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  • Tara Crutchfield

Broadway Beginnings

A place to feel safe and seen, Broadway Beginnings allows musical theatre students to build their chops with an emphasis on connection. Founder Elizabeth Lyons boasts a Broadway background and has turned that into an opportunity to teach. Lyons, from Lakeland, went to college at Florida State University and earned her BFA in Musical Theatre. She opted out of the graduation ceremony in favor of moving straight to New York.

During her seven years in the Big Apple, Lyons performed in several Broadway national tours and off-Broadway shows. Some of her favorite NYC performance credits include: “Radio City New York Spring Spectacular” featuring the Rockettes, Derek Hough, and Laura Benanti (understudy for Laura Benanti), “Beetlejuice” pre-production (Lydia), “Parade” at the Gallery Players (Iola Stover), “The Underclassman” at The Duke on 42nd Street, the first National Tour of “Elf” (understudy Jovie) at Madison Square Garden, The Kennedy Center, Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, and the Wang Theatre in Boston and the National Tour of the “Wizard of Oz” (understudy Dorothy).

In between performing jobs, Lyons worked odd jobs to make ends meet. She waited tables, nannied, and catered. “I was living the starving artist life that the movies tell everyone about,” she said.

Lyons has always been interested in teaching. Even when she was performing, friends would ask her to lead workshops. “There’s something about connecting with young people interested in pursuing this. I obviously see myself in them. I feel very lucky to get to be the person who’s guiding them through this next step. Whether it’s their first step as a 7- or 8-year-old or if they’re getting ready to go to college, it’s the connection with the students that’s always drawn me to it.”

Teaching in the classroom and privately, Lyons has worked with companies including Broadway Kids Auditions, SBG Studios, Harrison Arts Center, Highland School of Dance, Lakeland Community Theatre, Theatre Winter Haven, and All Saints Academy. While touring with the “Wizard of Oz,” Lyons directed over 400 children who played munchkins across 40 cities.

Lyons said. She moved back to Lakeland seven years ago and has been investing in the community ever since.

Lyon’s life has two big pieces—her world in the professional theatre community in New York City and her work as an educator. Two years ago, she felt compelled to combine the two and started Broadway Beginnings. “The heart of it is me wanting to continue creating a performing arts community here in Central Florida, but also nationwide,” she said. “It’s important to me that that community is specifically rooted in the heart of theatre, which is connection.”

The Broadway Beginnings founder noted that there are plenty of excellent theatre training programs, but hers is explicitly dedicated to creating a space in which students feel safe to make the mistakes that will amplify their growth.

While rehearsing her song, one student burst into tears and ran from the stage. Lyons went after her. While she was out of the room, other students began to whisper. “She’s such a great singer,” one said. “I was so nervous, too,” said another. When the student came back in, the group gathered around her, embracing her and sharing words of encouragement. With the motivation from her friends, the girl got up and sang her song again—fantastically. Lyons said she feels privileged to be that shoulder for so many students struggling with a piece or something outside of theatre. “Moments like you saw today where a student feels like something is out of reach for them […] giving them the tools to be able to hit that note and do it again, and again, and again. I get a lot of joy from instilling real tools they can use.”

Broadway Beginnings started with seven students. Now, the program sees about 60 students weekly for private lessons in singing and acting, an Acting Lab, and Advanced Homies, a collaboration with Theatre Winter Haven. “Along with the day-to-day programming and lessons that I offer, it’s also really important to me that I’m using Broadway Beginnings as a way to make these students’ dreams feel a little more real,” she said. In addition to private lessons and group acting classes, Lyons brings down friends from Broadway for workshops.

“It’s quite breathtaking how much some of them grow,” Lyons said of her students. “You get these little signs along the way. Maybe they stop playing with their hands so much, they stop fixing their hair all the time.”

One 15-year-old Broadway Beginnings student, Myleigh Vignetti, started theatre two years ago. “I’m going to be honest; I am not the strongest singer. Broadway Beginnings has made me feel so much more confident and feel safer to express myself and to not be so scared to commit to doing what I love,” Vignetti said. “I’m passionate about it because there’s nothing really like performing live and letting the audience feel your joy for what you are doing.”

“I think programs like this are important because students need places to feel safe and to feel seen,” Lyons said. “The friendships and connections they start to make and the fun they have start to show through outside of here. [...] Also, the heart side of that, where they feel, for whatever reason, that something’s out of reach, but we’re able to take the time and the attention needed to walk them closer to that goal. A lot of times, it’s instilling that trust – the trust in myself, the other students, the community, and in turn, in themselves.”

Broadway Beginnings hosts a four-day musical theatre intensive in New York City each summer called ‘On Broadway.’ The program is led by principal members of the Broadway community and is open to students nationwide. Students get to experience two Broadway shows, dinners, 25 hours of small group Broadway workshops, and more.

This year, Broadway Beginnings will offer three Musical Theatre Summer Camp sessions. Sessions one and two will include masterclasses in singing, dancing, and acting. The camps will also feature virtual workshops and Q&A sessions with Broadway directors, choreographers, and actors, culminating in a showcase-style musical theatre performance featuring all students. The third session will have students sing, dance, and act in a safe and encouraging environment. The week will conclude with a showcase-style musical performance featuring all students.

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Photography by Tara Crutchfield


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