Rachel’s story: Musical Theatre graduate

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Rachel recently graduated with a Bachelor of Creativity in Musical Theatre after three years of study that she describes as “invaluable”. She is currently a swing performer in Circa Theatre’s annual pantomime “Treasure Island, a position that requires Rachel to learn multiple roles, so that she can perform if there is an absence. We spoke to Rachel about her experience working on the pantomime as a new graduate, and what it was like to study Musical Theatre at our Te Auaha campus.

How has preparation been in the lead up to Treasure Island – The Pantomime? 

To begin with, I was timid and nervous entering a space with such experienced performers. I knew a few familiar faces, which made the initial rehearsals easier to make connections.  

As a swing performer, preparation can be tricky as you are gathering multiple roles, tracks and movements at one time. This was my first time in a swing role, so a new challenge was set. Those in the cast were very open and approachable, and happy for me to ask for help. Watching and trying to absorb as much information as possible has been an amazing skill to learn.  

How do you feel about the opportunity to be a part of this show?  

When I got the call I was needed to perform, the fear and adrenaline fused together, creating this ball of chaotic energy inside. I recall being side stage halfway through the show, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was currently performing in the Circa Pantomime. Seems a rather odd thing to only realise halfway through the performance, but it gave me this second wind of excitement, nerves and gratitude. This whole process has been so inspiring to be a part of.  

This experience so far has taught me a certain kind of bravery on and off stage, the kind where you have to put aside the fear of failure and just go. Navigating as a swing performer is the most creatively stretched my brain has ever been, and immensely rewarding to my knowledge of performing.  

Rachel McSweeny 3 Web

How was your learning experience at Whitireia? 

The skills and knowledge I have gained reach far beyond simply how to hit that high note or ace that double turn. Our tutors taught us to be generous and courageous, but most importantly to trust and be kind. To trust your gut is something that I am still learning to do. It can be difficult when comparing yourself to those around you, especially in an industry where everything we do is so personal and subjective to the eye of the viewer.  

The Musical Theatre programme opens opportunities for students to test their abilities, discover more about themselves, and continue learning not only as a performer but as a person. After three years of invaluable study, I have graduated with a handy toolbox of life lessons to guide me along the way, reminding me of those core values. 

What drew you to study Musical Theatre? 

I was originally studying a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University of Wellington. I enjoyed the subjects and the people around me, but something was missing. I have always been in love with the language of performing arts, and how it makes people feel. Performing is such an adaptable medium. No matter who you are, where you are from, there is an unspoken unity between artists, a beautiful bond and an understanding of what we do. The storytelling and emotion that can be provoked from as little as two sung lines is unmatched. Performing gives room for anyone to play, to share, and to experiment – it truly is a rare form of expression where the possibilities are endless.  

What have you enjoyed most about studying Musical Theatre? 

When graduating, I spent some time reflecting on my study and what stuck out to me in almost every memory were the people. The performing and learning was monumental to my personal growth, but the family you gain who challenge, support and accept you are what I carry with me the most.  

Rachel McSweeney 2 Web

What would you say to someone that is considering studying Musical Theatre? 

This is truly subjective to the person, and most of the things I have learned are an amalgamation of other's knowledge passed on to me. Discovering so much while studying is fantastic, a lot of which you have to find out as you go, but three things I believe I will hold onto would be the following: 

  1. Studying in a place where art is everywhere can be taken for granted, take the time to go and connect with the other disciplines in the cohort. Some of my most memorable and valuable learning has been from those studying commercial dance or stage and screen.  
  2. Kindness can often be underrated but never unseen. Having kind intentions to those around you and yourself allows learning and experimentation to be safe and accepted. Performing is so personal to each and every artist, which makes what we do somewhat more difficult, but equally so valuable.  
  3. If you make an offer, make it bold, and if it goes wrong, that’s ok—the moments that are wonky and don’t go to plan are just as important as the ones when you feel you succeeded. Sometimes mistakes or ‘fails’ allow you to discover something you might not have before.  

What are your plans after performing in Treasure Island – The Pantomime? 

Currently, I am in preparation for a couple of shows involved in the Fringe Festival 2024. I am very grateful to have opportunities that allow me to continue learning, playing and keep my performing spark alight. My friend and I are really interested in putting together a setlist for gigging around Wellington next year, fusing our musical mediums, and sharing our love of music with those around us.  

Study Musical Theatre at Whitireia 

Sing, act, dance. Be a ’triple threat’ as a versatile performer. Perform in an annual major show and work with musical directors and choreographers who are in demand. Build your portfolio and get ready for the career you always dreamed of. 

Learn more about Musical Theatre → 

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