ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WDVM) — Many high school graduates have deferred their college acceptances for coronavirus concerns. Aspiring performers have the option to take a gap year at the Metropolitan School of the Arts through its Postgraduate Program. The program is for students who want to sharpen their singing, acting, and dancing skills before applying for college or a professional company. For some, it’s also a safer bet than a crowded college campus.
“For about 19 years I was the head of musical theater at Catholic University and I kept seeing students come in that weren’t quite at the level that we would like them to be but they were very talented,” said Postgraduate Program Director Thomas Pedersen. “The kids come with a whole ‘nother year of experience and maturity and their life skills are better. Schools like it.”
MSA also trains high school students; both the Postgraduate Program and regular classes are in person. Voice lessons are virtual. MSA Founder Melissa Dobbs says that’s because performers benefit from in-person instruction and because the student body is so small. “Some of the universities are not even holding class. Since we’re holding class in the studios, it’s a chance for students to get in front of college professors and really build their skills.” Temperature checks are required at the door, only ten dancers are allowed in the studio at a time, and extra hand sanitizing stations have been installed.
“Throughout the week you have dance classes. You have acting classes, singing classes, all throughout your day,” said Madalyn Oliver, aspiring Broadway actor who was accepted into the Postgraduate Program in 2019.
Oliver doesn’t believe she would’ve been accepted into Messiah University without taking her gap year. “Theater and musical programs are very competitive and I didn’t feel I was personally ready. I’d been in three plays at that time but I had not had a formal acting class or voice training,” she said. “Whether you’re a theater major, a musical theater major, a dance major, just music – you’re going to have a lot of opportunities to do all of those things in this program.” She says focusing on the performance arts training, without having to balance her academics, also sharpened her work ethic.
Aspiring professional ballet dancer Garret Janiak has been training at the MSA since he was a high school freshman. He started the Postgraduate Program this week. Janiak lives with his grandmother, who is at high risk of contracting the coronavirus, so the gap year is a relief. “Dancing with a mask is definitely interesting to say the least. It definitely makes it a little bit harder to breathe especially because when you’re dancing it’s kind of like running. You need more air,” Janiak said. Now that he’s found the right mask, he says it’s a little more comfortable.
MSA Program Development Director Roger Jeffrey is one of Janiak’s professors. Jeffrey says a gap year program like MSA’s is uncommon. “A lot of the times we push them out there and they just have to figure it out. And you fall and when you get up and hopefully someone is around to say, ‘This is why,’” he said. “This creates that support system because we see that people are out here falling around and no one is giving them support.”
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