by Ryan Leeds
Life is full of choices but for Sheri Sanders, there’s no reason to choose. When it comes to performing, Sanders believes that you can combine legit trained musical theater styles with rock and pop genres. After a stage career, Sanders decided to start a program called ‘Rock the Audition.’ which has expanded from a book to classroom instruction.
On April 17 at downtown’s SubCulture, Sanders will perform a one-night concert, “Sheri Sanders is Legit,” which will celebrate the launch of her new ‘Rock the Audition’ online class. Many of her students have landed Broadway and national tours and, through her endless passion and energy, she’s managed to open brand new pathways that many never knew existed.
Sanders recently took time from her frenetic schedule to have a phone conversation with the Broadway Blog where she discussed her role as a coach and educator to countless teachers and budding performers.
This has become your primary source of income. How did you transfer from being a full-time performer to being a teacher?
I have a musical theater background and I noticed a crisis in the musical theater community so I cornered the market where pop/rock music was concerned. I combined my legit techniques with pop music because I always understood pop music. There are actually a lot of similarities between pop and musical theater and there is so much crossover. The way shows are written today is such that pop/rock is the new legit. I now work with both teachers and students. I work with 16 different universities and have 30 private students.
You mentioned in one of you online classes that singers need to approach auditions in the mood or state that they are in. Isn’t it a performer’s job to ‘act’ in whatever way the role calls for? Can you elaborate?
It is contrary in theory, but what is cool is that most pop music is not exclusively from shows. So if you choose a happy party song like “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” you can use that energy for the better if you’ve had a really bad day and sing the song as though you are ready to have fun. You have to use your current emotional and mental state to change your mind or attitude.
What happens if people come to you and obviously do not have a talent for singing?
I never audition anyone for my classes. Sometimes people who have desk jobs and have never pursued singing as a career but who can express themselves through song are the most valuable players in the room. In terms of talent, it’s never my job to tell people whether or not they have talent. It is more important to ask them what they believe in and to pursue that. My goal is to get people as connected to their mind, body, and spirit as I can. We all just root for each other because then, everybody grows.
Rock music is more than just a style. It’s a look and an attitude. You wouldn’t give a bookish librarian a Janis Joplin song, right? Is it right to approach music that fits the singer’s natural personality or can the singer manufacture that?
You never want to give a song from a singer like Joplin to someone with a small voice. But, you want them to listen to her music, so they can grow more emotional and wild when they sing. That librarian could become a gutsy librarian. It’s important to listen to singers who have the same quality as you, but as important to listen to other singers. That way, your voice is more textured and interesting. You want to create a palate to paint with so that your voice has more variety.
What is the biggest misconception young performers have about the theater industry right now in terms of knowledge and preparation?
If they are not properly educated, they often think that yelling and putting riffs in a song where it doesn’t belong makes them competitive. You have to look at the show and ask what the show requires and sing something that fits the aesthetic of the show.
How are you able to actually protect your voice when you are grunting and yelling, as many performers often do?
Very few shows call for grunting and yelling and there is a way to sing emotionally without yelling. One of the things I’m most proud of is that people trust me because I’m never going to tell anyone that they are wrong. Instead, I’ll show them what they do know and take them over to this magical place that is really cool. That way, they take the experience I’ve taught them back to musical theater and they can live comfortably in both worlds.
“Sheri Sanders is Legit! An Evening of Legit Musical Theatre”
45 Bleecker Street, NYC
April 17, 8 p.m.
Advance Tickets are $20, $25 at the door.
Tickets are available at bit.ly/LEGITMT or by calling 212-533-5470.
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.