,” said Garza
He compared the experience to a 360-degree view of how a theater actor prepares and performs.
“How they hold themselves, how they warm up, how they work with the people around them, how they interpersonally connect with individuals, and how they expand their knowledge in different ways,” Garza added, speaking of what students think of the stars of the world learning stage. “It’s one thing to be able to see these artists on Broadway, but it’s quite another to see how they perform in a space.
“I think that’s what’s really exciting — being part of that culture and understanding exactly how to go about it.”
According to Garza, most of the students attending the summer camps are students attending the year-long classes.
However, it is the students who make it their task to pass on what they have learned to their fellow students.
“The Valley is so full of talent and we want them to be able to hone that in a constructive way, and that’s what we hope to achieve through programs like this,” Garza said.
According to Garza, Bunday’s most important piece of advice was that every student should be their own advocate.
Those words resonated with him, and he believes the students left the meeting with Bundy a little wiser.
“There’s always this ‘show must go on’ culture on Broadway and the show will always go on, but that doesn’t mean it has to be (to) your detriment, and that’s one of the things that she really does to the students.” pressured,” Garza said.
For 16-year-old Kate Wilson, who has been attending All Star Theater Studios for four years, talking to actors like Bundy has boosted her confidence.
Hearing stories told from Bundy’s perspective helped her relate her experience to that of a professional.
“It’s very beautiful to see a Broadway actor be vulnerable to us, and it feels easier to relate to them,” Wilson said, adding that her biggest takeaway from Bundy’s lesson is her own Separating emotions from the emotions of the character.
Adien Kaiser, 12, a theater fellow who has been attending All Star since he was 5 and has also starred in a local production of The Lion King, learned how to combine acting with music.
He said it was a relationship issue.
“It teaches us to give character to our songs, but it also taught us to find relationships between ourselves and our songs,” Kaiser said of Bundy’s advice.
Bundy, who started acting in New York when she was nine, said being in McAllen on Thursday was an opportunity to share her knowledge of the Broadway world.
Watching the students practice and applying their advice to her acting, Bundy was reminded of her childhood growing up in Kentucky and attending the Townvillage School of Dance, where she learned to perform with confidence.
“I think the best thing you can see in teaching is when they understand what you’re saying and then apply it, the lights come on,” Bundy said. “That’s always my favorite part.”