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 masterclasses, 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 on 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.