On his last winter break as a student at the University of Michigan, LEAD Scholar Nick Daly found himself in Norwalk, Connecticut, climbing ropes alongside some of the nation’s most gifted musical theatre students. This was just part of their daily 45-minute cardio routine, which commenced 10-hour days of performer training under the direction of some of Broadway’s most brilliant creatives.
The senior, a music theatre major at the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance (SMTD), was one of just 48 students admitted into Class 5 of the LINK Program hosted by the Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts. Auditions for the two-week performance training camp for Broadway, film, and television students are by nomination only.
Following his audition, Daly was accepted as one of 16 students in the actor/singer cohort, joining peers from programs at universities like Boston Conservatory, Carnegie Mellon, Texas State, Penn State, and Howard. Each cohort never admits more than one student per university program.
Other U-M LINK students have included Dominic Dorset, ’22, who currently plays Kristoff on the Broadway National Tour of “Frozen,” and current SMTD student Brook Taylor, who was accepted into the dancer cohort of the same class.
“It was an honor to be there and train with these captivating artists,” Daly says of earning the spot as the only SMTD student in Class 5’s actor/singer cohort. “I left with confidence in my endurance, my work ethic, my gift, and the trajectory of my career. It was a great opportunity to network, get my face out there, and collaborate with people creating the work I want to do on Broadway.”
Learning at LINK
Throughout the two weeks, Daly learned, trained, and collaborated alongside his peers in a rigorous curriculum designed to prepare them for their entrance into the industry post-graduation. Each day consisted of performance endurance training followed by workshops and classes led by Broadway professionals like resident directors of “Hamilton” and “Wicked,” and the music director for “Almost Famous.”
Students prepared solos and duets and produced a group number for the program’s final performance: a showcase in front of agents and casting directors. It serves as the young artists’ introduction to the industry and an opportunity to land representation.
Daly already had agent representation arriving at LINK but recalls being challenged by the work and training in a way that he hadn’t been for a while. Especially as a second-semester senior who was about to enter the industry.
“I feel like next-level talent is all you see in these kinds of programs. It’s a lot of really big fish in a really small pond,” Daly says of his counterparts.
It’s a familiar feeling — one he’s felt among peers at U-M and one that drives his inspiration and confidence in his craft.
“Showing up to LINK was similar to my first day at Michigan as an SMTD student; you see the breadth and abundance of talent, and the imposter syndrome is immediate,” Daly says. “But because of my time at U-M, that’s a journey that I’ve figured out and was able to navigate, realizing that we’re all different artists who are skilled and gifted in our own ways.”
Daly says learning from faculty, teachers, and industry professionals in the capacity of these programs is important, but learning from peers is a specifically fulfilling experience.
“We are the industry’s future; we will be our collaborators and audiences. I think that’s really what made my LINK experience so impactful,” he says.
The Power of LEAD
Collaborating with other LEAD Scholars from SMTD has shaped Daly’s artistry throughout his time at U-M. He praises “brilliant artists” like Chloe Cuff, a LEAD Scholar and directing major he’s worked with on various projects over the past three years.
“These connections I’ve made and collaborators I’ve met throughout my journey here at this University have been super impactful to my art, and the LEAD scholarship is part of the reason I could even attend this University in the first place.”
LEAD’s financial support is also a large part of why Daly could attend the LINK Program; he received a scholarship from the LEAD Scholars Emergency Fund to cover the cost of his attendance. This emergency fund is a safety net for LEAD Scholars, covering unexpected expenses related to financial hardship or opportunities directly supporting their education and success.
Gifts from generous donors and alums support every aspect of the LEAD Scholars program — support that’s “truly invaluable,” according to Daly.
“These gifts allow us to be here and create art that will push our world and our culture toward social change and create a more egalitarian society for us, for everyone,” he says.
The LEAD Scholars General Fund supports merit-based scholarships and an empowering community to admitted, underrepresented minority students. By growing this community of high-achieving Black, Native American, and Latino scholars, LEAD is building a diverse pipeline of talent and leaders for future generations of alums, contributing to a better University and education for all Wolverines.
To make a gift to the LEAD Scholars General Fund, visit www.alumni.umich.edu/LEAD
Katie Frankhart is a senior writer for the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan.