In the Loop
General News : Jan 28, 2020

The Meaning Behind A Master Class

Head of the UF Musical Theatre program and students reflect on their opportunities to listen and learn from living legends in 2019.


Wake up. Go to class. Attend rehearsal. Go to sleep. Repeat.

Wake up. Go to class. Attend rehearsal. Go to sleep. Repeat.

Wake up. Go to a master class?

At the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance, the typical schedule for a musical theatre student can look like something like that thanks to unique opportunities orchestrated by head of the program Tony Mata. 

Over the years, musical theatre students have learned and listened from living legends in the industry, most recently from Kristen Chenoweth and Joel Grey in 2019. Mata finds that intimate sessions are eye-opening for many students, as they often reinforce the lessons being taught in classrooms and rehearsals while also humanizing the performers and their successes.

“When you work with these people, just to be in the room with them is such a privilege because you pick up so much and you learn so much by watching,” Mata said. “An observership, a master class, anything of that nature has a great impact on your life.” 

His passion for these master classes and determination to continue facilitating them stem from his own influential experiences that were afforded to him as a student. 

In May, Chenoweth visited UF for a night of spellbinding performances cushioned by heartwarming anecdotes at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Musical theatre students joined her on stage to sing during the latter portion of the show. 

Senior BFA musical theatre student Cassidy Egidi was part of that group of performers. 

“Singing with her was a moment I will never forget,” she said. “Being a little lady myself, I was amazed at her wonderful gift and the presence and joy she put into the work.” 

These master classes vary in format.  Chenoweth’s class took the shape of a talkback after her show. Chenoweth’s sincerity on the difficult road towards success—one that still features rejection—left a lasting impression on Egidi, who considers the Broadway star one of her greatest inspirations. 

“In all of her shows, she makes a point to give young artists in the area the chance to come up on stage with her and share their gift,” Egidi said. “She was among the crowd once upon a time and this is her way of giving back to those who helped spark her passion.”

In November, Joel Grey visited UF to accept the Linda Wilson Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Theatre. 

“How many times are you going to get Glinda and The Wizard in the same year?” Mata joked, referencing Chenoweth’s and Grey’s award-winning performances as part of the original Broadway cast of Wicked

As part of receiving this award, Grey was asked to provide a masterclass for the students, who were able to ask the prolific performer about his decades-spanning career and even perform and receive feedback from him.

Matt Guernier, a junior BFA musical theatre student, attended the master class and felt most impacted by learning firsthand how a true professional goes about conducting their craft.

“It provides a necessary point of contact to immediate professional market,” he said. “Whether it’s the opportunity to meet with Joel or sing with Kristen, we’re learning by doing. I think we’re very lucky because I don’t think a lot of institutions have this.”

This masterclass was exceptionally special, as members of the greater Gainesville community were invited to attend, including students from the P.K. Yonge performing arts program.

“Anytime you're exposed to great people who do great art, it's a win-win for everyone,” Mata said prior to the master class. “I’m really excited for P.K. Yonge because I think that will have a great impact on their life as young high school kids."

Mata hopes to continue to provide these experiences to future generations of student performers and expose them to the very best with the help of donors like Linda Wilson.

“If it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t be having all of this,” Mata said. “She was generous enough to give us this gift to be able to bring in people like this. It’s always important to thank our donors because without them, we wouldn’t be able to do this kind of work.” 

The Linda Wilson Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Theatre was established by the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance to honor preeminent theatre artists. The award is made possible through an endowment from University of Florida alumni George and Linda Wilson. The endowment supports the ceremony, a master class giving students the opportunity to engage with and learn from the honoree, and scholarships for students in the UF School of Theatre and Dance.