The Best Summer Musical Theatre Programs for High School Students

For talented teens with dreams of starring in a hit Broadway musical, high school can be a time of excitement and frustration. 

You know what you want to do with your life, but you can’t get started on it until you finally leave high school and enter a college musical theater program. 

To be sure, suffering can make for great art. But there’s no need for high school students to suffer. 

Many of the most respected schools in the country offer summer programs, giving them some of the benefits of a college musical theater program.

More than a mere summer camp, these programs range from one to five weeks and put students through the paces of a real college musical theater experience. 

Taught by the school’s faculty and by visiting guests, these programs give students everything they need to advance their careers. 

In these programs, students get a chance to not only hone their skills but also work closely with others just as passionate about their art. 

They learn how to develop their singing and acting techniques and how to collaborate with other performers. More importantly, they get a taste of the expectations placed on them in college, helping them better understand their plans.

Each of the offerings on this list can change a lazy summer into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Open Jar Institute (New York, NY)

For high schoolers with big Broadway dreams, there’s no better choice than the Open Jar Institute.

Dedicated to training the next generation of Broadway actors, the Open Jar Institute was founded in 2003. 

Its current Board of Directors includes Tony winners such as Into the Woods star Joanna Gleason and Susan Stroman of The Producers.

Each summer, Open Jar offers two week-long sessions for high school students. In these sessions, students work under Broadway professionals, learning the fundamentals of acting, singing, dance, and auditions.

Teachers include actors, choreographers, casting directors, and agents. 

This more comprehensive range gives students a taste of the entire Broadway experience. Even better, they get to see their lessons in action by attending three Broadway shows as part of the experience.

ArtsBridge Summer Musical Theatre (Berea, OH)

Located in the center of Ohio, ArtsBridge Summer Musical Theater covers the full range of talents needed for high school students to enter a college theater program. 

Limited only to rising high school seniors, the program helps students find the right college program for them and prepares them for the audition process.

Classes include a singing technique course, in which students learn how to interpret songs as they perform them. 

Taught by professional actor Gary Kline, the course involves both individual study and group work. Through vocal exercises and story-telling techniques, Kline equips students with the skills needed to make characters come alive in their songs.

Julie Boyd teaches the audition techniques program, which gives students the confidence needed for one of the most common, yet challenging, parts of the acting life.

Working off monologues students memorize in preparation for the course, Boyd emphasizes creativity and play in the audition process.

Rider University Musical Theatre Institute (Lawrenceville, NJ)

Rider University
David Keddie, North Hall at Rider University, CC BY-SA 4.0

On the campus of New Jersey’s Rider University, the Musical Theater Institute gives high schoolers a real college experience. Taught by Rider’s theater faculty, the summer program for high schoolers provides training from experts who have first-hand experience working on stage and screen.

Modeled after professional conservatories, Rider’s classes range from scene studies, in which students workshop their monologues, to dance practices. 

No matter which class they choose, students perform in one of two live showcases, giving them a chance to show off their new skills for family members and college recruiters.

Of special note are the courses designed to help students audition and apply for college theater programs. 

These classes help students find the right program for them and provide the confidence needed to make a good showing. For graduates who attend Rider, the program offers a $2,000 scholarship.

This scholarship is of particular benefit for those from underprivileged backgrounds, as Rider prioritizes breaking down barriers and promoting diversity.

Boston Conservatory at Berklee Musical Theater Acting Intensive (Boston, MA)

Boston Conservatory
Jim.henderson, Boston Conservatory, CC BY-SA 4.0

Berklee’s Boston Conservatory needs no introduction. One of the nation’s oldest and most respected music schools, Berklee has a reputation for excellence that extends to every aspect of the institution, including its summer programs.

This commitment to excellence begins with Laurie Marie Duncan, leader of the Musical Theater Acting Intensive at Berklee. 

A stage veteran with over fifteen years of experience, Duncan has performed in Broadway productions of The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and more.

Designed for artists ranging from 15 to 25, the program follows the model established by Boston Conservatory’s musical theater program. 

Students work on everything from Shakespeare to pop and rock vocal techniques, covering the full range of skills needed to succeed in the competitive world of musical theater.

For those who want the full complement of skills, they can enhance their experience by also taking the Musical Theater Dance Intensive and the Vocal/Choral Intensive. 

Designed in collaboration with the Musical Theater Acting Intensive, these programs work together to cover the full range of possibilities.

Stagedoor Manor (Loch Sheldrake, NY)

One of the most influential acting training programs in the world, Stagedoor Manor has been the starting point for thousands of young actors. Past attendees include noted film and stage actors such as Natalie Portman, Robert Downey Jr., and Michael Ian Black.

Numerous theater spaces fill Stagedoor’s campus, including the 250-seat Jack Romano Playhouse and the 350-seat Carl and Elsie Samuelson Theater.

Stagedoor holds three summer camp sessions every year, each of which spans three weeks. Students range in age from ten to eighteen and work with highly-trained counselors to create full-featured productions. 

Each session creates nine musicals, five plays, and several other one-acts and cabaret performances.

Past shows have run the gamut from Disney’s High School Musical and The Producers to Miss Saigon and Carrie.

AMDA Summer Conservatory (New York, NY)

The AMDA High School Conservatory is the premier acting school for high school students, with campuses in both entertainment hot spots of New York and Los Angeles.

AMDA’s Summer Conservatory is a two-week boarding-school program that gives future musical theater stars conservatory-style experience, preparing them for college programs.

With an emphasis on collaboration, the conservatory brings together the best high school performers to hone their skills together, building toward a fully-featured performance at the end of the camp.

Mixing course work with one-on-one training, AMDA connects high schoolers with Broadway directors and performers. 

In addition to gaining the essential skills necessary for a career in musical theater, the summer conservatory also allows graduates to audition for further AMDA programs, including both AMDA colleges.

Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama Summer Pre-College (Pittsburgh, PA)

As its name suggests, the Summer Pre-College program at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama exists to prepare high schoolers for an intensive college theater program. 

Adapting the main school’s conservatory model, the summer camp program turns it into a fully featured training experience.

With an average student size of between ten and twelve students, the programs spans from an audition and interview process to in-class collaborations to finally mounting a performance. At each step, students work closely alongside Carnegie Mellon University faculty members.

Despite the importance of each aspect of the process, the musical theater track focuses on the most daunting part of the performance: the audition. The program equips students with a complete set of monologues and songs to use in their auditions, certain to meet every need.

Emerson Musical Theatre Studio (Boston, MA)

As part of Boston’s Emerson College, the Musical Theatre Studio gives students both experience in a college program and college credit, all in five weeks. 

The Studio serves as a sampler of Emerson’s Musical Theater program, adapting the Emerson BFA track to a smaller scale.

Unlike many other musical theater summer programs, the emphasis on Emerson is not on product, but on process

Instead of focusing on mounting a production at the end of the program, students learn the fundamentals of performance. This attention to nuance creates students’ confidence in their abilities, a quality necessary for successful auditions.

Rising seniors have the opportunity to bring their learning immediately into the real world, with the chance to audition directly for Emerson. 

University of Michigan MPulse Musical Theatre Workshop (Ann Arbor, MI)

University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance
Michael Barera, University of Michigan August 2013 056 (Earl V. Moore Building), CC BY-SA 4.0

As part of one of the country’s best state schools, the MPulse Musical Theatre Workshop at the University of Michigan brings students to the school’s Ann Arbor campus for a three-week intensive program.

Operated by Department of Musical Theatre chair Brent Wanger, the program brings all of the benefits of the school’s renowned offerings.

Taught by faculty members from the U of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre, the program runs the gamut from song interpretation to dance styles to contemporary Broadway trends. 

In some cases, graduates will be invited to audition for future acceptance into U of Michigan’s Musical Theatre program.

UNCSA Drama Summer Intensive (Winston-Salem, NC)

One of the country’s finest art schools, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts has a long record of training actors and directors on the stage and screen. Some of those distinguished alumni join the school’s experienced faculty to teach the next generation of acting professionals.

With an emphasis on the creative process, the school’s Drama Summer Intensive builds the confidence and abilities of rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors. 

Although the school requires no previous experience, it is an intensive program that demands its participants’ full commitment. Those on the musical theater track take private singing lessons and practice their on-camera techniques. They also collaborate with their peers, doing ensemble work and practicing their group movements.

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