Performers spend years striving to become the enviable triple threat, but in an industry that’s swamped with talented and ambitious people, is being a triple threat enough to stand out from the crowd? Should performers be learning extra skills to give them an edge?
Playing an instrument
It’s common practice in colleges and drama schools nowadays for students to also take classes in musicality, learning an instrument to turn themselves into the fabled ‘quadruple threat’ (we’re not worthy!) I joke, but actually this is one of those skills that can really make the difference between landing that job or not. At the Watermill Theatre in Berkshire, they regularly produce shows using only actor-musicians. Those performers tend to play 3 or 4 instruments throughout the show, whether that’s piano, drums, double bass, saxophone, xylophone or even a cowbell!
The most common instrument that students tend to get their hands on is the ukelele. It’s quirky, cheap and easy to learn. Essentially you could get away with only learning three chords and be able to play an astonishing number of songs - there are plenty of videos out there to help with that.
Once you’ve learned one instrument, learning another becomes much easier, and if you can dance, you’ve got rhythm, so you’re already halfway there. It doesn’t happen overnight (as much as you hope one session will be enough). It takes as much practice and crafting as acting, singing or dancing. You have to be committed.
Learning an instrument isn’t the only way to stand out. Circus skills are a great option to master, and not just so you can run away and join the circus whenever you like. Here are a few ideas to inspire you:
Clowning (great for improving your improvisation skills and audience interaction)
Silks (an elegant and core strengthening option)
Aerial hoop (as per the above)
Animal work (I once saw someone performing tricks and balances whilst riding a horse)
Acrobatics (which leads me nicely onto one of my favourite skills…)
This isn’t only a great skill to be able to show off in auditions when they ask you to improvise for 16 counts, but taking part in gymnastics is so good for working on your strength, stamina and flexibility, useful not just for your body but also for your singing. What do we use when we sing?
Our core. The stronger the core, the stronger the vocals. Working in theatre is long and hard. You could be performing up to 8 shows a week, so you need to have the stamina to make sure you can get through that without completely flaking out at the end of each week and getting ill or losing your voice.
In gymnastics you’ll take part in hardcore conditioning sessions, floorwork which regularly incorporates dance into the routines, beam, vault, bars and, everyone’s favourite, learning how to tumble and perform aerial work safely. Who hasn’t seen a show where someone’s backflipped across the stage and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to do that?’
Plus you’ll be taught how to do a backwards roll properly... (a personal bugbear; stop rolling your necks people!)
Learning any of these skills could be the difference between you landing an audition or not. It’s all about standing out from the crowd, and believe me, the crowd is big, cramped and ruthless. Being a triple threat is an amazing achievement, but you should always take any opportunity you can to learn a new skill. You never know when it might come in handy.