Chilliwack’s Bethany Caldwell has stage fright — “very, very bad stage fright.”
But that didn’t stop the 22-year-old from competing in musical theatre nationally, and placing in the top three in Canada.
The young singer/actress returned home earlier this month after competing in the 2017 National Music Festival put on by the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals. Caldwell brought home a third-place award in the senior division of musical theatre.
“I have really bad stage fright with singing and festivals — I’m not super into competition,” she says. “I do singing and do acting because I love to do it, and I couldn’t see my life without it, but in terms of signing up for competitions, I need to be pushed to do that.”
Thanks to her vocal coach, Dr. Caroline Harder, with whom she’s been working for the past four years, and her family, Caldwell got just the push she needed.
She first performed three songs in the musical theatre category during the Chilliwack Lions Club Music and Dance Festival in February. After winning that competition, she went on to perform at the provincials in Kamloops in May, where she won again.
Caldwell was the only representative from B.C. in senior musical theatre for the nationals. While there, she performed five different songs. Performers are given a one-hour time slot, dedicated just for them, and they have to complete all five of their songs within that hour. Caldwell’s time started the moment she stepped on the stage.
“I was really nervous going on… [but] honestly once I was on stage, it was great. It was awesome,” she says.
It was the buildup to her performance that made her nervous.
“Because the calibre of the talent there is so high, you can’t help but second-guess yourself,” she says. “But I was excited to be there. I was definitely ready to get into it and to show what I’d been working on.”
Her songs included: Don’t Wanna Be Here from the musical Ordinary Days, Pretty Funny from Dogfight, Simple Little Things from 110 in the Shade, Where Would You Get Your Coat? from Fifty Million Frenchmen, and Mister Snow from Carousel.
She says preparing five different songs, with actions, was not a walk in the park.
“It was challenging for sure. I’d never done so much research on repertoire in my life.”
There are five different categories of songs that one needs to perform at nationals in the musical theatre category: tin pan alley era (1920s-40s), the golden era (1945-1965), contemporary (1965 to present), a ballad, and an uptempo piece.
In addition to those five categories “you’re also wanting to look for variety and contrast between the pieces so you’re not singing about the same thing,” she adds.
She decided to start with a song she’d been working on for well over a year: Simple Little Things.
But she didn’t just focus on her singing. With musical theatre comes staging, where she’d use actions, facial expressions, movements and blocking throughout the song.
“Some people choose to do costume changes, some don’t. I did a costume change for each song and I staged each song,” she says.
It all took a lot of prep work. Years of practising singing with her voice coach helped her get to the national stage, as did countless theatre productions and 17 years of acting.
Caldwell is currently in university studying theatre and sociology at UFV. She works and performs with Gallery 7 Theatre in Abbotsford, and has also recently performed with Chilliwack’s Secondary Characters theatre troupe.
“Obviously you’re very proud to be there and it’s an amazing experience, but you kind of always are thinking, ‘How did I end up here?’ I never thought that this is where something, that I just love to do, would end up taking me,” says Caldwell.
Musical theatre has only been part of the national festival for the past four years, and she says it’s “interesting to see how we’ve progressed and how our art form has progressed.”
She recalls some words of thought from the adjudicator following the competition: “Our art matters and musical theatre matters because it’s music that is accessible and it affects people.”
“I love acting separately and I love music separately, and somehow they found themselves together in my world,”she says. “I think that’s really beautiful to be able to connect with perfect strangers on something that you have in common and is part of what defines who you are.”