Raising the Bar: A Reflection on a Broadway Masterclass with Krysta Rodriguez and Alexander Sage Oyen

Anthony Cornatzer

Sometimes, we need it to be proven and reminded that our loftiest dreams and ambitions are more within our reach than we realize. I was able to be a witness to this fact while attending a Broadway masterclass held a couple of months ago here at Stockton University with Krysta Rodriguez and Alexander Sage Oyen. Having been reached out to by Stockton's assistant professor of theatre, David Reiser, both Rodriguez and Oyen shared their insight and experiences in their work within the professional world of theatre.

Rodriguez described in great detail her early beginnings and experiences that ultimately led to Broadway as well as everything that directly followed. She explained how she moved to New York from California, and how while still attending college at New York University, auditioned and made her Broadway debut in the Beach Boys-themed jukebox musical, "Good Vibrations", alongside David Reiser. She also discussed how she auditioned and ultimately later got cast in the ensemble for both the original productions of "In the Heights" and "Spring Awakening", on the same day. That day she took a bag to the face that day on the subway and described how it not only messed up her make-up, but also busted up her face pretty badly.

In dealing with all of this, she ended up not only being late for auditions for "Spring Awakening" but also had to leave early before her callback to make the other audition for "In the Heights". But even after all of that, she still was cast in the ensemble for both shows. Years following this, Rodriguez described her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. During which she was offered to play the role of Ilse in the recent revival and Deaf West production of "Spring Awakening". Coming as no surprise considering her already perseverant attitude and work ethic, Rodriguez took on the role in midst of treatment and learned sign language while in the hospital.

Alexander Sage Oyen also shared some of his own insights and experiences as a singer-songwriter as well as in musical theatre. Specifically, he described how he became a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and worked under Stephen Schwartz. He also shared some of his own work, including an excerpt from his musical, "Outlaws", with the song “Gods Among Men”. Oyen also jammed out quite a bit with Rodriguez in playing, of course, “Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind” from "Spring Awakening", as well as with professor Reiser later tagging that evening for the college’s weekend Faculty/Alumni concert with all three performing excerpts from Reiser’s own show he wrote the book, music, and lyrics for, "Joni on the Ceiling".

Oyen and Rodriguez also shared a great deal of insight on the entertainment industry at large and took questions from students, including issues relating to being artists of color. Rodriguez actually related how with her Latin ethnicity and background, she was asked to change her name. She also made an excellent point in saying that, as today's artists and next generation, we're the most self-generating. If we want to address these issues of discrimination and lack of representation, we have to take it upon ourselves to make it known to today’s higher-ups and producers of our disapproval and what we want to be changed.

Though this master class is now quite some months in the past, it nevertheless still resonates with a great deal of inspiration that stirred in me. Not only does it give me a new sense of reaffirmation to keep up my perseverance in a field that to a good bulk of family and friends still seems crazy and impractical, but it gives me that much more incentive to work hard and be the artist I want to be. What also pleasantly surprises me is realizing how relatively young both Rodriguez and Oyen are. They have already done so much, and yet still have so much to give. It paves the way and raises the bar for not just what I want to do in my life and career, but what I need to do, right here, right now.

Then again, I doubt that I’m the only student who felt that sort of magic that day.