A New Lead for Musical Theatre at UABBy Rosalind Fournier
Valerie Accetta, M.F.A., assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and the head of UAB’s new bachelor of fine arts degree program in musical theatre, has plenty of impressive roles under her belt, from playing romantic lead Margy Frake in the first national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair to singing baroque opera in Greece. Making it on Broadway, or any other venue, requires more than hitting the high notes, Accetta explains.
UAB Magazine: What’s the secret to success in musical theatre?
Accetta: Obviously you should be talented in a lot of different areas; you should be able to sing and dance and act. But I also want my students to understand the importance of being business savvy, to know which connections you need to make and then to build those relationships. That is almost more important than having talent. When you’re first starting out, your agent’s not going to call you every day with an audition. You’re going to have to go to open calls and wait outside at 6:00 in the morning if you’re going to make it happen.
UAB Magazine: What makes musical theatre such a popular genre?
Accetta: You cannot find a performing arts genre that is as expressive on so many levels. Though I know the Brits would disagree, musical theatre is really an American art form. It has grown and evolved here—just look at a show like Book of Mormon and what that says about our culture now.
UAB Magazine: You’ve portrayed some of the most famous leading ladies in musicals, including Maria in The Sound of Music and Marion in The Music Man. What’s been your most challenging role?
Accetta: Every role has its unique challenges, whether it’s the vocals or the dance or even costume changes. The Sound of Music has an unbelievable number of costume changes. After all the hard singing is done, you go into the second act and then it’s crazy. Toward the end there are maybe four costume changes in 10 minutes.
UAB Magazine: What’s the secret to a fast costume change, then?
Accetta: A really lovely crew that you get along with.
UAB Magazine: What inspired you to want to become a teacher as well as a performer?
Accetta: My background and career trajectory is long and varied. I worked in Athens as the head of drama at a British international school for five years. When my time in Greece was coming to a close, I knew I wanted to continue teaching, but I wanted to work with university students. So I went to Virginia Commonwealth University to earn my M.F.A. in theatre pedagogy. All of my fellow grad students were people like me who already had professional careers but wanted to take those skills and learn how to teach them.
UAB Magazine: Have you ever wished that life could be more like a musical, where any problem can be solved with a song?
Accetta: Anyone who knows me knows that my life is a musical! I break into song and dance all the time; all it takes is a word or a phrase to set me off. Sometimes we take things so seriously—and boy, there are serious musicals, too—but by expressing something in music or dance, it’s like getting it out of your system.
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