TheaterMania U

Annette Tanner Has Broadway Dreams

An interview with the executive director of this unique arts-training program.

Annette Tanner (center) with BDF Faculty Nicholas Rodriguez and Matt Lenz
(Courtesy Broadway Dreams Foundation)

Professional theater artists — including such notables as Jason Robert Brown, Tituss Burgess, Deidre Goodwin, Billy Porter, Nicholas Rodriguez, and Tony Vincent — comprise the faculty for The Broadway Dreams Foundation’s week-long intensive at Philadelpia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, July 30-August 5.

Attendees receive training in acting, dance, and vocal performance, with the opportunity to perform in a one-night concert that is open to the public. The program’s executive director Annette Tanner recently spoke with TheaterMania about this unique arts-training program.

THEATERMANIA: How did Broadway Dreams Foundation get started?

ANNETTE TANNER: I was living in Atlanta, and my friends Dave and Adam called me one day and said, “Come see this workshop we’re doing in LA. We have a great idea for teaching musical theater classes.” So I did, and they asked me to help them put together one in Atlanta. About two weeks into it, I got a call from them saying, “We can’t do this without you guys. We have the connections and you have the ability to organize it, and shall we do it together?” So that’s how we began, and about six months into it, I remember being at a workshop and thinking, “I love this. I think it’s amazing. Even the teachers are learning from each other. There’s something going on here. But, what about all of those kids that wouldn’t ever have this opportunity?” I realized that if we were going to dedicate ourselves to doing it, I wanted to make sure that we could find a way to allow people who had talent and needed these stepping stones to be able to do it regardless of their financial situation. So we decided to become a not-for-profit.

TM: As you’ve grown Broadway Dreams, what are the programs you’ve created?

AT: The cornerstone is our summer intensive. We look for cities that want to be long term partners. The three cities we have are Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Omaha. We also have probably three other cities that we’re close to developing a longer-term partnership with. As a year-long partner, we commit to you that we will have a quarterly presence in your city, because what I realized over the course of years is that you go in and you have this impact on these students, but it just can’t happen once a year. It’s all about continuing education in those markets.

Essentially, we have master classes, which are one offs that can go to any city and be based on anything that the performing arts venue requires. We’ll do a weekend workshop which sometimes results in a small acoustic performance at the end of it. Then there are our week-long intensives, which run about eight days, and have a fully produced show.

TM: What about Philadelphia makes it a great place to have your intensive?

AT: Firstly, the proximity to New York City. Students who get interest from the casting directors or agents that we bring in can take a $10 bus trip to get to New York auditions.

Secondly, a lot of kids, especially in Philadelphia, just don’t understand the process. I am now graduating high school, I’m graduating college, but what do I have to do? How do I get my equity card? How do I get an agent? We bring in people who not only have done it but are very knowledgeable in the process, like casting directors Rachel Hoffman and Craig Burns. They come out to all of our programs and can talk to kids about what really happens.

BDF Faculty member Tony Vincent and Atlanta students perform "Superstar"
(© Vii Tanner)

TM: You have an incredible faculty. How do you get them to come spend eight days with your students?

AT: Just like with the industry in general, you have got to network. When faculty comes in, they tell their friends. You would be shocked at how many people call and I think, “Wow, that’s a Tony Award winner calling me and saying they want to do this.” The faculty that we have all say one thing to me, “I am here because I want to give back and I want to help mentor the next generation.” Because, you know, when you’re in this business, you love it.

And I say to all of our faculty, “One sentence you say to these students can literally change their life.” I remember in Atlanta, an intern of ours was in a classroom with Adam Guettel singing for him and Adam asked, “Do you dance?” and he said, “No, I really don’t.” And Adam said, “Well, let me tell you, the way you look, the way you sound, everything about you, if you take dance, I’m promising you that you can do this as a career.”

I remember thinking to myself in that moment, “I just saw a light bulb go off in that guy’s mind. I saw his life change in that moment.” And he took ballet classes for one year and got a full ride scholarship to Florida State University. He’s in New York right now auditioning for Bare, and that is someone that is going to work in this business because of that moment.
That’s what keeps my motivated when it all becomes a lot. It’s those moments that I think, “I’m going to keep going for that person.”

For tickets to BDF Philly’s Express Yourself showcase, click here.