A wish come true: BDC alum lands dream job in ALADDIN tour

Carissa Fiorillo is living her dream—touring the country in Disney’s ALADDIN, the musical. Fiorillo’s dream of pursuing musical theater started at a young age where her dance teacher back home in Tampa was a former Broadway performer. After high school, Fiorillo made the move to NYC to attend AMDA (The American Musical and Dramatic Academy). “In that first year and a half I really focused on my acting and singing, so my dancing took a bit of a back seat,” explains Fiorillo. “I auditioned for Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester so I could refocus my energy on dancing and use the tools I had learned at AMDA to dive into the musical theater world.”

BDC’s Professional Semester (Pro Sem) was the stepping stone that turned Fiorillo’s dream into a reality. “I loved the movie ‘Center Stage’ and used to daydream about what it was like to be a dancer in New York,” recalls Fiorillo. “The program was not only technically challenging and incredibly informative, but you are in the presence of such a supportive, beautiful group of dancers wanting to take in as much as possible. It’s inspiring and empowering.”

The Pro Sem dancers took 2-3 classes each day on top of workshops, mock auditions, and seminars. Fiorillo also had to juggle her survival job on the weekends. But the schedule wasn’t the most challenging part for her. “I was terrified to step out of my comfort zone,” she remembers. “In the classes you take as a Pro Sem, you’ll probably do some of the most free, safe, and open dancing of your life. I wish I had used that supportive environment to take more street styles.”

In addition to technique classes, vocal seminars, and master classes, the 4-month intensive also includes mock auditions to help prepare dancers for the “big leagues.” “The mock auditions were a great time to get instant feedback from a panel of industry experts like choreographers, casting directors, and agents,” explains Fiorillo. “You certainly don’t get that kind of honest criticism and understanding in the real world! So, having experienced it in Pro Sem, I feel more confident in how I present myself.”

Fiorillo recommends the Professional Semester program to aspiring dancers just out of high school or college and ready to make the move to New York City. “BDC’s Pro Sem is such a safe haven in Manhattan,” she says. “You’re challenged every single day—sometimes multiple times a day—but the connections you make with your fellow dancers, teachers, and mentors will support you during the program and long after. Pro Sem is probably one of the smartest training programs I’ve encountered. I owe so much of my career to my experience as a Pro Sem.”

After her semester ended, Fiorillo danced as a Radio City Rockette®, for regional and international theaters, and in the national tours of GUYS AND DOLLS and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY—All of which, for Fiorillo, were dreams come true. “I’m a very determined woman,” laughs Fiorillo. “When I have a dream, I won’t stop until I realize it.” ALADDIN was another such dream. “My journey with ALADDIN was very long,” she emphasizes. Fiorillo first began auditioning for the show when it opened on Broadway in 2011. “I would go to every Equity Chorus Call. I just kept going in,” she recalls. “Each time I would get further and further till the end—dancing and singing and dancing and singing again, but I never got the phone call.”

Back in August, the casting director called Fiorillo’s agent to ask if she was available to fill an open position in the national tour. “Of course, I said yes,” she says. “But I didn’t get my hopes up. This had happened to me many times before and I’d been disappointed. I felt I needed to protect myself from getting hurt again.” So, to distract her from her nerves, Fiorillo went about her day—to work, to dance class, and to a voice lesson. As she was walking home from the subway, her agent called…She got the job! And—she would join the tour in just three days. “I immediately Facetimed my mom and my fiancé. I was so happy!” she remembers with a big smile. “And then I really had to get to work packing and getting my life together before I left town.”

Fiorillo flew to Washington, D.C. to join the company’s residency at The Kennedy Center. “This was my first experience coming into a company that had already been established. It was a major learning experience.” In a big rehearsal space on the top floor of the theater, Fiorillo learned the entire show in just 10 hours. “It was challenging to rehearse with just me and our dance captains—without actually feeling and seeing the cast and traffic and sets around me.” Next, Fiorillo had an early put-in rehearsal since she had learned the show so quickly. “The entire cast is called on their day off,” she explains. “You run through the entire show. They’re all in their street clothes but you are in costume going through every quick change and rehearsing your traffic backstage.” And for the next week and a half, Fiorillo watched the show from the audience and the wings before her opening night on August 29th.

“Coming into the company, I wanted so much to be validated—both professionally and socially,” Fiorillo admits. “But I realized that I didn’t really need that external validation because I felt so proud of myself internally. It was weird to be the ‘new kid’ at first, but you find your way and suddenly you’re part of the family.”

As if the show itself weren’t a dream enough already, Fiorillo really lucked out on finishing these last few months of the tour route. “I get to be in Tampa, Florida—my hometown—for three weeks over Christmas and New Year’s,” she says, beaming. “I’m beyond ecstatic to bring this incredible show to my family and friends. It’ll be a very special experience.”

For all the highs of being a professional performer, there are certainly lows along the journey—being away from your loved ones, getting cut at auditions, and working a few survival jobs to make ends meet. “The first thing I tell anyone is that if there’s any other career that calls to your soul, do that!” Fiorillo says with brutal honesty. This job is so tough and if you aren’t one trillion percent invested, it can break you. “Pro Sem taught me all the skills and technique and tips to be successful in this business. But most importantly, I learned how important it is to have a support system and to ask for help when you need it,” she explains. “Find people you look up to and tell them. Ask them about their journey, what coaches they study with, what classes they take, and how they get through from one audition to the next. Just start an open conversation. It’s so important to share our stories and connect with one another. We’re all in this together!”


BDC has three more stops on the Professional Semester Audition Tour:

Los Angeles, CA – February 22nd
Las Vegas, NV – February 23rd
Chicago, IL – March 1st

To register for an audition or learn more about the Professional Semester, visit http://www.broadwaydancecenter.com.

To keep up with Carissa Fiorillo, follow her on Instagram @carissafiorillo.

BDC alum lands role in new WEST SIDE STORY film

Daniel Patrick Russell had the performer’s gene in his blood from the day he was born. His mother was a ballerina and his father a performer as well. “I grew up in Australia surrounded by art. I don’t remember a time where dance wasn’t part of my life.” When he was twelve, he was cast as Billy in the Melbourne production of the Broadway musical, Billy Elliot. He then got the chance to perform the role in the North American national tour. “My dad is from the United States and, years ago, performed West Side Story at the State Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio,” says Russell. “I got to perform on that same stage when I was on tour. That was really special.” Little did Russell know that West Side Story would become a significant part of his performing career, as well. 

BILLY ELLIOT National Tour – Kyle Froman photography

After tour, Russell returned back to Australia and continued his training. Upon graduating high school, he received a prestigious dance scholarship to study anywhere in the world. Russell applied and was accepted to Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester in the summer of 2015. “Just prior to coming to NYC, I was working as a contemporary dancer. When I came to BDC, I wanted to eat it all up and take from every teacher I could—in every style of dance. I couldn’t get enough!”

That intense and diverse training has since served him well throughout his career. After Professional Semester, he performed in West Side Story at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida. “I had the opportunity to perform the original Jerome Robbins choreography and it was incredible,” he remembers. That was just the start of Russell’s journey with WEST SIDE STORY. He went on to join the world tour as Baby John for 15 months. “Touring was a neat experience to see how the musical connected with different audiences from so many different countries. In Dublin, it felt like we were part of a rock concert! This show resonates with people all over the planet, regardless of language or cultural differences,” he explains.  “It’s an immense piece of art and a huge honor to share that on stage every night.”

WEST SIDE STORY International Tour – Zheng Tianran photography

More recently, Russell wrapped yet another production of West Side Story…this time, the highly anticipated film remake, set to come out in theaters in December 2020. “I can’t give too much away,” admits Russell, who just finished filming in September. “Justin Peck’s choreography is reimagined and genius. The director, Steven Spielberg, is incredibly gifted, generous, and giving. The entire creative team cultivated such an incredible energy on set that allowed the cast and crew to do our best work.” 

“The entire project was a dream,” Russell says smiling. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging or exhausting at times.” Hours on a film set can start early in the morning and go long into the night. “When you do a show on stage, everything is chronological,” explains Russell. “But in film, you jump around the story a lot and have to make sure your character is present and truthful in each moment.”

“The cast was incredibly close and inclusive,” adds Russell. “You wouldn’t know that when the cameras came on because we had to be true to the story – the two opposing gangs: the Jets versus the Sharks. But when the crew yelled ‘cut,’ we were like a big family.”

The original production of West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957. The Oscar-winning movie premiered four years later in 1961. The show had four Broadway revivals (soon to be five) and countless tours and regional productions produced around the world. The new film will be released over sixty years after the show’s original inception. Clearly, West Side Story is a story that continues to resonate with audiences. “The themes are still so relevant,” explains Russell. “It’s a masterpiece. At heart, it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story of love, conflict, family, betrayal, unity, and hope is universal.

Filming wrapped in September 2019 and now we anxiously await what will no doubt be a spectacular film. So, what’s next for Russell in the meantime? “I’m going on vacation to Italy!” he tells us. “I’d like to take a moment to show my gratitude for BDC. Since I moved to NYC, many opportunities have come my way thanks to BDC, and for that I am very thankful.” 

Marnya Rothe photography

Student Profile: Stephanie Brooks – Apassionata

Not Your Typical Tour
Apassionata, Dance Captain, Stephanie Brooks (Professional Semester Alum.)

“APASSIONATA has been Europe’s most popular live arena shows for
nearly a decade, thrilling more than five million fans across 15 countries with a breathtaking display of the beauty and the bond between horse and rider, man’s strongest and most trusted animal.” – Apassionata.com

Audition
During my final mock audition in BDC’s professional semester, I received representation from McDonalds Selsnicks and Associates (MSA). One of the benefits of having an agent is that sometimes they have closed calls with just their clients, if their choreographer was booked for the job. When MSA sent out the breakdown for a horse show audition, I didn’t know what to expect. However, I was excited when I saw that Lorin Latarro was choreographing; I loved her choreography in The Musical Theatre Performance Project last year. The audition combination had a lot of personality, was technically challenging, and stylistic. After cuts were made, she paired us up for partnering. I was overjoyed when I received the call that I booked the job and even more so when I found out a fellow colleague of mine was going to do it with me. (Go Wildcats!!!!)

Rehearsal
We rehearsed in NYC and learned a lot of material quickly, keeping in mind that a lot would change once we actually got to the arena. Our first stop was Kentucky. Technical rehearsal consisted of long days in the dark cold arena. These rehearsals involve a lot of hurry up and wait, but I found that during the waiting is when you can learn the most if you stay engaged. It was such a privilege to watch Ken Billington (96+ Broadway Shows) do the lighting design and learn from Scott Farris (dir. “Chicago” and “Walking with Dinosaurs”) as he brought together American theater and European Equestrian riders. Lorin Latarro (Currently choreographing “Scandalous” set to hit Broadway this October) pulled from her diverse performance background and allowed us to collaborate on certain parts. It was a very artistically fulfilling process.

Overcoming Obstacles
Dancing in sand, running with flags and fire torches was strenuous on our bodies. For body maintenance, I did some form of Pilates, Yoga, and rolled out my muscles with a tennis ball. We had to be flexible and try to figure out how to adapt the choreography in the sand, and how not to spook the horses or get spooked by them. During rehearsals you could hear Portuguese, French, German, Ukrainian, Icelandic, and English being bantered across the gigantic arena. After one of the first runs of the show, the horse choreographer called everyone together and our choreographer jokingly said it looked like a medieval conference. Picture 40+ horses and riders gathered together speaking different languages and four American dancers and a choreographer standing in a giant sand box. It was a surreal experience.

Stepping Up
As Dance Captain, my responsibilities were to run any extra rehearsals, communicate with the production team, maintain the artistic integrity of the choreography and spacing, make sure that the dancers safety and needs were met, and promote team unity. This production was a learning process for all of us. Most of our stage crew came from the rock concert world and we had to share with them certain theater protocols and vice versa. The communication between the tech crew, dancers and riders was extremely important, because the horses weren’t always predicable. We couldn’t depend on entering or exiting on a musical cue and it forced us to be quick on our feet, listen and watch each other. We developed physical and verbal cues and had to go with whatever happened in the moment.

Unique Atmosphere
Some of the perks of this job were that we had amazing caterers who traveled with us, we learned how to ride horses, picked up a little bit of French, Icelandic, and Portuguese, and got to work with and meet incredible people.

Unexpected Close
Due to the financial crisis in Europe, Apassionata’s USA tour came to an end early (It is still running in several countries in Europe). We were given less than 24 hours notice that we were going back to NYC and the rest of the tour was cancelled. Of course, we were sad and it’s always a little unnerving to be without a steady job, but nothing in this business is guaranteed. That’s why it’s important to save when you are doing a show, so that during the slow times you can continue to train and be ready for the next opportunity. I learned a lot from Apassionata and am looking forward to what the future holds.

Gangnam Style

Not Your Typical Tour
Apassionata, Dance Captain, Stephanie Brooks (Professional Semester Alum.)

“APASSIONATA has been Europe’s most popular live arena shows for
nearly a decade, thrilling more than five million fans across 15 countries with a breathtaking display of the beauty and the bond between horse and rider, man’s strongest and most trusted animal.” – Apassionata.com

Audition
During my final mock audition in BDC’s professional semester, I received representation from McDonalds Selsnicks and Associates (MSA). One of the benefits of having an agent is that sometimes they have closed calls with just their clients, if their choreographer was booked for the job. When MSA sent out the breakdown for a horse show audition, I didn’t know what to expect. However, I was excited when I saw that Lorin Latarro was choreographing; I loved her choreography in The Musical Theatre Performance Project last year. The audition combination had a lot of personality, was technically challenging, and stylistic. After cuts were made, she paired us up for partnering. I was overjoyed when I received the call that I booked the job and even more so when I found out a fellow colleague of mine was going to do it with me. (Go Wildcats!!!!)

Rehearsal
We rehearsed in NYC and learned a lot of material quickly, keeping in mind that a lot would change once we actually got to the arena. Our first stop was Kentucky. Technical rehearsal consisted of long days in the dark cold arena. These rehearsals involve a lot of hurry up and wait, but I found that during the waiting is when you can learn the most if you stay engaged. It was such a privilege to watch Ken Billington (96+ Broadway Shows) do the lighting design and learn from Scott Farris (dir. “Chicago” and “Walking with Dinosaurs”) as he brought together American theater and European Equestrian riders. Lorin Latarro (Currently choreographing “Scandalous” set to hit Broadway this October) pulled from her diverse performance background and allowed us to collaborate on certain parts. It was a very artistically fulfilling process.

Overcoming Obstacles
Dancing in sand, running with flags and fire torches was strenuous on our bodies. For body maintenance, I did some form of Pilates, Yoga, and rolled out my muscles with a tennis ball. We had to be flexible and try to figure out how to adapt the choreography in the sand, and how not to spook the horses or get spooked by them. During rehearsals you could hear Portuguese, French, German, Ukrainian, Icelandic, and English being bantered across the gigantic arena. After one of the first runs of the show, the horse choreographer called everyone together and our choreographer jokingly said it looked like a medieval conference. Picture 40+ horses and riders gathered together speaking different languages and four American dancers and a choreographer standing in a giant sand box. It was a surreal experience.

Stepping Up
As Dance Captain, my responsibilities were to run any extra rehearsals, communicate with the production team, maintain the artistic integrity of the choreography and spacing, make sure that the dancers safety and needs were met, and promote team unity. This production was a learning process for all of us. Most of our stage crew came from the rock concert world and we had to share with them certain theater protocols and vice versa. The communication between the tech crew, dancers and riders was extremely important, because the horses weren’t always predicable. We couldn’t depend on entering or exiting on a musical cue and it forced us to be quick on our feet, listen and watch each other. We developed physical and verbal cues and had to go with whatever happened in the moment.

Unique Atmosphere
Some of the perks of this job were that we had amazing caterers who traveled with us, we learned how to ride horses, picked up a little bit of French, Icelandic, and Portuguese, and got to work with and meet incredible people.

Unexpected Close
Due to the financial crisis in Europe, Apassionata’s USA tour came to an end early (It is still running in several countries in Europe). We were given less than 24 hours notice that we were going back to NYC and the rest of the tour was cancelled. Of course, we were sad and it’s always a little unnerving to be without a steady job, but nothing in this business is guaranteed. That’s why it’s important to save when you are doing a show, so that during the slow times you can continue to train and be ready for the next opportunity. I learned a lot from Apassionata and am looking forward to what the future holds.