8 Great Performance Tour Cities for Student Groups
Why limit your musicians to dingy practice space when you can expose them to some California sunshine? Why limit your actors’ audience to parents and faculty when they can act before thousands of Walt Disney World guests? Performing arts trips are an excellent way to expose your students to a wider audience and the musical cultures of America’s cities. Combining great venues, workshop opportunities and rich cultural heritage, these eight locations are superior options for your next performance arts tour.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The birthplace of jazz and zydeco thrives on visiting musicians who can walk the same streets as Louis Armstrong, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. Students can visit concert halls from the 18th century and witness contemporary artists continue to innovate “America’s Art Form” on French-influenced boulevards. Groups are able to play in venerated locations such as St. Louis Cathedral, Mardi Gras World and Houmas House Plantation, a 1775 countryside mansion that will erect a stage on its front lawn. Smaller ensembles can play for the public on the famous Newman Bandstand in Audubon Park, a 350-acre public space filled with pavilions for lunches.
Every New Orleans music tour requires a visit to Preservation Hall, a 1750 aristocratic residence converted into a performance space. Your group can see exceptionally talented jazz combos seven nights a week and might even catch a set from the famed house band. Directors who wish to integrate lessons or clinics into their trip should consider Tulane University’s Newcomb Department of Music, which offers workshops for bands, orchestras and gospel choirs. Bands should also visit the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center, a host for R&B, blues and African drum music festivals.
Have your students ever imagined marching through Fantasyland in front of Cinderella Castle? That dream can be realized on a visit to Orlando—the “Theme Park Capital of the World.” The city’s theme 19 parks welcome hundreds of student groups every week, and the Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World offer an assortment of school options. Students can perform in Disney World’s Tomorrowland or Animal Kingdom and participate in a Jazz It Up workshop, where a Disney clinician conducts a rehearsal and recording session of classic Disney selections done in a jazz style. Vocal groups can join Disney “cast members” onstage to sing Frozen musical numbers in front of guests, and marching bands have the opportunity to join the Festival of Fantasy Parade down Main Street U.S.A.
In nearby Universal Studios, students can enroll in the Music and the Art of Foley workshop. Participants will compose scores or choral arrangements for movie scenes and can replicate sound effects from classic films like Jurassic Park. Universal’s STARS Stage Performance Program lets bands play on the Universal CityWalk or Plaza Stage, and the resort’s Dance is Universal workshop pairs students with professional choreographers. Offering an aquatic backdrop, SeaWorld Orlando’s SoundWaves program consists of pop-up stages throughout the park. Groups can perform in front of penguins and dolphins, and many packages grant free time for thrilling attractions like the Mako and Kraken roller coasters.
Your students’ voices will carry in the Mile-High City, where a booming technology sector has spurred an arts funding flood. This resource influx resulted in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts—a four-block complex with 10 stages and over 10,000 seats. You can rehearse in the intimate Conservatory Theatre or cavernous Seawell Grand Ballroom, while resident set designers and sound engineers can provide insight into the production process. The Center is also home to the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, which hosts reduced-rate dress rehearsals for Puccini and Donizetti dramas. Directors are on-hand to explain opera history, the folkloric background of Puccini’s librettos and basic Italian terminology. Students with further opera interest should consider the company’s backstage workshop, where actors teach basic fight choreography and makeup application.
Groups seeking an outdoor performance should venture into the foothills to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, known for its perfect acoustics and singular Rocky Mountain setting. Every style from rock to classical is represented every summer, and the visitor center includes galleries that profile the bowl’s thousands of concerts.
“Music City” has more bands and music venues per capita than any other in America, and its central location makes it an excellent touring option. Though country remains king, Nashville also has thriving rock, R&B and hip hop communities, and the city’s resident songwriters, producers and record executives are willing to share their knowledge with young musicians.
Groups can participate in a rigorous clinic at Vanderbilt University’s prestigious Blair School of Music, which specializes in county performance in addition to classical and vocal. Many of the program’s graduates are members of the Nashville Symphony, which you can hear at the neoclassical Schermenhorn Symphony Center. Further explore Tennessee’s country heritage at Ryman Auditorium, a former church and original home of the Grand Ole Opry, and the Country Music Hall of Fame, which houses instruments and gold records belonging to Johnny Cash and Carrie Underwood. Students can experience a show or even play for themselves at the 4,000-seat Grand Ole Opry House, where Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley have taken the stage. Students interested in contemporary Nashville sounds should consider a visit to Jack White’s Third Man Records, the creative hub for the White Stripes frontman. The space includes an instrument store and label offices, and your students can record with a professional sound technician in a vintage-inspired studio.
The “Live Entertainment Capital of the World” welcomes students from across the nation with the Branson On Stage Live! program. Bands and theater troupes are assigned a performance coordinator who organizes workshops and rehearsal time with local showbiz professionals. Groups then play for paying audiences at iconic venues like the Starlight Theatre and Clay Cooper’s Country Express, where tenured musicians and dancers cheer them on. Students can also catch a raucous dinner theater show at Dixie Stampede or embark on the Showboat Branson Belle, a cruise complete with a three-course meal and Broadway-style musical numbers.
Popular crooner Andy Williams opened the Moon River Performing Arts Center and Theatre in 1992, and the complex welcomes iconic artists like Loretta Lynn and features open rehearsal space for students. Choral conductors who want a competitive atmosphere should consider the Music Summit Choir Festival, held annually at Silver Dollar City. Middle and high school students entertain park guests at the Riverfront Playhouse and receive scores from judges. After their set, students have time to ride the WildFire roller coaster and American Plunge flume ride.
Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Nestled below the Great Smoky Mountains, these cities claim a rich country and folk music heritage. Since Dolly Parton established her eponymous Dollywood theme park and Dixie Stampede Theater 30 years ago, the number of live music venues in the area has swelled. Students can boogie to an Elvis impersonator at the Memories Theatre, hear hard-rocking Garth Brooks covers at the Smoky Mountain Opry and witness a honky-tonk revue at Country Tonite, which grants a backstage tour and Q&A with the cast. In nearby Knoxville, the University of Tennessee School of Music offers clinics and opportunities to play in the Sandra Powell Recital Hall.
Your band can entertain Dollywood attendees when it performs in the park’s main plaza. Students receive a meal voucher, rehearsal time and an on-stage clinic with a festival technician. After playing for park guests, your group can experience the rest of Dollywood’s thrills, including the Wild Eagle roller coaster and River Battle, an interactive splash battle where riders attempt to soak opposing boats. Schools visiting in May can indulge in the Barbecue and Bluegrass Festival, which books nationally-renowned bluegrass artists and serves savory Tennessee barbecue.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
This seaside oasis is a major hub for thespians as well as vacationers. The Calvin Gilmore Theater, home to the Carolina Opry, facilitates educational workshops for drama groups, and your young performers can meet the professional dancers and singers who work there. The facility also offers a Professionalism 101 class for students who wish to pursue theater as a career. Actors discuss auditions, unions and relationship development in show business, and they will provide a behind-the-scenes tour of the building’s dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces.
Myrtle Beach also boasts numerous venues that welcome student performers. The House of Blues main stage and Palace Theater allow your students to play before crowds of hundreds and tune up with a professional grade sound system. If your group prefers an audience chair instead of the spotlight, they can cheer for jousting knights at Medieval Times, giggle at comedians at the Carolina Improv Company or experience a New York-caliber musical at the Broadway on the Beach facility.
Los Angeles, California
The entertainment industry epicenter, Los Angeles has welcomed actors and artists for generations. Iconic movie backlots, improv troupes and recording studios call the City of Angels home, and students can soak in the glamor for themselves. Aspiring dancers should beeline to the Millennium Dance Complex, the studio that’s collaborated with Britney Spears, Usher and Justin Timberlake. Professional choreographers teach hip-hop, jazz and classical ballet, and working dancers can take questions about the industry. Bands have the opportunity to tour the Hollywood Bowl and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (both home to the Los Angeles Symphonic Orchestra) and perform onstage at Universal Studios Hollywood or Disneyland in Anaheim, where they can meet the theme parks’ house bands.
Groups should also pay a visit to USC’s Thornton School of Music, which counts Dr. Dre as a patron and offers programs in film and TV scoring. Students can meet composers and learn about career trajectories while touring an editing suite. Since LA is synonymous with film production, aspiring actors should pay a visit to the CBS, NBCUniversal or Warner Bros. studio lots in the San Fernando Valley. The Warner Bros. Studio Tour will guide students through The Big Bang Theory and Ellen DeGeneres Show sets, and you might even spot a movie star cruising down the Ventura Freeway.