2015 Best Student Actress Nominee: Sara Beth Shelton as Madame de la Haltière in Boston University College of Fine Arts' "Cendrillon"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

PHOTO CREDIT: Eliade Novat.

PHOTO CREDIT: Eliade Novat.

Sara Beth Shelton dazzled as Madame de la Haltière in the Boston University College of Fine Arts and Opera Institute's Cendrillon, an opera adaptation of the classic Cinderella fairy tale. Sara Beth shone not only in her bright tone, but in her demanding physicality and presence, exuding confidence and poise well beyond her years. In her Interview, Sara Beth  talks about the challenges of the role, some of her most influential life lessons, and her many upcoming roles. 

Hi, Sara Beth, and welcome to the ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling our readers more about yourself?

Thank you for nominating me!  My name is Sara Beth Shelton.  I am a Southern girl, born and raised, from Rock Hill, South Carolina, and I have been residing in Boston for over two years now. I recently graduated from Boston University in May 2015. 

I am a middle child, having an older sister and younger brother.  My family and friends are very important to me.  I think it’s essential to surround yourself with people who lift you up, and I am happy to have that at home as well as with my second family in Boston.

What made you pursue opera?  How did you end up at Boston University?  Why is this an ideal program for you? 

There was a distinct moment when I fell in love with opera, during my undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.  I was in an opera workshop class, and it was the first time I had to perform an aria in front of everyone.  I was incredibly nervous, but I made it through the aria.  To workshop it, my teacher refocused me by having me close my eyes and sit on the floor.  She then described the scene of Venice in great detail: the sights, the sounds, and the smells.  And once I could visualize and feel everything in the scene, the undergraduate life of Sara Beth faded away, and I was transported into this new world.  Nothing mattered in that moment but the story, and that I served it.  Before I realized it, I had sung through the whole aria, and I opened my eyes, leaving the world I was in and returning to reality.  My eyes welled up with tears of joy because I had never experienced such happiness in all of my life.  I knew then that I never wanted to lose this feeling, and I wanted to experience it over and over again. Opera gave me hope, and saved me from a very difficult time in my life.

Once I obtained my bachelor’s degree in music education, I made plans to pursue vocal performance by auditioning for graduate programs.  I decided to choose Boston University for several reasons.  First and foremost, my teacher, Penelope Bitzas, really made a massive amount of improvements with my voice within the first lesson.  Finding a good teacher as a vocalist is imperative when choosing a school. She has really been an amazing impact on my life, and has played a huge role in molding my voice.  The amount of growth that I experienced is a huge testament to the quality of education provided by ALL members of the voice and opera departments. 

Also, the collaboration between the different departments of the College of Fine Arts at BU really caught my attention, too.  I came from a program where the singers in the opera had to build the sets, break them down, and help backstage, so to see this tremendous collaboration was really admirable and inspiring.  The production quality is very high for all of the operas, and I believe that is due in part to the strength of the artistic team.  I have always believed the arts need to be more unified, and I am happy that I could be a part of the program where the arts are working together toward a common goal. 

Talk to us about your role in Cendrillon.  How would you describe the style of this opera?  How would you describe this role?  What were some of the challenges?  What were some of the highlights?

When you listen to this opera, the music and the story create an enchanting atmosphere from the moment the Maestro waves his baton to when the curtain falls.  While it is said to be one of Massenet's most comical works, the story is steeped in issues of family dynamics, which, I believe, makes it very real and relatable for audience members to experience.  Massenet also shows the depth of loneliness that these characters feel.  At one point after the ball, Cendrillon (Cinderella) is so lonely that she runs to the forest to die.  Through this example, you can see this isn’t your typical tale of Cinderella, and even though there are a lot of dark elements to the story, it is equally contrasted with the light of the fairies, or the light of the love between Cendrillon and her father.  It’s not all fairy dust and magic, but it also does not go as dark as Brothers Grimm.  It’s a good balance of both.

Playing Madame de la Haltière was one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had. I really enjoyed diving into the many layers of her and figuring out why she is the way she is. From the beginning, the director made sure that we would not fall into the trap of playing caricatures with the Stepsisters and Stepmother.  It is so easy to do, and so many people do it with these ladies. 

Madame de la Haltière (Sara Beth Shelton) in Boston University College of Fine Arts & Opera Institute's Cendrillon (Photo Credit: Oshin Gregorian). 

Madame de la Haltière (Sara Beth Shelton) in Boston University College of Fine Arts & Opera Institute's Cendrillon (Photo Credit: Oshin Gregorian). 

Madame is a woman who is proud of her noble heritage and who is incredibly confident in who she is and what she believes. She doesn't like the idea of her daughters not continuing this tradition of marrying men that are well above their stations, and the possibility of her stepdaughter, Cinderella, gaining something that her daughters should have disgusts her, especially with everything Cinderella represents.  She doesn't think there is anything admirable about the way Pandolphe (my husband) and Cendrillon live their life.  They believe in kindness and benevolence. This is not a means of getting ahead in life for Madame because she was never raised to live in that way. She is a product of her upbringing, and it is her duty to continue the legacy.

One of the challenges that I faced with this role was the physicality, and I have Loren Meeker and Melinda Sullivan to thank for pushing me and helping me to rise to the challenge.  They showed me ways of expressing myself in a more refined manner.  Madame has had the proper training that her daughters lack, and it is up to her to be a shining example of what it means to be a lady.  As I said before, this woman loves every part of herself, and so, I had to make sure to find certain stances that exude strength and to radiate confidence in my body with every step that I took.  Everything she says and does is intentional.  The lessons I learned in physicality from this show have helped me immensely in how I approach other roles, and I am so thankful for having the opportunity to have learned these lessons that have strengthened my skills as an actress.

I have two moments that I will always remember.  One of the highlights was just taking part in a production with such talented singers, music, and artistic team.  It was a gorgeous set design with this theme of shattered glass, inspired by the glass slipper, along with an art deco geometrical design, having tarnished gold and black.  Then, the costumes were glorious! I loved the contrast between the lovely white costumes of the fairies and fairy godmother, against the black Kardashian-style costumes of the stepmother and stepmother.  The artistic team created a scene that expressed the style of opera, right down to the last detail. It truly was a sight to behold, and an honor to experience.  Everyone involved in this process from the stage crew to the chorus made this story come to life, and we could not have done it without a single person.

Another highlight was when Madame returns from the ball and has her big tirade because the Prince picked this mysterious woman (Cendrillon), instead of one of her daughters. That scene reeked of Madame with every word, with every note, and with every movement, and I just soaked it in.  It was so empowering to experience, especially when you hear the big brass section during the aria.

Do you have any types of opera roles that you prefer to play?  Why?  Do you have any particular composer or type of opera that you prefer to sing?Haltière

I like to play roles that challenge me, and push me out of my comfort zone.  I always feel I discover so much about myself while I am exploring a character.  My favorite opera composer is Verdi.  His operas are so powerful. They really speak to my soul.  I would love to one day be Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera.  She is at the top of my list of roles to do before I die. 

What have been some of the more influential lessons that you have learned in the past year?  The past five years?

The most important lesson I have learned is to really know myself.  As an artist, self-awareness is essential.  In order for me to grow, I had to be real with myself and identify all of my strengths and weaknesses. I feel not working on these weaknesses can lead to great feelings of insecurity, which can lead to fear.  I definitely did fall into that trap from time to time, but I knew I deserved better than that.  I didn’t want to limit myself.  I wanted to become the best version of me that I could possibly be.  And by setting short attainable goals, I knew I would get there some day.  Am I going to be my best self in a day, or a month? No . . . but will I have improved?  Yes. 

You have to never lose sight of the end goal, and always take pride in the amount of progress you have made along the way.  It’s such a learning process, and it requires you to be patient with yourself and to really work through the challenges. 

Do you have any resolutions or goals for 2016?

My resolution is the same every year: to keep improving myself and becoming the best person I can possibly be in every part of my life. 

Do you have any advice for people who might be new to seeing and enjoying opera?

Don’t have any set expectations before you go and see a new opera.  Keep an open mind when you enter the theater, and when the show starts, immerse yourself in the story. It’s not all grand dresses, powdered wigs, and ladies with horns and breastplates.  The story that is so delightfully enhanced by the music is what’s so special. You will be surprised by what you see and hear!  And with opera, the combination of the drama, the orchestra, and the singing can create such a moving and healing experience for the observer. 

What is your favorite fairy tale?  Why?  Would you want to be any character in the story?

My favorite fairy tale has always been Cinderella.  I love the rags to riches story, and the idea of goodness triumphing over evil, against all odds.  As a young girl, I probably would have told you that I would be Cinderella in the story, but, having grown up, I would without a doubt say that I would want to be the Stepmother.  Madame has been on my list of dream roles for quite some time, so it was wonderful for one of my dreams to finally come true through this production.

If you couldn’t perform opera, what would you do instead?

I am naturally a caregiver and a nurturer.  I would probably do social work, work at an animal shelter/hospital, or own my own flower shop.  Doing something where I can directly make a difference in the lives of others is important to me, and I think if I were to play on my personality strengths, I would probably take on a position where I can be of service to someone or something.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I love to garden.  Some of my best friends call me Professor Sprout!  There's something really rewarding about planting a tiny seed and nurturing it to become something that is unique, beautiful, and thriving with life. Taking a moment to stop, and take part in a process that has been happening on this earth for thousands of years really grounds me and puts things into perspective.  Also, this might sound corny, but I always have thought of flowers as the world's way of smiling back at me, especially in the Spring after a long winter.  They remind us that there is hope for a brighter tomorrow, and that renewal and rebirth are possible.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I recently finished working with MetroWest Opera on Adamo's Little Women.  I was the old, rich Aunt Cecilia March, which was so much fun. 

For my upcoming projects, I look forward to being Cornelia in Giulio Cesare with Opera Theater of Pittsburgh's Summerfest as a Featured Artist.  This character will be very different from ones that I have done in the past, so I look forward to the challenge and discovering where Cornelia exists within myself. 

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Again, I am so grateful for being nominated, and I am thankful for everyone’s support throughout these past couple of years in the Boston area.  Being Madame was truly a treasured moment in my life, and I look forward to the possibility of playing her again one day!  

2015 Best Specialty Ensemble in a Play Nominee: The Frank Family in Theatre To Go's "The Diary of Anne Frank"

The cast of Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Michael Molineaux).

The cast of Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Michael Molineaux).

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to particiapte in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

A family, in all of its complexity, is one of the hardest things to create on the stage. In Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank, Laura Frustaci, Lou Fuoco, Karen Hoff, and Taylor Bellavia create the famous Frank family, as they tell the story of the last few years in the iconic annex. Through their laughter, their joys, their frustrations, and their sorrows, we learn more about humanity and familial love. In their Interview, Laura, Lou, Karen, and Taylor tell us the most rewarding parts of working on this play, their own families, and to where they would travel in the world!

Hi, all, and thank you for joining us for the 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourselves?

Laura Frustaci (Photo Credit: Maureen Carr). 

Laura Frustaci (Photo Credit: Maureen Carr). 

Laura Frustaci (“Laura”): I am a seventeen year old student at Burlington High School. I am a mentor to younger students, captain of the Improv Club, and editor of the literary magazine. I take voice lessons and ballroom dance classes. Previously, I have appeared in numerous productions including: Arsenic and Old Lace (Abby Brewster), 13: The Musical (Molly), Rent (Mrs. Jefferson/Bohemian), and It’s A Wonderful Life (ZuZu Bailey).

Lou Fuoco (“Lou”): I tutor writing and English as a Second Language at Berklee College of Music. Prior to that, I was in the software industry for many years. I’m a Brooklyn native and long-time Boston area resident active in theater for over 50 years.

Karen Hoff (“Karen”): I am a science teacher at St. Patrick School in Stoneham for grades 6-8. I have been there for 8 years. I am also a mom to 3 wonderful teens. I have lived in Melrose for 20 years and I been involved in community theater nearly my entire life.

Taylor Bellavia (“Taylor”): Hi! My name is Taylor Bellavia. I am a 9th grade student at the Shawsheen Valley Technical High School, and I am from Tewksbury Massachusetts. I've been involved in theatre since I was in the fourth grade, and, since then, I've been in Once On This Island as a Storyteller, Alice in Wonderland as The Mad Hatter, and Aladdin as Princess Jasmine. In middle school, I won the METG Ensemble Award for my role as one of Witches in Macbeth. I also played "Mom" in the one-act play, Perfect. I was also cast as a Featured Ensemble Member in the musical Catch Me if You Can at my town's high school, which I had a blast doing. This past summer, I performed as a Lady in Waiting in Once Upon a Mattress, where I met an amazing group of youth actors who I still keep in touch with today. My high school doesn't offer a theatre program, so I began my search for an audition, and that's where I stumbled upon The Diary of Anne Frank at Theatre To Go, Inc. To date, this has been my favorite production.

Can you tell us about your character in The Diary of Anne Frank? How would you describe him or her? What was his or her relationship with the rest of the family?

Laura: Anne is an intelligent and strong-willed individual. She is incredibly mature for her age on some matters, and, at other times, she is impudent and childish. Anne was extremely close with her father, whom she referred to as “Pim.” They had a deep, special connection. Anne was a typical teenager, in that she constantly argued and disagreed with her mother in her quest for independence. At times, she was jealous of her sister, Margot, to whom she was constantly compared, but they maintained a loving relationship.

Lou Fuoco (Photo Credit: Matt Guillory).

Lou Fuoco (Photo Credit: Matt Guillory).

Lou: Otto Frank is the strong one. He’s the glue that holds the family and everyone in the hiding place together. His humor and calm in the face of danger is usually enough to defuse any situation. He loves his family, but Anne is the apple of his eye. He holds hope that this story will have a happy ending, even after the family is captured.

Karen: My character, Edith Frank, was in many ways, a peacekeeper in the family. She did a lot of things to try and keep everyone on an even keel, even when Anne was being more challenging! She was at odds with Anne's personality because Anne was more outgoing and spoke her mind. Edith rarely spoke her mind of what she truly felt, and I think she was envious that Anne could. Another big conflict between Anne and Edith was that because of their different personalities, they didn't really know each other. You can see a change as they both evolve and understand each other better.

Taylor: I played Margot Frank, the older of the two daughters in the Frank family. She is a reserved, empathetic, and studious teenager who was looked upon as a role model for her younger sister, Anne. As quiet as Margot was, when there was great tension in the annex, she had no problem speaking her mind. She gravitated toward her mother more so than her father at times, constantly nurturing and caring for her. Margot and Anne's relationship was your typical sisterhood “competition.

What was the most challenging part of performing this play?  What was the most rewarding?

Laura: The most challenging part of performing this play was finding within myself the proper emotions to become the character. I had to feel the extent of the terror and trial the Franks, the Van Daans, and Mr. Dussel went through. The most rewarding part of performing this play was seeing the audience’s reaction after the final scene. This told me that I succeeded in presenting the material in a heartfelt and touching way, and they could tell how deeply affected I was by this show.

It is most rewarding as an actress to know I have done my job and conveyed the trauma and raw emotions these people experienced during their confinement in the annex.

Lou: I was motivated primarily by the desire to do justice to the complex character of Otto Frank. For many years I had read extensively about the Frank family, but translating that from the page to the stage was a big challenge.

Taylor Bellavia (Photo Credit: Sharon Crowley).

Taylor Bellavia (Photo Credit: Sharon Crowley).

My rewards were the bonds I formed with the cast and crew and the appreciation of our audiences.

Karen: The most challenging part of the play was also the most rewarding part for me. That was dealing with the intense material of the play and being able to convey the depths of despair, as well as the moments of hope they felt throughout the confinement in the annex. There were definitely times when we all felt the emotions during the rehearsal process, and this definitely brought us together closer as a cast and family.

Taylor: The most challenging part of the show was being serious for so long. At the rehearsals, we had so much fun and laughed so much, that when it was time to actually perform, I had to take some time to get myself into character and not laugh at inappropriate times during the show.

The most rewarding part was being able to see the emotional affect we had on the audience.

How did you not “take your work home with you”?  How did you relax or relieve the tension during the rehearsals and performances?

Laura: It was fairly easy to slip into Anne’s character, but extremely difficult to shift back out. It was important not to simply return to normal and ignore whatever emotions I had experienced as Anne. I would take time to really comprehend and accept every feeling this journey took me through. During rehearsals, we relieved the tension by laughing, joking around, and dancing. After some of the more serious scenes (I actually cried several times), we would hug it out. I think we could not have successfully performed this show had we not been such a close, loving cast.

Lou: I was happy to take my work home with me by continuing to read about the Franks and the historical setting in which they lived. The close bond we created during the rehearsal process enabled us to find humor without taking the edge off our performances.

Karen: Even though the material was extremely intense, there was also some humor. From the first read-through, there was a sense of bonding among the cast members, and you felt that this was not just something ordinary. Because of the bonding, we were able to relax and find humor in certain parts of the show, and this produced many laughs backstage. Without this closeness between the cast, we not have been able to explore the emotional depths required to portray the Frank family.

Taylor: When I would leave rehearsals, I would go back to being a student. There was no time to take my work home with me because I had so much on my plate with school. Relieving the tension was the easy part; we had so much chemistry as a cast that we could laugh the tension and stress away.

What did you discover about yourself from working on this production?  Have you had any other productions that have been eye-opening for you?

Laura: I discovered I have the ability to transform into a character and never fully leave her behind. Anne and I share many similarities, but I fully believe she was immensely braver and wiser than I am. I learned that some shows are not just shows, but life-changing experiences that will stay with you forever. I am truly lucky to have been a part of this, and I have never been a part of anything this special before.

Lou: Working on this show convinced me that I could handle the weightiest character I’ve ever taken on.

Many years ago, I played Don, a blind boy, in Butterflies Are Free, which opened my eyes (pardon the bad pun) in a small way to those who live in darkness.  

Karen Hoff (Photo Credit:  Karen Hoff). 

Karen Hoff (Photo Credit:  Karen Hoff). 

Karen: This production was eye-opening for me because it gave me more confidence about my ability to contribute to a cast of actors. I have been involved in community/school theater for most of my life, but mostly in an ensemble role. Roles like Edith Frank have shown me how strong I can be on stage and in my life, and have much to contribute. I am extremely grateful to have worked with this cast of The Diary of Anne Frank, and look forward to working with them again soon!

Taylor: There was a quote from Anne Frank that says that all people are truly good at heart, and that has been a new philosophy for me. It really changed my view of the world.

A show that I performed in middle school, Perfect, was about a girl aspiring to be society's definition of “perfect,” but realizing that she's beautiful the way that she is. That message had a great impact on me, as well.

Talk to us about your families.  Who is in your family?  What is one of your favorite memories with them?

Laura: My family is consists of my two moms, Joanne and Maureen, and my cat, Matty. My parents are so supportive of everything I do, whether it’s driving me here and there for rehearsals or giving me voice and dance lessons.

My favorite memory with them is when I was younger, every Friday night in the winter, we’d build a fire and play board games together.

Lou: I have two wonderful adult children, two wonderful grandchildren and a loving (and also wonderful) partner.

It would be impossible and somehow unfair of me to choose even one of my favorite memories. 

Karen: My family is David (my husband of 26 years), Patrick (son, age 22), Charlotte (daughter, age 20), and Margaret (daughter, age 15). We have lived in Melrose for 20 years.

Some of my favorite memories with my family involve our favorite vacation destination, Prince Edward Island. We have been vacationing there for 10 years, and funny things always happen on the vacation, or drive to or from, and have become legends the more the stories get told. I dare you to put a family of 5 into an aging minivan, drive 12 hours, spending time together and not come up with funny stories. It can't be done with my family.

Taylor: My family consists of my brother, Eric; my mom; and my dad. They can be crazy sometimes, but I really love them. They're so supportive of me and theatre. My favorite memory with them is sitting around the living room just relaxing and watching TV; I love the little moments with them.

In three words, how would your friends and family describe you as a person?

Laura: Creative, passionate, and hard-working.

Lou: I just asked my partner, and she said warm, empathic and easygoing. Love is blind.

Karen: Friendly, compassionate, witty.

Taylor: Intelligent, goofy, and musical.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Who would you bring with you?  What is one thing that you would have to do?

Laura: I would really love to go all over Europe, and, of course, stop by the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Obviously, I would take both my real family and my Frank family on this journey.

Lou: I’d like to take my real and my stage family whitewater rafting. Maybe somewhere in New Zealand.

Karen: I would love to go back to Europe and explore. I especially would like to return to Amsterdam because it is a beautiful city, and I want to revisit Anne Frank's house. I also want to see more of the European cities. I want my families, both real and Frank family, to join me. Between the sights, food, and friends, it would be an ideal trip.

Taylor: If I could go anywhere, I would go to Amsterdam, Netherlands to visit the Anne Frank House. I would obviously bring the Frank Family with me, so we can see how our characters really lived in person.

Do you have any other “family” shows that would like to perform?  Why?

Laura: I don’t have any particular family shows on my performance bucket list at the moment.

Edith Frank (Karen Hoff) is consoled by her daughter, Margot Frank (Taylor Bellavia) in Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Michael Molineaux).

Edith Frank (Karen Hoff) is consoled by her daughter, Margot Frank (Taylor Bellavia) in Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Michael Molineaux).

Lou: I’ve wanted to be in The Diary of Anne Frank for over 40 years, so this was the pinnacle for me.

Karen: All of my children have been involved in their school drama program. Both of my older children have been on stage, but are more suited for the role of stage manager. They are good at that role, and my daughter received awards for being stage manager for her school's productions at high school festivals. My youngest is also involved in crew for high school and our local community theater, Theatre To Go in Melrose.

Taylor: I would love to perform The Addams Family; I've loved the story since I was very young. I would also really love to perform RENT, a community/family musical. It is one of my all-time favorites.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Laura: I am currently working on my school’s production of Mary Poppins as Miss Andrew.

Lou: Nothing definite but I’m always looking. Any suggestions?

Karen: Not at the moment, but I am always looking for suitable productions in the area, and planning some auditions in the near future.

Taylor: I, unfortunately, don't have any projects at the moment, but I'm always on the lookout for an audition nearby.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Laura: It really is such an honor to be nominated and I’m so lucky to have worked with this incredible cast.

Lou: I’m honored to be nominated along with my stage family for this award. Working on this show exceeded every expectation. Keep supporting community theater!

Karen: I want to thank those responsible for the nomination! This was such a special production and especially appropriate for the times. We have come so far in many ways, but we still have much to learn about how to treat others that may be different from us. We should all take a page from Anne's diary and look for the good in people. Thank you to my cast members for such a tremendous production and all of your friendship, memories, and love.

Taylor: I would just like to say that I'm so grateful for the opportunity to meet the amazing cast of The Diary of Anne Frank, and to be nominated for an award with them. The experience of this show was unbelievable and the cast will always be my family.

2015 Best Student Actress Nominee: Zehava Younger as Anne Frank in Boston Children's Theatre's "The Diary of Anne Frank"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: Andi Freedman

Photo Credit: Andi Freedman

Zehava Younger played a pitch-perfect Anne Frank, showing gorgeous growth and excellent empathy for the iconic young woman. Zehava's ability to lead the production in her powerful delivery of her diary entries as well as become part of the Frank family and household in the annex earned her a Best Student Actress nomination. In her Interview, Zehava tells us how she earned the role of Anne Frank, her favorite stories, and what makes her most proud.

Hi, Zehava, and thank you for joining us for our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. Can you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?

I am 15 years old, and a sophomore at Beverly High School. I’ve been performing since the age of 7 years old, and I intend to pursue a career in theater through college.

How did you start performing? What were some of your first plays or performances? What did you enjoy most about it?

My mom likes to say I started singing before I learned to talk. I started singing lessons when I was 6 years old, and put on many shows for my family in our living room. My grandparents started taking me to see shows at a very young age (I was probably about 4 or 5). I loved musicals, so my mom took me to an audition for the 2007 production of A Christmas Carol at North Shore Music Theater. I was cast as Want. It was pretty much all downhill from there.

I loved the feeling of getting together with a group of people to create a world all its own, that only exists for a couple hours at a time.

How did you get the role of Anne Frank? What was the audition process? Do you remember how you felt when you heard that you got that role?

I had participated in Boston Children’s Theatre’s summer program in 2014. Here, I learned  about the  upcoming  auditions  for  The  Diary  of Anne Frank.  The audition process consisted of the initial audition, two callbacks, and a one-week wait for the cast list.

I remember coming home from ballet class and running to my computer to see if the cast list had been posted. It took a minute for it all to sink in, but, once it did, there was a lot of screams of excitement, tears of joy, and frantic phone calls to my grandparents and friends. I was also pretty terrified because, besides a couple of Shakespeare plays, I had really only done musical theater.

What did you learn about Anne Frank and the Holocaust while working on this play?  Did you find that you were similar or different than Anne?  What did you relate to the most?

Being Jewish myself, I first learned of the Holocaust at a very young age. My seventh grade Hebrew school class took a field trip to Washington, D.C. to go to the Holocaust Museum. That really opened my eyes to a lot of the events of that time period that I didn’t know about.

Before I started rehearsals, I took time to read the actual diary, and I was awed by her way with words on a page. I also saw many small similarities between the two of us. Our reactions to certain situations are extremely close. I think that made it easier to connect to the character. Understanding how her mind may have worked helped in developing my interpretation.

The Frank Family in The Boston Children's Theatre's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Leighanne Evelyn Photography).

The Frank Family in The Boston Children's Theatre's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Leighanne Evelyn Photography).

Who are some of your favorite historical or famous people?  Why?

Some of my favorite historical people include Shakespeare, who I admire how he could move mountains with nothing but a paper and ink.  I also really like the artwork of Van Gogh, Dali, and Picasso. As for other famous people, I'm inspired by Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Maggie Smith, and Tom Hiddleston.

What are some of your hobbies?  What do you like to do for fun? 

In my free time, I enjoy learning fashion design, horseback-riding, and playing with my cat.

What advice would you give other young actors about performing?  Is there anything that you wish that you had known before performing, in this play or other plays?

I would tell other young performers that if you give as much effort to each production as you would into your Broadway debut, you will be consistently happier with the final product.

What are some of your favorite stories?  Why?

I'm a HUGE Harry Potter fan; I've read all seven books at least ten times each.  There's something about the way that they are written that, even though you know the events on the page never happened, they feel real. 

Of what are you most proud?  Why?  

I am most proud of my attempts at balancing my schoolwork during productions for which I've had to miss some school.

What do you want to be when you grow up?  Do you have any other dreams or goals?

In the future, I hope to major in musical theatre and continue performing for as long as I possibly can. 

Do you have any upcoming projects? 

I am currently working on the world premiere of Caps for Sale (The Musical) with the Boston Children's Theatre. It opens in early March 2016. 

2015 Best Specialty Ensemble in a Musical Nominee: The Kates in Woodland Theatre Company's "Titanic"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Cohesive units allow excellent storytelling to continue from scene to scene. In Woodland Theatre Company's Titanic: The Musical, the heart and hope of the ship's voyage and success laid in the interactions among "The Kates," a plucky, hopeful, and resilient group of three young women, carefully portrayed by Katie Preisig Schiering, Allison Russell, and Andrea Lyons. In their Interviews, each of them describes her role in the musical, being part of an ensemble, and her own funny audition or performance story. 

Hi, all, and welcome to the ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by each telling us a little bit about yourselves?

Katie Preisig Shiering (Photo Credit: Ross Brown). 

Katie Preisig Shiering (Photo Credit: Ross Brown). 

Katie Preisig Schiering (“KPS”): Hi Brian! My name is Katie Preisig Schiering, and I’m a performer/theater teacher in the Boston area. I teach at an enrichment center called LINX in Wellesley, MA. I love being able to instill the love of theater in young performers every day in addition to being an active member in our Boston theatre community.

Allison Russell (“AR”):  Sure! Theatre has been a passion of mine since I was a child. It taught me confidence, teamwork, trust, and a whole host of other life lessons that I now try to instill in my students. In addition to performing myself, I am also a Director and Theatre teacher for Artbarn Community Theatre in Brookline and the Jewish Community Center of Newton. I feel really lucky to be able to do what I love every day!

Andrea Lyons (“AL”): I’m a converted opera singer from Townsend, Massachusetts. By day, I'm a sand artist for Dune Jewelry

Tell us more about “The Kates.”  What are their roles in the musical, Titanic?  What are their stories?  How are they similar or different?

KPS: Each of “The Kates” comes from Ireland. They are each searching for a new and better life in America. They are similar in that they are each traveling alone, trying to better themselves, and come from the same poor background. The Kate I played, Kate McGowan, has the love story. She falls in love on the ship (immediately) and gets engaged. She also has a big secret. She’s pregnant out of wedlock. That explains why she was so quick to find a husband. The true story of the Kates is actually different… for one, my Kate doesn’t survive in real life but the other two do. In the musical, the opposite is true.

AR:  I think that “The Kates” are really the heart of the musical. They represent the “common folk,” or the people who are working and fighting for a better life. They don’t have a lot of money, but they have a dream, and they are not going to let anything stand in their way. “The Kates” are very similar in the sense that they all see America as the answer to their prayers, but they have different visions of themselves in the future. My character, Kate Mullins, wants to be a sewing girl. When the Titanic starts to go down, she is more of a fighter, I think, exhausting all possible avenues for getting off the sinking ship. When none of them work, she spends her final moments with her new friend, Kate Murphy.

AL: To me, the Kates are representative of the hopes and dreams of all of the passengers aboard the Titanic. They are similar in their motives, but all three have aspirations of different careers.

What was the rehearsal process?  Did you know each other before the show?  How did you prepare for these roles and your performance as a group?

KPS: The rehearsals were so much fun, but also very heavy emotionally. We had an amazing director, Doug Hodge, who would really pull those heartfelt moments out of us and gave us amazing perspective on what our characters were going through. Alison and I had worked together on Les Miserables, also at Woodland, so we knew each other, and Andrea and I had done a cabaret together so we were also acquainted. We definitely grew closer through the process.

As a group, the three of us definitely talked a lot about how it was that these three strangers became so close so fast on the ship, and how hard it was for them to part when the ship sunk. As a cast, in general, we talked a lot about the Titanic. We were all reading articles, watching documentaries, sharing stories we had read. There was a lot of “did you now” talk going on for all of us. Personally, I feel like my borderline obsession with the Titanic prepared me well for this role. It’s a circumstance I’ve thought about a lot and have put myself in the victims’ and the survivors’ shoes numerous times.

Allison Russell (Photo Credit: David Costa). 

Allison Russell (Photo Credit: David Costa). 

AR: We only rehearsed a few nights a week for a few months. We all knew each other before the process began, but we really bonded as a group as we began to explore the weighty themes of this show. We did a lot of dialect work, certainly, to get the Irish accents down, and then we talked about our dynamics as a group. What drew us together in the first place, and what kept us together up until the ship sinks? How did we deal with the news that Kate Murphy and I wouldn’t get on a lifeboat while Kate McGowan (and her unborn child) looked on? We had a lot of fun with these roles, but they also took us to a very real and somewhat scary spot of what it means to look death in the face and fight for your lives.

AL: We did know (and like!) each other before rehearsals started, having worked together in previous shows. That made it even more exciting.  To prepare for the roles, we did our individual research, but I recall talking out many onstage actions and situations with Katie and Allison to make sure our Kates were being portrayed in the best way.

If you were on the Titanic, what class would you be?  Why?  What would be your story?

KPS: I would definitely prefer the 2nd class. Not too snobby, and not as many rats. However, I think I should probably say 1st class to enhance my survival rate. Then again, if Leonardo [DiCaprio] is in this fantasy, third class it is!

AR: I think everyone wants to believe that they would be in first class, with all the money and the luxury and privileges that went along with that ticket. In reality, though, I think I would be in third class since I’m a driven person who works hard to reach my goals. Money doesn’t matter to me as much as doing what I love and following my passions in life, so third class seems to fit the bill. I certainly would have fought for my life, just as Kate Mullins (who lived in real life!) fought for hers.

AL: If I were on the Titanic, I would hope it would be as a successful first class actress! In reality, I would almost definitely be some kind of third class starving artist . . .

Did you grow up watching the movie version of Titanic?  Did you have a favorite moment or scene?  Did you have any other favorite Titanic stories, books, or films?

KPS: Oh, yes. However, I have a very hard time getting through it. I watched it again after a long hiatus while preparing for this production, and I could barely make it through. The tragedy is in your face in that film and so hard for me to stomach. My favorite scene in the movie is definitely the beginning when they find the Titanic underwater. It gives me chills. I used to own a 5-VHS documentary set that I loved when I was a kid. It had real survivor interviews and interviews with ship builders and offered so many different perspectives.

AR: I loved the Titanic movie! One of the most poignant parts of the movie to me is when Rose talks about how she felt like she was standing in a crowded room screaming and no one even looked up. I really associate that with Kate Mullins’ feelings towards the end of our show. There is no one who can help her off the sinking ship—money and class no longer matter and humanity really takes over. It’s a moment of panic and helplessness. I also read the book “A Night to Remember” by Walter Lord, which gave me an additional perspective on the Titanic and its passengers.

AL: Oh yes. So many favorites to choose from, but I do LOVE the third class dance scene, the moment where Jack transforms for the first class dinner scene, THE CAR MOMENT!! Oh man, so many . . . I did have the typical 10-year-old Andrea version of a Titanic history binge after that, but I can't remember any favorite materials.

What have been some of your favorite roles?  Favorite ensembles?  Why?

KPS: Kate McGowan was definitely a favorite role of mine. I loved her and would play her again in a heartbeat. Other favorites include: Beth in Merrily We Roll Along, Holly in The Wedding Singer, Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy, and Squeaky Fromme in Assassins.

AR: Some of my favorite roles include: Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Penny in Hairspray, Maggie in A Chorus Line, Wendla in Spring Awakening, and The Witch in Into the Woods. These characters all have such a strong presence and an important story to tell. I have loved the opportunity to sing their incredible songs and also take on the responsibility of delivering their messages to the audience. My favorite ensemble credit has been, hands down, the ensemble of Moonbox Productions’ The Musical of Musicals: the Musical! This ensemble track let me explore a number of key genres of musical theatre all in one show- we did everything from Fosse to roller-skating, and it was certainly an awesome challenge!

Andrea_Lyons

AL: My favorite role to date has been Kate Monster/ Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q. It was the most rewarding theatrical challenge to not only play two completely different characters (sometimes onstage at the same time), but to also explore the world of puppetry. Nothing else comes close for me yet.

As it turns out, my favorite ensemble has been the Kates. They provide such a beautiful hope and light throughout the show that is so vital, and it was fun to have the opportunity to bring that to life with such insanely talented co-Kates!

What advice would you give performers who are performing as part of a specialty ensemble or small group within a musical?

KPS: These are the characters people remember. It’s so much fun to have more than one scene partner, and the way you connect with each other is important. Allison, Andrea, and I had so much fun reacting to each other and creating a realistic dynamic.

AR: I would say to pretend like you are the leads of the show and create thorough, well-rounded characters. Don’t get lost in the crowd—if you work hard enough, you can become a meaningful part of the story and affect the audience in a powerful way. Believe in yourself and your abilities above and beyond the number of lines that you have. You actually have more freedom to interpret your roles, so take that and run with it!

AL: Love each other.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what are three things that you would need to bring with you?

KPS: A piano, since I’d have plenty of time to advance my skills; a forever-charged iPod with all my favorite music on it; and a comfortable bed. I should probably say my husband, children, and a survival kit, though.

AR: Sunscreen for sure—I’m Irish. I’d also need some sort of hammock or something comfortable to sleep in, and then some COMPANY to help me pass the time! Another option would be a cell phone to call friends and family and order take-out from the nearest port city!

AL: A lighter, tarp, and a pot to cook in.

Do you have a funny audition, rehearsal, or performance story?

KPS: Multiple. But here’s my favorite: When I was in school I played Reno in Anything Goes. During “Blow Gabriel Blow,” I was supposed to walk up the back stairs and come out at the top of the platform to belt out the final verse. I busted through the doors, took a deep breath, and inhaled one of the feathers. I choked violently trying to sing, but nothing was coming out except for some awful wheezing sounds. I couldn’t finish the song and ran off stage and threw up the feather. Luckily, the ensemble danced and sang through the end. It was terrifying in the moment, but hysterical to think of now.

AR: I have PLENTY of these, but one of my favorites took place during Into the Woods in college. I was playing The Witch, and there was one particular moment where I had to “kick” The Mysterious Man. I did the blocking, but my foot got caught in his cape, and we both fell flat on our backs in the middle of the show. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing!!

AL: I forgot the words to my song in the audition that got me my first paid theater job . . . That makes me laugh.

What makes you smile?

KPS: So many things. Children, animals, nature, family, theater, music, dancing, friends . . . This interview.

AR: I’m a sucker for a beautiful sunset. I love a great dinner with family and friends, a good lesson with my students, the “Acoustic Sunrise” on Sunday mornings, a trip to the beach with a cold drink in hand!

AL: Puppies.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

KPS: Nothing on the books yet. I’m busy directing and working overtime these days, but I’ll be out in the audition circuit soon!

AR: I do! I’m currently playing Mae in Moonbox Productions’ The Wild Party, which plays at the BCA from April 15 - May 1, 2016. The cast and production team are all phenomenal, and I feel very lucky to be involved with this show.

AL: Funny enough, I'm currently sitting on a break from rehearsal from ANOTHER production of Titanic at Seacoast Rep where I am playing... *drum roll*... the same role!  We go up April 15, 2016, so grab your tickets!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

KPS: Thanks for the interview! Being a part of “The Kates” was truly a remarkable experience. The Woodland Theater Company was a gem and we are so sad that it had to close. Keep supporting fringe theater companies!

AR: Vote for “The Kates”!!!!! And thank you for this opportunity! It was totally unexpected and completely amazing!

AL: No more than a thanks for reading and supporting. Oh, and thank you for supporting live theater!!!

2015 Best Director of a Play Nominee: Michelle Aguillon for The Umbrella's "True West"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Michelle_Aguillon

Michelle Aguillon, a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Nominee for Best Director, brought her own warmth and humanity to Sam Shepard's True West, at The Umbrella in Concord. Rippling with familial strife and love, the play resonated from the solid directing and character work in making these characters become fully-developed and empathetic human beings.  In her Interview, Michelle describes the challenges in True West, her 2016 goals, and how the Greater Boston theatre community can grow!

Hi, Michelle, and welcome back to ArtsImpulse. Can you start by reminding our readers who you are, and what you’ve done this year? 

Besides directing True West at The Umbrella last Fall [2015], I am currently directing Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo for the Vokes Players in Wayland.

Talk to us about drew you to True West.  Had you seen productions of the play before?  Have you directed it or other Sam Shepard plays?  

Brian Boruta, Director of the Performing Arts at the Concord Umbrella, contacted me about directing True West.  At first I was honored but trepidatious because two of my friends, Nancy Curran Willis and David Sheppard, had directed very notable and award-winning productions of the play. I had never directed a Sam Shepard play before. These productions were so clear in my mind and I thought, “What can I do differently?”

I asked Brian to forward the script to me. I realized that I had to start from scratch, and not think about Nancy’s or David’s productions. After reading the play, what ultimately drew me into the play were the family relationships in the play. The family’s struggles were so relatable and recognizable.  Dare I say, they are just like us!  Ok, they are a little more nuts, but they are basically like us.

What is challenging about Sam Shepard’s work?  True West, in particular?

What isn’t challenging? His work is many things: abstract dialogue and off-kilter pace, and it comes with "Shepard-esque" expectations.  I found the biggest challenge was finding relatable people on-stage to keep our audiences with us. There are so much non-verbal, familial moments not in that script. We had so much fun discovering, building and calibrating those.

Another challenge, True West has had many productions on Broadway and in this Greater Boston theatre community, so we had a standard to uphold.  Shepard’s work is admired by some, hated by others–either way, his work is well-known and has a level of expectations.  We had to meet that, as well as find our own journey with Shepard’s words leading the way.

Can you tell us more about your own family?

No.

Just kidding.

I surprisingly found a lot to draw on from my family. Surprisingly, because the characters in True West are known to be beyond us; their situations and conversations are somewhat abstract and very dark.  I found that they are not. The characters just speak in a slightly different dialogue is all; I was so relieved to realize that. It became the foundation of how to build the play.

But my family: they are as normal and as dysfunctional as any other.  I come from a family of very strong, opinionated and confident women with strong convictions.  We were ruled by our very Catholic, very ambitious, and very strict mother. 

We didn’t always get along, but we love each other deeply.  It took us years to get here, when for so many years we had to grow and evolve separately in order for us to grow together.

Lee (Gordon Ellis) talks with Saul (Alex Thayer) as Austin (Michael Carr) observes in The Umbrella's True West (Photo Credit: Meghan Donnelly) 

Lee (Gordon Ellis) talks with Saul (Alex Thayer) as Austin (Michael Carr) observes in The Umbrella's True West (Photo Credit: Meghan Donnelly) 

What did you learn about yourself through the plays that you directed this year?

I learned that I am still learning, still evolving.  Since every show is different, there cannot be a formula as to how to approach each one.  I’m stating the obvious, aren’t I?  That shows you that I’m still learning.  I learned to be even more flexible and more open than I thought I already was. Having worked with so many different actors and designers, being open makes the collaborative process so much better for the production.

Do you have any 2016 resolutions? Goals?

I would like to work on being a better collaborator on the production’s technical aspects since I am the most intimate with the play besides the actors. I want to be better relied upon by the designers to really speak for the production once we get to tech week.  I just want to be more well-rounded, I guess. I caught myself several times not only with True West, but on other productions, where I was not very clear on what I was envisioning or needing.  Luckily, Brian Boruta, our very intuitive True West producer, was able to stay cognizant of all production aspects and keep me on track.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?  Who would you bring with you?

Well, that changes.  Right this minute?  I’d say, I would love to go back to Palawan, a remote resort island in the Philippines. It is more underdeveloped than most resorts.  Having seen other local resorts become overrun by commercialism and pollution, the locals are trying to be environmentally conscious and controlling tourism.

I was there in 2012, having traveled alone.  I would like to share that experience again next time with my daughter or one of my close friends.  That place was just paradise.

I would also like to travel throughout Europe, just backpack it for as long as I could, but alone. I think.

Ask me tomorrow, and I may say Bali and Southeast Asia.

How do you think that Greater Boston community theatre can improve?  Greater Boston theatre, in general?

Oh, we need to find more affordable theater spaces!  Also, although there has been some great effort, we need more diversity.  And I’m not only referring to plays with characters of color, I am also referring to seeing more theater companies cast more diversely regardless of an actor’s color, and have their casting based on talent, not type. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I was so shy; I had no ambition to be where I am now.  I never dreamed I could do it; wait, I didn’t even dream about it.  But it is where I belong.  The one thing I did dream about was being a stay-at-home mom and raising a big family. That was it; it was what I thought I wanted until I discovered theatre in high school.  It’s still funny to me when I think about how and where I ended up, but I’m really happy. It was hard getting here, but I’m happy.

Mom (Nancy Curran Willis) looks at her dying plant as Austin (Michael Carr) and Lee (Gordon Ellis) fight in the background in The Umbrella's True West (Photo Credit: Meghan Donnelly).

Mom (Nancy Curran Willis) looks at her dying plant as Austin (Michael Carr) and Lee (Gordon Ellis) fight in the background in The Umbrella's True West (Photo Credit: Meghan Donnelly).

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I can’t really say yet, but yes, there is one I’m very excited about.  It should be announced by the time this comes out.  There are a couple of potential projects that may be on the horizon.  I hope they are a good fit for me and for the company; if not, I am always confident that that means I’m destined for something else even if that means doing nothing for a while.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Basically what I said last year (I think): Support Art - in all forms. Children should especially be exposed to any form of art!  

2015 Best Female Performer in an Opera Nominee: Heather Gallagher as Dinah in MetroWest Opera's "Trouble in Tahiti"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: Joe Henson

Photo Credit: Joe Henson

Heather Gallagher has a warmth about her presence and voice. These qualities make her a perfect performer for more nuanced and complex characters, especially in opera. In MetroWest Opera's Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein, Heather quickly won us over with her smooth sound and welcoming persona, but it was her aria layered with dream-like revelry that secured her nomination. In her Interview, Heather talks about her role in Trouble in Tahiti, her biggest challenges as a performer, and what inspires her.

Hi, Heather, and thank you for participating in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

I'm a native Floridian and I first came to Boston to study about 5 years ago. My path to Classical Music has been anything but linear. I grew up being primarily interested in theatre and musical theatre. I discovered classical music through a church job in Coral Gables, Florida, and then I decided to go back to school. Back then I was primarily interested in sacred music of the Anglican variety. As time went on, I realized that my talents and background were much more at home in opera so that's been my primary focus for about 4 years now.

Talk to us about your role in Trouble in Tahiti. Who did you play, how did you get the role, and what interested you in the project?

I played Dinah, an unhappy 1950s housewife whose marriage is falling apart. I was very fortunate to have won 1st Place in Metrowest Opera's Voice Competition previously, and along with a cash award, there was a role opportunity as well. Considering my past background in theatre and the nature of this particular opera, the opportunity to play Dinah was exciting to me. Also, I knew I would be in good hands with the conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya, a specialist in modern music. 

What kinds of operas do you enjoy performing?  What kinds of operas do you not enjoy? 

I really enjoy all kinds of operas. Right now, I feel most at home in the French repertoire and in Mozart, with a little Rossini here and there. Also, I enjoy singing in English, so operas by Britten, Heggie, and Adams among others are of great interest to me.

Have you ever changed your mind about a production or kind of opera after performing in it?

I performed the role of Dido in Harvard Early Music Society's production of Dido and Aeneas a few years ago, and I was kind of worried about how I would do because I am far from being an early music specialist. Not only was it a great learning experience for me musically, but our director, Giselle Ty, took the piece to new and exciting places and it was a lot of fun. It was a wonderful experience and I felt lucky to have been a part of it. It definitely made me see Baroque opera in a new way. 

What have been some of your biggest challenges as a performer?  What do you continue to work to improve?

Oh . . . That is a very long list! I'm constantly working to refine my technique with my teacher, coaching but I also try to devote some time to languages and sight reading. Staying organized and keeping track of where I'm auditioning and what my resources are . . . that's something I work on as well. 

Dinah (Heather Gallagher) sings in MetroWest Opera's "Trouble in Tahiti" (Photo Credit: Jonathan Cole). 

Dinah (Heather Gallagher) sings in MetroWest Opera's "Trouble in Tahiti" (Photo Credit: Jonathan Cole). 

When not performing, what do you like to do?  Who does it with you?  What do you wish that you had more time to do?

For fun, I like to travel and I definitely wish I had the time and the resources to do that more often. Other fun things I like to do: go to the theatre, eat poutine, drink coffee, go to brunch. Quite honestly though, sometimes I just like to lie in bed.

What changes do you wish for the Greater Boston theatre scene?  What do you not want to change?
I love the culture in Boston; it's one of the reasons I came here and one of the reasons I'm still here.

It's really a shame to me that Boston doesn't have a world class opera house anymore. We have so many exciting companies here, it's a little embarrassing for such a great city and center of culture to not have a venue that's worthy of the music that's being performed.

What advice would you give to yourself at 10 years old?  20 years old?  50 years old?

Oh dear, I don't know something inspiring . . . “Resistance is always lying and is always full of shit.” Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

What inspires you?

Seeing a person have the bravery to create something beautiful and truthful whether they're an amateur or a professional is inspiring to me.

What is the biggest misconception about opera?  How would you change this misconception?

The biggest misconception about opera is that it's only for a certain kind of person. Opera belongs to everyone and is for everyone. I think organizations like Opera On Tap and opera companies are making a lot of head way with youth programming, free tickets, exciting concepts, world class artists, etc., etc., but there's more that needs to be done. And I strongly feel we need to reach out to EVERYONE not just college students and people under 30 years old but EVERYONE. Opera is part of our cultural heritage and it should be in everyone's reach, no matter how much money they make.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Yes! I will be performing with Boston Lyric Opera in their productions of Werther (Katchen, Charlotte understudy) and The Merry Widow (Sylviane/Dodo). I have a recital in Portland, Maine in June 2016 with collaborative pianist Mark Rossnagel, and I will be a Young Artist with Opera North this summer. 

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

It has been an honor to have been nominated, thanks so much! My website is www.HeatherAGallagher.com, if you'd like any more info.

2015 Best Female Performer in an Opera Nominee: Michelle Trainor as Sister Angelica in MetroWest Opera's "Suor Angelica"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Devon Cass.

Photo Credit: Devon Cass.

Michelle Trainor gave a stirring performance as Sister Angelica in Suor Angelica in MetroWest's production at the beautiful All Saints Parish in Brookline. As part of the company's "Shattered Dreams" production, Michelle evoked a gorgeous tone and rich resonance as the heartbroken nun seeking answers and salvation. In her Interview, Michelle discusses her rehearsal process, some of her bucket list roles, and many exciting upcoming projects!

Welcome, Michelle, to the ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hi Brian, thank you so much for this opportunity.  I was born and raised in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.  It’s a beautiful rural town and I definitely consider myself a country girl.  I have an amazing husband and cat that make up my little family.  We love camping and doing outdoor activities whenever possible.  I am also an avid knitter.  My husband says that when I’m not practicing I always have knitting needles in my hands.

Who was your character in Suor Angelica?  What did she want?  What was her story?

I played Sister Angelica.  She is a kind and caring young woman who happened to have made a poor choice when she was young and had a child out of wedlock.  In order to save the family name, her aunt, who was her caretaker, took the baby from her and placed Angelica in a convent.  Sister Angelica wants desperately to hear news of her son, what he looks like, if he’s happy.  When her aunt finally comes to visit after seven years, instead of it being a warm family reunion, her aunt is cold and only wants to see her for legal matters.  She literally begs for news of her son and is devastated to hear that he had died.  She makes the decision to kill herself in order to be with him again. 

Talk to us about the rehearsal process for an opera.  How do you prepare?  How long is the process?  How was this process similar or different than for other productions?

I look for historical background on the piece and composer first.  I highlight and translate the score, speak through the text, and then learn the notes.  The process can take anywhere from a few weeks to months depending on the role and the language.  For some reason German roles take me longer to memorize.  This opera in particular had some challenges.

The most challenging problem with this role for me was that I am so passionate about Angelica and this music that I had the tendency to become too emotional.  There is a moment when she realizes that she will be damned for what she has done and she cries out for forgiveness, and I am getting teary just thinking about it.  It is so easy to get carried away emotionally and not sing beautifully in those moments.  As challenging as it is though, that is one of the things that makes this piece so heartbreakingly beautiful.    

When did you know that you wanted to pursue opera?  Why?

Ha!  That’s a great question and people might not believe my answer.  I actually was not exposed to opera at all until I was an undergraduate.  I had sung in musicals in high school and I played guitar as a street musician but I had no plans to pursue opera.  By the time I graduated it was clear that my voice was most suited to opera and that was what led me on my path.  I grew to love it but I was in my early twenties when that happened.  I fell in love with the storytelling aspect of it, the pure emotional display and that is one of the reasons I love singing Suor Angelica so much. 

If you could not work as an opera singer, what would you do instead?

I love this question!  I would be a marine biologist or an archaeologist.  No question!  Right next to the Opera News on my table is National Geographic.

What have been some of your biggest life lessons?

A big lesson has been learning how to balance being a singer and having a personal life.  It can be a struggle fitting in time with your spouse, family and friends when you are performing.  It’s also difficult to not feel depressed when you aren’t working.  I’ve had to learn how to deal with the constant rejection.  It is so easy to take it personally and self-doubt creeps in.  It is an ongoing struggle for me. I am so lucky to have an amazing and supportive husband.

What are some roles or characters that you would love to play onstage?  Any particular songs that you would like the chance to perform?

I would love to sing Lady Billows, Magda Sorel and Brünnhilde.  I would love to sing either “Nessun dorma” or “E lucevan le stelle”.  The problem is that they are tenor arias and so I will have to just sing them in my shower.

Suor Angelica (Michelle Trainor) with ensemble in Metrowest Opera's Suor Angelica (Photo Credit: Jonathan Cole). 

Suor Angelica (Michelle Trainor) with ensemble in Metrowest Opera's Suor Angelica (Photo Credit: Jonathan Cole). 

What advice would you give to aspiring opera singers?  To other performers?

Always be prepared, be a good colleague and don’t compare yourself to other singers. Your job is to sing your best every time.  I would say to all performers that we all know how difficult our job is.  Let’s be kind to one another and support our colleagues.  Be joyful for their successes and it will make our own success so much sweeter.  We have enough negativity to deal with so let’s be positive the rest of the time.

If you had to live in another country for a year, where would you want to live?  Why?  What would you do there?

New Zealand.  It has to be the most beautiful country, still so pure and untouched.  I would explore every inch of it and definitely would fit in seeing the Hobbit village, yes, I am a Tolkien lover.  I would probably wear an elf costume too.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I will be singing a concert version of Puccini’s Tosca in Brooklyn next month and I will be performing in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of The Merry Widow in the spring. I will also be making my Boston Symphony Orchestra debut in the Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier in the Fall.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thank you so much for nominating me and for supporting the arts in Boston!  

2015 Best New Work Nominee: "Quack" by Patrick Gabridge

Patrick_Gabridge

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Patrick Gabridge's short play Quack was a stand-out production at the Boston Theatre Marathon in the summer 2015.  With its clever premise, poignant relationships, and quick and witty dialogue, the play feels instantly relatable and rewarding.  In his Interview, Patrick describes the play, discusses some of the latest plays and movies that he's seen, and talks about his newest projects!

Hi, Patrick, and welcome to ArtsImpulse.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

I’ve lived in the Boston area since 2000, and, before that, I moved around the country a fair bit with my wife and family. In addition to writing plays, I also write novels (my Civil War novel about Robert Smalls, Steering to Freedom, just came out last year), screenplays, and radio plays. If I’m not writing, I like to be gardening or farming, or fixing up old houses.

Talk to us about your career as a writer and playwright.  How did you begin?  What have you done?  What are some highlights of your career?

While I was in college, I wrote my first play, a one-act set in an elevator (LOTS of new writers write such plays) and sent it to a small theater company in upstate New York where I’d worked as an actor and stagehand. To my surprise, they decided to produce it. I was hooked. That was almost 30 years ago.

I’ve written a bunch of plays with a variety of styles and subjects. When we lived in Denver, Colorado, I helped start a theatre company, Chameleon Stage, and worked as a producer and writer with them for a while. Since I’ve been in Boston, I’ve been very fortunate in working with many, many different companies (more than 40 in New England).  Being a Playwriting Fellow with the Huntington Theatre Company and New Repertory Theatre has been pretty awesome. I’ve been in the Marathon a bunch of times (10 or 11 times, so far), and I love it. Fresh Ink Theatre has also done two of my plays, and I love working with them. Lab Rats was produced by Brown Box Theatre Project in November 2015, and I got to go on tour with them to Maryland, which was an absolute blast.

Tell us about Quack.  What’s the story?  How did you write and develop this play?  Why do you think that it resonates with audiences?

It’s a short piece about a young duck who imprints on a man and doesn’t realize that she’s duck. But, of course, it’s about a lot more than that. It’s about a young woman in her first serious relationship, who is allowing herself to be defined and confined by the man with whom she’s in love.

It started when I heard about an actual duck who was fixated on a young man. My daughter, who is a college student, told me about it, and then I started thinking about her and relationships and what first loves are often like for young people. And I adored the idea of the complete denial on the part of the duck of being a duck.

It’s a piece that really hits home for people. I think many of us have been in relationships that feel similar to Abigail and Andy. It’s a piece that starts out light-hearted and can get pretty dark at the end. I’ve seen some great productions of it here in Boston, and I’ll get to see it performed in South Korea (in Korean) in August 2016. It’s a ten-minute play that manages to be simple and also have an arc and scope at the same time. Which is tricky.

Do you have any writing mentors, idols, or influences?  Do you appropriate anything from them in terms of style or content?

I’ve been part of two playwriting groups.  First, I was in Chameleon Stage in Denver, Colorado, from 1990 to 1997, and then, in 2003, I helped start the Rhombus Playwrights Group here in Boston, and we’ve been meeting ever since. The writers in those groups have influenced me far more than any plays that I’ve ever read or seen. With Rhombus, we meet every other week and hire actors who read for us for a semester at a time, so I’m always seeing work in progress, read by fantastic Boston actors. I get to witness plays develop and watch writers whose work I very much admire, up close and personal.

Groups like that do shape and influence your style—either out of admiration, or else out of challenge—I’ve got a safe creative space where I can push myself to try something different.

What was the last play that you saw?  Last movie?  TV show?  What were some of your reactions?

I see quite a few plays. I just saw Brown Box’s latest “Boxer Shorts” collection, “From Water to Dust,” and appreciate how much they can do with very simple staging. And I was excited to see four short plays that have a very different idiom from the mostly naturalistic work that I see. It’s been a super-rich month for shows—I saw Milk Like Sugar, The Convert, Back the Night, The Octoroon. It’s thrilling to see so much work written by writers of color and featuring diverse casts.

For movies, I just saw The Big Short (I’m a huge fan of Michael Lewis) which I loved—and who would expect that Adam McKay could make such a cool grown-up movie about something that’s very complicated, and also make it so fresh and compelling?  And I saw Spotlight, too, which I appreciated for all the local connections (and actors).

For TV, we tend to watch one show at a time.  I loved, loved, loved Luther. Now we’re on to the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, though I’m looking for something more fun.

Quack

Talk to us about your ideal day.

Probably a day split between writing all morning, then working with my hands in the garden or on the house after lunch. Then, dinner with family, and then off to see a play that features friends of mine (or written by a friend). And being in rehearsal on a show of mine on that day would be good, too. My ideal day probably needs to be about 28 hours long.

What advice would you give to other playwrights?  Theatre artists, in general?

Advice?  Hm.  Well, I think the thing that I’m realizing is that playwriting is a long game. Seeds that I plant, career-wise, take a long time to bloom. And the same applies for developing my skills. Young writers get a flush of early success, but then it’s important to be able to weather the dry periods. Keep writing and build a body of work.

And theatre, like any other art form and business is based on relationships. You have to get out of the house and see shows and get to know people. At least that’s how it works for me. I’m really interested in the Boston theatre community, and how much we can all work to help each other. I’m running the New England New Play Alliance with this idea that people can pull together to boost the entire new play ecosystem.

That’s my big advice. Do your own work, but make time to work to lift the whole system.

How do reviews or reviewers factor into your writing or process, if at all?  What advice would you give to reviewers for new plays?

They don’t factor into my writing process. I’m interested in people’s honest perceptions, so reviews can help me get a sense of that. And I like when good reviews help to build an audience for a play. I think that I’d ask reviewers of new play to try to keep an open mind. Perhaps try to read the play script after, so you have a sense of what elements you saw came from the production and what came from the play itself. Most of all, I think reviewers should see a lot of new plays. I don’t actually understand why reviewers write about established plays or touring productions of well-known material. What’s the point?

What is one thing that you have to do every day?

I keep a journal, as kind of a writing warm-up tool. And partly as meditation. I write in it most days.  And eat chocolate.  That’s really the thing that I try to do every day.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Yes, it’s a very busy spring. I’m workshopping my play, Blood on the Snow, a commission from the Bostonian Society, which will be produced at the Old State House in May 2016, in a site-specific production. We’ve been working on this project for about 2 years now, so it’s exciting to see it finally happen.  (www.bloodonthesnow.com)

Open Theatre Project's SlamBoston is producing my short play Escape to Wonderland, March 22-23, 2016, so that’ll be fun.

Flat Earth Theatre Company is producing my political satire, Blinders, at the Arsenal Center in June 2016, which is very exciting. It’s a play that I wrote a while ago, but the current presidential election is making it seem more relevant than ever.

And, this summer, Quack will be in the InspiraTO Festival in Toronto, Canada, and produced by the AND theatre in Incheon, South Korea, in a festival of plays all written by me.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thanks for caring about the local arts scene. There’s so much going on, especially around new plays, in Boston and New England right now. I feel lucky to be a part of it.

2015 Best Specialty Ensemble in a Musical: La Cagelles in The Umbrella's "La Cage Aux Folles"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

In our largest Interview to date, the Cagelles in The Umbrella's La Cage Aux Folles all dished and gabbed about the process of performing as the dancers and performers in this special musical.  The Cagelles were stand-out energy and force within this stunning musical about acceptance, family, and joy. The performers brought his or her own flair to each of these roles, showing us their dance moves while showing us their stories behind the scenes. In their Interview, each of these performers (Brian Liebson, Cristanto Guadiz, Lara Finn, Thom Hardy, Kai Chao, Andrew Swansburg, and Allie Córdova) talk to us about their drag song, the most challenging parts of this musical, and their Miscast roles!

Hi, all, and thank you for joining us for our biggest Interview to date!  Can you start by introducing yourselves and telling us a bit more about you?

Photo Credit: Al Ragone.

Photo Credit: Al Ragone.

Brian Liebson (“Brian”):  My name is Brian Liebson, and I am a senior at Olin College in Needham, Massachusetts, studying robotic engineering. I’m originally from Los Angeles, where I was born and raised, playing volleyball and dancing.

Luciana Fonda (“Luciana”): My name is Luciana Fionda and I work as a choreographer and dance teacher in the Boston area. I love traveling to new destinations, but I’ll always fly to Italy to see my family. When not in the theater or the dance studio, you’ll find me at yoga or playing basketball.

Crisanto Guadiz (“Crisanto”): My name is Crisanto Guadiz.  I was born in the Philippines, lived on the island of Guam for a few years, and have lived in Massachusetts ever since.  My career is in biotech, and I’ve been performing in community theater as a hobby for the past 20+ years.  I’m also a Zumba instructor and I like to dabble in photography.

Lara Finn (“Lara”): My name is Lara and I am from the North Shore of Massachusetts. I have my B.A. in Dance/Movement Studies from Emory University and my M.A. in Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University, specializing in Dance/Movement Therapy. For the past 20 years, I have choreographed musicals for Boston area high schools, colleges, and community theatres, and La Cage Aux Folles was my first time performing in a musical in over 10 years. In addition to choreographing and performing, I work as a supervisor at a therapeutic school for students with special needs.

Photo Credit: Thom Hardy.

Photo Credit: Thom Hardy.

Thom Hardy (“Thom”): I'm Thom, and I currently live in Leominster, Massachusetts. I work at a small community bank in the mortgage department. Clearly: boring day job. So to get my creative juices flowing, I love to do theatre in my spare time. Lately, I've been trying to do as much theatre as possible because I turned 30 and realized there are a lot of shows that I'm probably getting too old to do. La Cage is one of those shows, especially as a Cagelle; that doesn't come around often so you have to seize the opportunity when it happens.

Kai Chao (“Kai”): I’m from Fullerton, California . . . well, now living in East Boston. I am currently the Senior Sales Manager at the Mandarin Oriental, Boston, and I try to balance work, theater, and life regularly.  Theater has always been an integral part of my life, since Junior High (middle school for those of you born and raised on the East Coast), and it will continue to be for as long as I can manage.  Some of my favorite moments in life have been performing with Disney Entertainment, sharing the stage with Broadway talent, forming friendships that have moved from “on” to “off” stage, and meeting Al on one fateful night.

Andrew Swansburg (“Andrew”): Hey, I’m Andrew - I grew up in Nahant, Massachusetts, and I have been active in theaters around the Boston area for many years.  I work in sales for an A/V integration company - HB Communications.  I tell people: Some guys golf, others play sports - theater has always been my passion, so it’s what I do when I can slip away for awhile.

Allie Córdova (“Allie”): Thanks for the opportunity to reconnect with my fellow Cagelles virtually!  I am from the Boston area and recently moved to central New Jersey. I grew up dancing and I was obsessed with ballet. More recently, I started performing with a Boston area modern dance company called Forty Steps Dance Company. A few years ago, I decided to try my hand (and feet) at musical theater and I fell in love with both the art form and with the people I met in Boston’s theater community. By day, I am a newly-minted lawyer.

Talk to us about your characters in La Cage Aux Folles.  Who were you, how did you get this character (how much was cast by the director versus determined individually or as a group), and what did you bring to this character?

Brian: I was cast as Chantal; the director picked each of us specifically for a character, so I got to create my “version” of Chantal, but she was chosen for me. I was Mary Sunshine in a production of Chicago at Babson College, so I used my Chantal opportunity to play the snarkier, sassier version of Mary.

Luciana: I originally auditioned for Anne, but, being tall as I am, I was asked to come in for the dance callback for the Cagelles. My character, Odette, really transformed from the first rehearsal to opening night. We created this 60s Twiggy-esque character with a sassy, aloof nature.

Crisanto: I played the role of Mercedes. Being the oldest of those playing Cagelles, I tried to bring to my character a flavor “jaded maturity.”

Lara: I played Angelique, a flirty Cagelle and one of the 3 actual females. Peyton, our director, did great character work and prep with us from the beginning of the rehearsal process, so even though Angelique had just one or two spoken lines, I was able to bring her character to life through the ensemble dance numbers with a clear vision.

Thom: I played Hanna from Hamburg . . . Aka: the bitch with the whip. I'm not sure how Peyton, our fearless and phenomenal director, knew how to cast each of us because, looking back, I cannot imagine it any other way. We all had our special moments and made our roles more than just “back up drag queens.” The Cagelles don't have a lot of dialogue, so we got to make the characters our own with Peyton and our amazing choreographer Hannah’s guidance. We each brought our own talents and strengths to the roles and balanced each other out and found moments where we could just have fun.

It really became a crazy family with the 8 of us. From day one, we started bonding, and I think we all just sort of created this bizarre group of misfits that fit together… Somehow. I think we found most of our “characterization” while backstage rehearsing and getting ready for the shows. Some of us would get there HOURS before the performances to do our makeup together. We'd all sit in a row and just be stupid and silly and bitchy and sarcastic and honest with one another. Some of my favorite moments were at our makeup table. I won't lie… I'd spend 3 to 4 hours on my face only to sweat it all off. Thank God for Aqua Net; I sprayed layers upon layers of hairspray on my face each night… Perhaps it was the fumes that made this show so good…

Photo Credit: Al Ragone.

Photo Credit: Al Ragone.

Kai: Peyton really wanted each of the Cagelles to have a history that brought us to La Cage aux Folles . . . and Phaedra had definitely worked there for a while.  We worked together, and learned that Phaedra always wanted to be a dancer, almost made it . . . came close to doing some touring productions, but in the end . . . didn’t quite make it.  At that point, she had moved past her bitter point, and just settled on being a bit jaded. 

Everyone came up with some “tricks” and, well Phaedra was always liked to lash out with her tongue.  Of course, there’s always a bit of jealousy, and dishy drama… and I think there was definitely a bit of a jealous rivalry with Chantal . . . the ingénue of the group.  As we put the make-up on each night, it was really interesting how the process developed our characters.  We literally put layers of our character on with our make-up . . . with our foundation we would mask off the drama of our work day, and then we would shape and contour our faces to become Phaedra, or Derma, or Hanna, with higher cheekbones, arched eyebrows. By the time we put our lashes and lips on, they became accents of how sharp or melodramatic our emotions were that day.

Andrew: I played Dermah, who, for me, became this drag queen who had been around the block for awhile and was a bit more of an older, more subdued diva.  Peyton really allowed us the freedom to figure out the character transformation and gave us the time to look for the nuances within the script.

Photo Credit: Avenna Studios

Photo Credit: Avenna Studios

Allie: I played Nikki, the “black swan” of the Cagelles. Like me, she did not find much success in the ballet world. However, she turned to Zaza and La Cage Aux Folles to try and satisfy her need for sophistication, glamour, and attention. Peyton really pushed and supported each of us to develop a unique, authentic character. It was an incredible experience to work with Peyton, the Cagelles, Maureen (costumes), Michael (make-up), and Jake (wigs) to discover who that character was. One of my favorite Nikki elements was her bourrée-ing onto stage in pointe shoes. Not only was it fun for me to pull out my dusty pointe shoes, but it was also such a wonderful comedic moment and completely consistent with the persona that we had developed for Nikki.

If you could have any drag song, what would it be, and why?

Brian: Does “Let’s Have a Kiki” count?

Luciana: Definitely “Your Makeup Looks Terrible.” It was on constant replay in our dressing room.

Crisanto: My drag song would be “A Little Party never Killed Nobody” from The Great Gatsby soundtrack.

Lara: “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred.

Thom: I would want Katy Perry’s “Peacock” as my theme song.

Kai: Damnit, Chantal took it again . . . I suppose“You Better Work” by Ru Paul would be too cliché… and “I Love the Nightlife” by Alicia Bridges would just date me…  maybe “Wrecking Ball” by Miley, or “Firework” by Katy, or “Chasing Pavements” by Adele. I suppose it depends on the mood; some days, it would be “Winter” by Vivaldi.

Allie: Am I allowed to say “Cover Girl”? This is the music we used for curtain call, and the energy was unbeatable.

What were some of the challenges in La Cage Aux Folles?  What were some of the most exciting moments?

Brian: Makeup. We had a big day where we all learned how to do our makeup by the amazingly talented and awesome Michael Geary. That was probably the most challenging process but also the most exciting because it’s when the whole look finally came together, and I really felt like a different person.

Photo Credit: Ryan Tucker.

Photo Credit: Ryan Tucker.

Luciana: The wigs. Jake Egan designed these stunning pieces that really embodied each of our characters. It was through him I really found Odette. I wore this four piece wig, constructed into this huge beehive with curls. The weight of it was a big adjustment, especially when you’re performing such high-energy choreography. I cannot begin to count how many bobby pins lost their lives keeping that wig on my head every night.

Crisanto: The biggest challenge for me was definitely the dancing in heels!

Lara: For me, the most challenging dance number was “La Cage Aux Folles;” it was a non-stop workout that inspired me to work hard to get into the best shape I could to be able to execute everything the way I wanted to be able to. Because I hadn’t performed in a while, the general preparation it took to get back onto stage was a fun and rewarding challenge.

The most exciting moment was the first time we got to perform for a full audience, the energy in the theater was amazing.

Thom: I agree with Lara that the title number was a challenge. Not only did we have to do 6,453 kicks, in dresses, and wigs, for 10 minutes, but we had to sing and entertain and be ridiculous. I remember one rehearsal where we finished the number and we literally were laying on the floor minutes away from death. Our brilliant choreographer (Hannah Shihdanian) said to us, in her loving energetic Zumba instructor way: “You guys need to start running!” But by the time we opened, we could do it without fainting. There were moments where we still had to cheat a bit and tell each other, “You hold me up, smile, and make noise when you're facing front and I'll do the same for you!” (Thanks, Allie!)

The most exciting moment was opening night when we stepped on stage for the first time. The audience didn't know what to expect, neither did we… And we did it!! I wish I could relive that moment every day.

Kai: All those kicks!  But, every time John/Georges introduced Les Cagelle, and the lights switched to silhouette us, was the most exhilarating moment; you could feel the audience trying to see who/what was behind the curtains.  Then there was a collective gasp every night when the curtains opened and the lights went up to full and the audience burst into applause; we knew then that the illusion was there.

Andrew:  I think the challenge for me was allowing myself to become something I wasn’t or at least to explore the world of drag.  It’s an interesting emotional transformation to look in the mirror for the first time and see what you’ve become/created, which is a very different feeling when the character takes on a physical transformation. 

Allie: One of the most challenging aspects for me was pushing myself to “go big or go home!” The Cagelles are super high-energy and high-drama, a state of being that does not match my off-stage personality. Pushing those boundaries was tough, but also incredibly fun.

There were so many highs in this show - in particular, I loved the pre-performance ritual of the Cagelles arriving early at the theater to put on our faces and our characters together, and I loved the curtain call, getting the entire audience on their feet dancing and celebrating this beautiful story.

If you could turn back time, when and where would you go?  Why?  What would you do?  What would you bring back with you?

Brian: I’d go to the San Francisco Pride in June 2015, days after the SCOTUS voted in favor of common sense.

Luciana: The Roaring ‘20s. I was brought up on jazz music, so I’d love to go back to its origin days.

Photo Credit: Crisanto Guadiz.

Photo Credit: Crisanto Guadiz.

Crisanto: I would go back to my freshman year in college, and I would take more advantage of the great theater department we had at my university.

Lara: The 1950s; I love the music from this time period and it just looks like it was a fun, simple time that I would have enjoyed

Thom: Luciana and I would have a fabulous time together in the Gay ‘20s. I'm sure you'd find us in some seedy little speakeasy, making complete fools of ourselves and trying to “out bitch” each other.

I'd like to bring back a young Carol Channing, so she can be around for another 95 years or more.

Kai: Such a Catch-22; I would have probably called in sick one more day to attend the final call-back to a national tour for which I was auditioning, but, then, if I landed that job, where would I be now?  I’d like to think that I would still have made it to Boston, and met Al, so that we could be where we are now, with different experiences, but life is an enigma that way, and, I find that we create our moments, and in those moments we find happiness.

Andrew: Well, if we’re talking a time period, it would be the ‘50s - I’m just enamored with that time period. 

If we’re talking in my life, probably back to my early 20s so I could take advantage of opportunities that I didn’t jump on. 

Of course, I have to agree with Thom, having a young Carol Channing around would be kind of fun!

Allie: I’ll head back to the ‘20s so I can Charleston with Luciana and Thom (and wear a gorgeous dress while at it).

Why do you think La Cage Aux Folles resonated with reviewers and audience members?

Brian: It’s one of the first shows to portray a gay couple as its leading characters, and not making a joke out of it. It shows normal people in a normal relationship to which anyone can relate. I think people may come to be entertained by the crazy, zany drag queens, but fall in love with the honest and real story.

Luciana: One of the largest themes of this show is acceptance. You see every one of these characters deal with both personal and social acceptance in some way. I think that desire to be included and validated runs deep within human nature. That’s why this show is such a quintessential piece of musical theater.

Crisanto: I think the show resonated with a lot of people because pretty much everyone has that certain something that they’re insecure about or fear judgement for, and La Cage puts forth a message to just let down your guard and live life as you are.

Lara: Audiences loved the glitter and high-energy songs and dances, but the simplicity of the heart of the story is what I think really resonated with everyone that saw the show, and what I took away from it as well. It’s about loving yourself and others for who they are and doing so fiercely, even when it takes extra courage.

Thom: La Cage is a story about family. I like to think that you are born with relatives, but you can choose your family. We, the cast and especially the Cagelles, became a family and I think that showed on stage. Some things you just cannot fake, and our trust in each other and love for our family, however dysfunctional that we may have been, was what made this show so special to me. I hope that showed to the audiences. I loved every minute of this production and would do it again and again.

Kai: As Cagelles, we always want it to be about us. We’re the reason why the audience comes, but, really, the reason why we were there in the first place is love and family.  It’s alot of glitz and glamour, but without love it is all just sparkle dust and maribou.  Everyone can have a little fun with the numbers, but then it’s really about love winning in the end.  It’s also about changing our cultural norms.  Bad decisions are made right, love conquers all, and it’s all that we want for the world. 

Photo Credit: Bill Letourneau.

Photo Credit: Bill Letourneau.

Andrew: La Cage is really just a show about love and acceptance and family - what more can you ask for.  It really is a beautiful family show.

Allie: To echo Brian, the pageantry draws you in, but the story beneath is incredibly honest and real, and the show draws on themes about love, family, dignity and acceptance that can resonate with anyone. I think it is also important to recognize this story as a specific celebration of a gay couple maintaining a supportive relationship and loving family (biological and chosen) while consistently confronted by hostility toward those very relationships and even their own identities.

What are some plays or musicals that you would love to see performed in our Greater Boston community?  Why?  Would you act, direct, choreograph, or just see and enjoy them?

Brian: I’d kill to be in a production like In the Heights. I think diverse representation is very not present in Boston area theater, resulting in a preventative atmosphere to put on more racially invested shows. I’d love to see more people on stage of all shapes and sizes and more productions being put on taking risks in casting choices and inventive staging.

Luciana: Brian and I have In the Heights in common. I would also love to be a part of a show like The Producers. There’s so much you can do with Mel Brooks style of comedy that it would be a real challenge for me as an actress. Plus, the choreography is spectacular.

Some of the ensemble of the Umbrella's La Cage Aux Folles (Photo Credit: Al Ragone). 

Some of the ensemble of the Umbrella's La Cage Aux Folles (Photo Credit: Al Ragone). 

Crisanto: I’d love to be in another production of Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Thom: Kiss of the Spider Woman is another seldom produced show that I'd love to be involved in. But I wouldn't be opposed to a La Cage revival! I'd do this show again any day… As long as we can rehearse the numbers a couple hundred times so I can fit back into those dresses...

Kai: Mary Poppins with an Asian Bert . . . oh, wait . . .

I’m pretty open to many things, and have grown more interested in opportunities to present diversity in theater, and engaging audiences to see things with a different perspective.  Multi-diversity casting is on everyone’s agenda, but, I still feel there is an appropriate place/time/work for it to be impactful.  There are some roles I would love to challenge myself with, and productions I would love to direct, and/or choreograph.  And when the time is right, they will happen.

Andrew: I was thrilled Pippin got remade a few years back - it’s one of my favorite shows and so very rarely done.  I wish more companies would take on challenging shows like that.  I like “feel good” shows that let you escape for a while and walk out humming a tune and wanting to watch more. 

I would always prefer to be on stage - the challenge of telling the story, performing some challenging choreography or just venturing into something that pushes you mentally, physically and emotionally.

Allie: Sadly, I’m no longer in Boston and cannot participate in new productions other than by seeing and enjoying them (which I look forward to doing). I’d love to see my region of New Jersey emulate the dynamic theater community of Boston!

What is one thing that you enjoy doing on the weekends?  What is one thing that you do not enjoy doing on weekends?

Brian: I’m in the Donkey Show in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I really enjoy that.

I really don’t enjoy waking up early… before noon.

Luciana: I’ll either be seeing a show or spending quality time with friends and family.

Laundry is the worst weekend chore, especially when most of your wardrobe revolves around dance attire.

Crisanto: I love going to my place in Wells, Maine, every weekend for 6 months of the year.

I hate going to bed on Sunday nights because it means the weekend is over, so I usually delay that as much as possible.

Photo Credit: Lara Finn

Photo Credit: Lara Finn

Lara: I typically have very busy weeks, so on the weekends, I try to take every opportunity to enjoy downtime and relax in my neighborhood and catch up with friends.

I do not enjoy shopping, so that is something I typically avoid doing on the weekends if I can help it.

Thom: I like Italian food, scary movies, and long walks on the beach… I'm single, so get me a date: that's what I'd like to do on my weekends!

Kai: Al recently re-introduced photography to me.  I had always enjoyed it, from taking amateur shots, and taking some shots while I was writing and editing our high school newspaper, but it is something that I never pursued.  It’s still just a hobby, but photography gives Al and me the opportunity to share an interest, take photo-walks, and pause and take in what is around us.

The one thing (or multiple things) I hate doing on the weekend are chores (housecleaning, laundry, etc.).  I say, “Do it during the week, and leave the weekends for fun!”

Andrew: Weekends for me are pretty busy with the kids, ballet studios, catching up from the week.  If I can, I like to find some time to catch a show, support a local theater or spend a little time in the city.

Allie: Now that I’m living closer to New York City, I love going in to visit friends, eat good food, and take a class at Broadway Dance Center.

I have to go with Luciana - laundry is one of the worst weekend activities, but I can never find any other time to do it.

Miscast!  If you could play one role that for some reason (gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) that would not normally play, what would it be?  Why?

Brian: Janet from The Drowsy Chaperone. No question.

Luciana: Aaron Burr from Hamilton. His songs are stellar, plus I secretly like to rap.

Crisanto: Cassie from A Chorus Line because I’d love to learn the Cassie dance.

Lara: I’d love to play Pippin’s grandmother (too young) in Pippin or Matilda (too old) in Matilda.

Thom: So, I have decided that before I die, I need to play the following roles: Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! and Mama Rose in Gypsy… I'm apparently going to live forever.

Kai: Belle in Beauty and the Beast - I kind of love Disney, and this was one of the first animated-films-turned-stage-productions that was written in a musical production format.  Belle is a strong character with heart and conviction.  And, maybe Velma in Chicago . . . ‘cause, Fosse, nothing else needed.

Andrew: Wait - there’s a role I’m not right for?  Ummm . . . Eva in Evita would be a fun role to try. There are really so many, it’s hard to choose!

Allie: Eva in Evita (sorry, Andy, we’ll have to fight it out). I will never have the voice for that role, but the music is incredible, and the character is so complex and interesting.

Some of the Cagelles in The Umbrella's La Cage Aux Folles (Photo Credit: Al Ragone). 

Some of the Cagelles in The Umbrella's La Cage Aux Folles (Photo Credit: Al Ragone). 

Of what are you most proud?

Brian: During the summer of 2015, I started getting paid to perform. It was an incredible feeling of validation, and got me on track to start earning EMC points, moving my theater hobby into a profession.

Luciana: I recently booked a commercial for Regina Pizzeria. Although I consider the theater to be my home, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me as an actress.

Crisanto: I’m most proud of the life that I’ve built with my husband.  We’ve been together for 22 years and got legally married as soon as it became an option 12 years ago.  Our relationship has been the biggest source of personal growth for me.

Lara: I’m proud of the way I’ve been able to keep musical theatre and choreography in my life, despite choosing a different career path. It’s something that was important to me and that I have kept a priority, despite the fact that it would have been easier to give it up at times.

Thom: I'm proud of the work that I've done. From this chubby little boy from small town central Massachusetts who couldn't play t-ball to being able to perform alongside these super talented people . . . It's sort of nuts! I'd never have thought that life would have led me to being nominated with these crazy ladies and lady-boys for singing and dancing in glitter and wigs and heels and feathers and “sparkle dust, bugle beads, ankle straps, maribu . . . ”

Kai: Keeping theater as a passion, balanced (although sometimes teetering) with our home, and work.  Sometimes, one definitely outweighs some others, and, at different times, but for the most part, with the help of Al, and my friends and colleagues, I’m able to still enjoy theater.  Oh, and that I can still kick shoulder height.

Andrew: Probably my kids - I have three girls that just amaze me all the time.  They’re all dancers - trained in classical ballet but have picked up all the disciplines and they are so much better than I ever was or will be!

Allie: I had hip surgery about 5 years ago and I set a goal for myself that I would recover better than ever and get paid to perform. I am proud that I was able to accomplish those goals, and sooner than I ever expected.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Brian: I’m actually in Mary Poppins at Wheelock Family Theater with several other ArtsImpulse Nominees.

Luciana: I just finished my first solo choreography production of Mary Poppins, and I am currently working on Jekyll and Hyde at Pentucket Players.

Crisanto: I have a callback this week for a production of Spamalot.  If that doesn’t work out, I’ll just continue to teach Zumba, do the occasional photo project, and travel.

Lara: I am happy to have a busy Spring! I just finished working on movement for Merrimack College’s production of Big Love, which opens mid-February 2016, and I am choreographing Hair at The Umbrella, Cabaret at Marblehead Little Theatre, Once on This Island at Peabody High School, and Shrek at Saugus High School, all of which open between April and May 2016. My goal is to perform in another show after taking a break this summer.

Thom: I'm currently rehearsing for two shows...5 nights a week, so I'm pretty busy. I'll playing the Emcee in Theatre at the Mount’s Cabaret opening at the end of February 2016, and also I get to perform as Peter Allen in Arlington Friends of the Drama’s The Boy from Oz, which runs the first three weekends in April 2016.

Kai: I have the pleasure of working with Lara on Cabaret, as her assistant, at Marblehead Little Theater, and as Nate in a new play, The Maid, in the Common Room, with the Fiance at Flyleaf Theatre Company.  And, hopefully, I’ll have a couple more projects in the early summer and fall 2016 . . . but, those are not confirmed yet.  It seems, this year, I’ll be working on more creative teams behind the scenes than on stage treading the boards!

Some of the Cagelles in The Umbrella's La Cage Aux Folles (Photo Credit: Al Ragone).

Some of the Cagelles in The Umbrella's La Cage Aux Folles (Photo Credit: Al Ragone).

Andrew: I have a couple of small gigs this spring.  I float in an out of a group called Voices of Hope who raise funds for cancer research.  So, I’m slated to dance a number in Fiddler on the Roof with them in May 2016 at the North Shore Music Theater.  But otherwise, I’ve tried to keep myself pretty open.

Allie: I am six months pregnant, so my current projects are gestating this little being, and taking dance classes with what feels like a bowling ball strapped to my stomach.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Brian: So honored to have this show nominated. Maureen Festa’s amazing costumes, Elissa Jordan’s excellent stage management, and my fellow Cagelles’ amazing talent and energy. What a great experience.

Luciana: This show was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I am truly humbled to have been a part of such a wonderful production with such an exuberantly talented cast. Thank you, ArtsImpulse, for this nomination!

Crisanto: La Cage is one of those shows that isn’t often produced, so I’m thrilled to have had the chance to do it, and with such an amazing company, production team, and cast too!  It will always be a special one for me.  I’m truly grateful that there’s such a great theater community here in New England and that there are so many people who support community theater especially.

Lara: Thank you for this nomination; this show was a special one to be a part of and it is so exciting to have others recognize how special it was as well!

Thom: This nomination needs to be shared with so many more people: From our director, choreographer, music director to our costumer (Maureen who is also nominated) to our Wig Designer (Jake Egan) and our Make-Up Designer/Drag-Mama (Michael Geary) and to the rest of the production team, cast and crew.  We could not have done this without all of them!!! I'm honored to have been involved with this show, and it is one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Kai: Everyone put so much heart, sweat, sore arches, pins and needles, hairspray, glitter, and time into this production. I am so happy that our production was recognized, from creative and performance perspectives.  The Greater Boston Theater community is one of the most unique in the nation, where we collaborate so much with each other, and across theaters, that I find myself very proud to just be able to be a part of it.

Andrew: I’ve had the opportunity to audition for La Cage several times and have always passed on it for one reason or another.  I’m thrilled and very grateful to Peyton and The Umbrella that I got to finally do it!  My gratification came with seeing the character I created come to life for an audience - this nomination is just a little icing on the cake.  I’m really glad that our audiences enjoyed it night after night.  It was a wonderful cast and now a wonderful new group of friends. 

Allie: Thank you for this nomination! I am so proud and so grateful to have been part of this production. It really was an amazing collaboration with every single person involved being a critical part. Like Kai said, the Greater Boston Theater community is very special, and I can’t believe I got to be a part of it for a time.

2015 Best Leading Actor in a Musical Nominee: Christopher Chew as Henry Higgins in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's "My Fair Lady"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: David Costa. 

Photo Credit: David Costa

Christopher Chew has an award-worthy reputation for playing complex leading men with a heroic and intelligent charm and skill. His Henry Higgins in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's My Fair Lady was no exception and Chris expanded his usual acclaim to new heights by tackling this iconic and oft-misunderstood role. In his Interview, Chris talks about his diverse (but similar) roles in 2015, why he believes Henry Higgins is misunderstood, and how the Boston theatre scene has changed over the past few years.

Hi, Chris, and thanks for joining us for an ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview.  Can you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?

Hi, Brian!  I have been fortunate to be part of the Boston theater scene for over 15 years now and I have enjoyed every minute of it.  I live way out of town in the woods with my wife and two kids, and I find the long commute (70-90 minutes) somewhat therapeutic on most evenings. Coming into town for a show, I have plenty of time to warm-up vocally and separate the day’s events from whatever show I am working on, and likewise heading home gives me plenty of time to unwind before walking in the door and heading straight to bed! I am the principal of a public middle school and get up early in the morning to head off to school every day.

Talk to us about your acting roles in 2015.  How were they similar?  How were they different?

Interestingly, I was able to play two different well-known characters who are often considered monsters in their own right, but I found to be very endearing. I started the year getting my ogre on and tackling Shrek with Wheelock Family Theater, and I then did my best to understand Shaw’s brilliant character, Henry Higgins, with the Lyric Stage Company.

They both have very serious social problems and find it difficult to relate with others. However, Shrek operates on gut and instinct and is painfully aware of how the world feels about him. Higgins is the smartest person in the room, and has no clue how his actions impact those around him or really what others think of him.  

How was your Henry Higgins different than other productions?  How did you discover your portrayal and interpretation?  Why?

Scott Edmiston created an environment where we were able to play from the very beginning, and he encouraged all of us to dive deeply into what made these characters tick.  He gave me a lot of freedom to explore the joy and passion that Higgins has in his work.  As an educator, I have had amazing opportunities to work with students and adults across the spectrum of autism and I really felt like today’s Higgins lives somewhere between Sherlock and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.  He would be more comfortable communicating with them than anyone else. That was a really enjoyable to thing to explore and it helped me not get bogged down in the seemingly mean approach many have with Higgins, but rather live in his unapologetically high expectations of everything, including himself.

What have been some of your biggest challenges in theatre?  Professionally?  Personally?

I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to play a lot phenomenal roles and they have all come with their own challenges.  But I would have to say staying healthy across the board, both physically and mentally, throughout the grueling schedules has probably been the most challenging. 

The biggest personal challenge has been learning to balance a family with the demands of the theater schedule.  That starts by learning when it is okay to say no to too many commitments, and not being afraid that another offer will never come along.

Eliza Doolittle (Jennifer Ellis) and Henry Higgins (Christopher Chew) in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's My Fair Lady (Photo Credit: Aram Boghosian/The Boston Globe). 

Eliza Doolittle (Jennifer Ellis) and Henry Higgins (Christopher Chew) in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's My Fair Lady (Photo Credit: Aram Boghosian/The Boston Globe). 

Do you believe that Henry Higgins is misunderstood?  Why or why not?  Do you believe any other famous characters are misunderstood?

I absolutely believe Higgins is misunderstood!  I think he is on the autism spectrum, while he is often portrayed as a jerk. I don’t think he is mean at all. I also think he admires Eliza’s persistence and takes her for granted because he can’t understand why she would not want to stay.

How has your day job influenced your night job?

Being an educator has informed how I approach my character work.  I look for the humanity and integrity in every character I create and I think carefully about what I attach my name to as it can have an impact on my effectiveness and integrity as an educator, as well.

When you are not at the theatre, what can we find you doing?  Relatedly, for what do you wish that you had more time?

If I am not at school, then I am with my family at home or going to my kids’ events and supporting them there.

What are some of the roles on your bucket list?  What are some shows or productions on your bucket list?  Why?

Luckily, I have been able to check a lot of them off, but my dream since high school has been to play Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.  I hope I get that chance before I am too old!

What advice would you give yourself at 20 years old?  30 years old?  A year ago?

Stay active and drink a lot of water!

How have you seen the Greater Boston theatre scene change in the past few years?  How do you anticipate (or hope) that it will change in the future?

The explosion of additional theater companies has been awesome!  The energy and opportunities to collaborate with so many phenomenal artists is inspiring. The community seemed smaller years ago so much that it felt more like being in Whoville shouting: “We are here! We are here!” just to try and get the public to notice great theater was being created in Boston and not just shipped in on tour. 

Now, there is so much activity that it is virtually impossible to not notice the wonderful range of locally-produced theater. I am very proud to be a part of that!

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Not currently!

2015 Best Leading Actor in a Play Nominee: Michael Underhill as Peter/Craig in Happy Medium Theatre's "Dying City"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Josephine anes.

Photo Credit: Josephine anes.

Michael Underhill is a thriving Boston actor who has made his mark in multiple Greater Boston professional and fringe productions. One of his latest performances as Peter/Craig in the 2015 production of Dying City by Happy Medium Theatre was a feat unto itself. Alternating between the twin brothers in a dynamic and nuanced performance, Michael performed this intimate work in his very own home with his wife, Kiki Samko, to outstanding acclaim. In his Interview, Michael talks about performing this production in an alternative space, his top three personal memories, and his many upcoming projects!

Hi, Michael, and thank you for joining us for our ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. Let’s start by finding out more about you.  Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

My name is Michael Underhill – a born and raised Boston actor. I have been on the Artistic Boards of imaginary beasts and Happy Medium Theatre for 5 years. My parallel career is with Associated Grant Makers, where I have served as the Program and Administrative Associate for three years.

Tell us about your work on Dying City.  Who did you play?  How was this production different or similar to other productions?

I played the twin brothers Peter and Craig in Christopher Shinn’s beautiful play, Dying City. For one, getting to play two brothers who are at the same time very different and very similar is a unique treat and a challenge as an actor. Secondly, I got play opposite my wife, Kiki Samko, in our own living room.

Talk to us about performing in a found space.  Have you done other theatre like this before?  What were some of the challenges?  What were some of the benefits?

I had never performed in my own home before. We were inspired by the "Home Invasion" project that Theatre on Fire began. They rehearsed a play that could be adapted and brought to audience members’ own homes. The challenges are obvious in that it’s not an actual theater space without the usual sound or lighting package, small audience spaces and the fact that we were living in our rehearsal and performance space! Taking the work home with us for sure.

The benefits? The commute was great, for one! It was an extremely intimate performance and could be qualified as hyper-realism. My favorite example is that we boiled water on an actual teapot and did many experiments and trial and error to figure out when we should put the pot on to achieve the dramatic timing of the whistle. It was pretty consistent, but there were some happy accidents with it as well!

Peter (Michael Underhill) in Happy Medium Theatre's Dying City (Photo Credit: Josephine Anes).

Peter (Michael Underhill) in Happy Medium Theatre's Dying City (Photo Credit: Josephine Anes).

How have you grown as an actor over the past year?  What do you continue to work on?

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to expand my horizons in terms of characters that I’ve been able to play. From a college fraternity brother to a pill-popping kleptomaniac to a self-absorbed actor and a withdrawn army veteran to various Shakespearean roles (and not to mention a severely cut down version of Cosette in Les Miserables), it’s been a cornucopia of different personalities to unearth on stage. I am continuously finding myself doing things that challenge and scare me, which I believe is the best way to grow and learn.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

On my (rare) days off, I indulge in playing video games for longer than I should!

What are three of your favorite personal memories?

Marrying the love of my life on a beautiful picturesque weekend with all my closest friends and family.

Riding horses on the beaches of Anguilla.

Running a Spartan Race and getting really, really muddy.

How would like to see the Boston theatre scene change in 2016?  Over the next five years?

I think, in 2016, I would like to see more audience engagement from theaters in general. The theater has become this isolated dark place that we go into and keep quiet for 90 minutes to two hours and then are escorted out into the world and on our way home. Providing a casual (not forced talkback) avenue for audiences and artists alike to gather and confront the work they’ve just sat through.

More efforts to find sustainable, reliable funding. Flash crowdfunding has been very fashionable in the past few years (and for good reason), but I fear for the fading out of the fad. I’m in love with Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston’s $5 a month subscription service “All-In” and wish there were more of these affordable and convenient services available from small to large theaters.

What is one thing that you wish that people knew about you? 

I’m a goofball once you get to know me.

Of what are you most proud?

As a theatrical accomplishment, I revived the student group Silver Masque at Northeastern University and founded the bi-weekly performance cabaret “Fortnight.” It continues and thrives as an experimental space for students to perform, sing, dance, write, laugh, and most importantly, fail gloriously in a safe space! It fills me with joy that it is still around for students to have that opportunity in a collegiate atmosphere.

If you could perform opposite your wife, Kiki Samko, again, what roles would you like to play and what shows would you want to perform?

We have always talked about a gender-bent The Taming of the Shrew with Kiki playing Petruchio and myself playing “super dainty Kate.”

Kelly (Kiki Samko) and Craig (Michael Underhill) in Happy Medium Theatre's Dying City (Photo Credit: Josephine Anes). 

Kelly (Kiki Samko) and Craig (Michael Underhill) in Happy Medium Theatre's Dying City (Photo Credit: Josephine Anes). 

Other than that, we haven’t really talked about specifics, but any time we get to share the stage is a boon.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Sir Joseph Surface in School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Actors' Shakespeare Project, April 13 - May 8, 2016)

Palmer in Eyes Shut. Door Open by Cassie M. Seinuk (Wax Wings Productions, May 2016)

Steve-o in Brendan by Ronan Noone (Happy Medium Theatre, July 2016)

Director of Sense and Sensibility (based on the novel by Jane Austen), adapted by Kate Hamill (Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company, October 2016)

Various characters in Shit-Faced Shakespeare Magnificent Bastards Productions (Ongoing . . . over 100 shows and counting!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Go see theater! 

2015 Best Cabaret or Solo Performance Nominee: Miscast! Cabaret by the Boston Theatre Project

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Miscast!

The Boston Theatre Project presented a hilarious and diverse Miscast! Cabaret with some of Boston's best musical theatre talent (and a few surprise guests!). We were delighted by their risk-taking in performing songs that might not get a traditional performance, but nonetheless felt like an integral part of each performer's personality and charm. In their Interview, three members of the Miscast! Cabaret (Jenna Lea Scott, Lenni Kmiec, and Gillian Gordon) tell us about their Miscast! Cabaret set list, their proudest personal and professional achievement, and one piece of advice that they would give their younger selves!

Thank you, all, for joining us for our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourselves?

Jenna Lee Scott (Photo Credit: Gary Ng).

Jenna Lee Scott (Photo Credit: Gary Ng).

Jenna Lea Scott (“JLS”): I am a Korean-adoptee who grew up in Acton, Massachusetts. I went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, in New York City, and I was an Acting Apprentice at Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And I recently played Tracy in Hairspray at Wheelock Family Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.

Lenni Kmiec (“LK”): My name is Lenni, and I am Equity actor here in Boston as well as an arts educator throughout the Greater Boston area.

Gillian Gordon (“GG”): I’m a Boston-based AEA and SAG-AFTRA performer and the founder of Boston Theatre Project.  I feel lucky to be a part of the Boston theatre scene, which is a large reason why Miscast! Cabaret gave 100% of its proceeds to the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund, which provides aid to anyone in the Massachusetts theatre community during times of hardship.

Tell us a bit about the songs that you chose to sing.  Why that song?  Why your particular interpretation or performance of that song?

JLS: I picked “Chip's Lament” from 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and it's all about the struggles of being a young boy dealing with puberty. If anything, I thought this song would be the perfect song to sing in a show called Miscast! I chose this song because it was comedic and just rather absurd for me to be cast as this role as a woman.

Lenni Alexandra Kmiec in Kiss Me, Kate at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston (Photo Credit: Herb Philpott).

Lenni Alexandra Kmiec in Kiss Me, Kate at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston (Photo Credit: Herb Philpott).

LK: My dream role is Huck Finn in Big River, so singing “Muddy Water” was an easy choice for me! In terms of opening the cabaret with “We Can Do It” from The Producers, that decision came when Gilly and I poured through a bunch of male duets. I have a love for doing parodies at these types of events, so we saw this upbeat piece as an opportunity to introduce what the evening was about by slightly rewriting the lyrics!

GG: I sang “We Can Do It” from The Producers with Lenni Kmiec.  Lenni is very creative with dialogue, so she altered some words to make it an excellent opening number for Miscast.  It was also my one chance to play Max Bialystock!

I then sang “Where Is Love” from Oliver. The line-up was full of so many hysterical songs, so I wanted to shake it up a bit (not that mine was the only ballad).  It has such a beautiful melody . . . and I had to redeem myself for playing the money grabbing Max Bialystock!

What do you think makes a successful cabaret?  How is it different than other performances?

JLS: Cabarets are rehearsed less and it’s been my experience that it allows me to stretch my muscles as an actor and singer. Being able to sing a song out of context of a full musical, it allows a fun challenge, and we all need to keep growing and learning as performers, and just as people!

Lenni Kmiec (Photo Credit: Paul Kmiec Photography).

Lenni Kmiec (Photo Credit: Paul Kmiec Photography).

LK: I love the idea of having a theme! It definitely makes for a more selective choice of materials when you are narrowing down to fit a specific subject matter, motif, or style. I think sometimes it is easy for cabarets to become self-indulgent for actors, and while that is okay, those evenings can get mundane and dramatic.

My favorite thing about this specific cabaret theme was that it was almost entirely an up-tempo and comedic evening that allowed actors to do something they wouldnt typically get to do with no judgment. It was one big laugh for everyone, but for an excellent cause.

GG: A cabaret is successful when you feel free to break the fourth wall, which was particularly fun with this cabaret because it was miscast and the performers made some bold choices.  It’s also important to assemble a song line up with plenty of range. Also, Maria Duaime Robinson (our music director) held everyone to a high level of delivery, despite the antics involved in a miscast cabaret. 

What is one other song that you would have liked to add to your set list?

JLS: Any song from Rent where I know only the male singing roles. Growing up I would try to convince my little sister to sing with me, and she would only do it if she sang the girl lines.

LK: Id love to play Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer. “Somebody Kill Me” would be a blast if I could play guitar!

GG: “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?” from Kiss Me, Kate!  Cole Porter’s lyrics are incredibly clever. 

What has been your proudest professional achievement?  Proudest personal achievement?

Jenna Lea Scott with Michael Notardonato and Jennifer Beth Glick in Hairspray at Wheelock Family Theatre (Photo credit: Gary Ng).

Jenna Lea Scott with Michael Notardonato and Jennifer Beth Glick in Hairspray at Wheelock Family Theatre (Photo credit: Gary Ng).

JLS: Performing for the Elliot Norton Awards with my cast of Hairspray from Wheelock Family Theatre. I had done the year before with Avenue Q and we won Best Musical, but performing with the amazing cast of Hairspray again after we had closed that show was the icing on the cake.

Personal achievement is being able to still go onstage and finding my love for live performances every time I get the opportunity. I'm so lucky and proud I can still do that even when life knocks you down sometimes. Performing always lifts me up!

LK: You know, my proudest moment theatrically was actually not professionally. I was in a community theatre production of West Side Story when I was 17 years old. I played Maria. It was the moment I realized that theatre is about the power of storytelling. I admit I wasnt a good storyteller until this point. Like many high school kids, I just wanted to kick my face and belt really high. When those elements were taken out of the picture for me, it was the tip of the ice-berg moving forward into my love for acting and script analysis.

Personal achievement? I have been the caretaker and educator for many tiny humans over the past five years. Many of them are turning out to be pretty stellar little people. It makes me proud.

Gillian Gordon (Photo Credit: Cheryl Richards Photographer).

Gillian Gordon (Photo Credit: Cheryl Richards Photographer).

GG: My proudest professional achievement was playing Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof at Reagle Music Theatre.  It was my first role as a member of Actors Equity Association.  I had worked 50 weeks in Equity houses in order to join the union, so it felt like an unpredictable, yet exciting next step. 

Among my proudest personal achievements was planning the first Boston Theatre Project Cabaret Fundraiser in 2014.  I wanted to provide performers the opportunity to flex their performing muscles in a welcoming environment, all while raising money and awareness for a worthy cause.  There are always some hurdles while planning these cabaret fundraisers, however, the performers, volunteers and attendees were all incredible and helped us raise close to $2,000 for Great Dog Rescue New England

If you could have any other job, what would it be and why?

JLS: I would really like to become a producer! Fostering artists and giving them a safe place to be creative would be an honor to give back for all the theaters that housed me as a performer.

LK: There was a time when I was watching A LOT of Greys Anatomy and wanted to be surgeon . . . too bad Im squeamish! I actually am a full time teacher in addition to being an actor, and I can honestly say that it is truly a fulfilling combination!

GG:  I’ve always had a fascination with Egypt.  When I was younger, I dreamed of being an archeologist in Egypt.

If you were trapped on a desert island and could only bring three things and one person, what and who would they be?

Jenna Lea Scott with Davron S. Monroe, John Ambrosino, Erica Spyres and Harry McEnerny in Avenue Q at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston (Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard).

Jenna Lea Scott with Davron S. Monroe, John Ambrosino, Erica Spyres and Harry McEnerny in Avenue Q at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston (Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard).

JLS: I would bring: 1. A survival kit; 2. Water shoes, my feet are super sensitive; and 3. A working phone, so I can call for a ride home when we are done playing “Survivor.”

I would bring Gamalia Pharms . . . she's a talented and beautiful performer, and she has the heart of gold, and we would be miserable but laughing together as we wait for a rescue crew of handsome British men!

LK: Yikes! Id probably bring 1. my son, a stuffed turtle name Sheldon; 2. my My Little Pony back pack because it would be practical; and 3. my works of Shakespeare collection for entertainment because, lord knows, you can read each play a million times and learn something new.

If I could pick one person to come with it would probably be Devon Stone, just because hes probably the only who would put up with the whining.

GG: I would bring 1. my camera (why not document the experience!); 2. Ruby (my dog - she would be very protective), and 3. a funny book (to distract myself from the fact that I’m STUCK on a desert island). 

I would bring my mom because she knows exactly how to deal with me when I’m stressed out.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be, and at what age would you give it?

JLS: I was 5 years old when I came to the United States, and I would tell myself to not worry so much on what every choice I made means for my future. You can only control your present and also you have little control over things, so stop worrying about it.

LK: I probably would have told my high school self never to give up an opportunity to travel; there is nothing more beautiful than getting to know the world you live in while you have the chance.

Gillian Mariner Gordon with Sean Quinn in Singin' in the Rain at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston (Photo Credit: Herb Philpott).

Gillian Mariner Gordon with Sean Quinn in Singin' in the Rain at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston (Photo Credit: Herb Philpott).

GG: “Doubt your fears, not your dreams.” We give our fears too much power. I wish I was more aware of it in high school, but it’s never too late to embrace this thought. 

Give us one lyric that speaks to you from one of the songs that you sang.

JLS: “Adulthood brings its own peculiar rejection.”

LK: In “Muddy Water,” Jim sings: “Well, I been down/ to the pain and sorrow/ of no tomorrows coming in./ But I put my pole/ to the river bottom/ and Ive got to hide some place to find myself again.”

GG: “We can do it!”  That’s for everyone reading this!

Do you have any upcoming projects?

JLS: I will be in Dog Fight: The Musical at Speakeasy Stage Company from May 5- June 4, 2016. And my own theatre company Glass Curtain Company: Boston's OTHER Theatre is working on projects, so look for us and like us on Facebook.

Lenni Alexandra Kmiec with Amie Lytle and Ben Heath in Much Ado About Nothing at Boston Theater Company (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

Lenni Alexandra Kmiec with Amie Lytle and Ben Heath in Much Ado About Nothing at Boston Theater Company (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

LK: I am currently directing a production of Young Frankenstein at The Alexander Childrens Theatre School alongside Gillian Gordon who is choreographing! I just finished up Mary Poppins at Wheelock Family Theatre and a staged reading of a new work called “Mairis Wedding,” which also featured Miss Gillian Gordon! But right now, its back to the classroom!

GG: I just returned from a month in New Jersey where I was working on a new play called College Colors at Crossroads Theatre Company.  I also just participated in a staged reading of a lovely new musical play called “Mairi’s Wedding” by John Raftery.

Now it’s back to the drawing board!  I’m in the early stages of planning Boston Theatre Project’s 3rd Cabaret Fundraiser, as well as working on projects for my photography business and choreographing Young Frankenstein at The Alexander Children’s Theatre.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

JLS: If Gillian Gordon asks you to do anything, you say yes! She is a wonderful person and I'm fortunate to call her a friend and fellow artist!

LK: Sure! See every show you can, read plays and reviews, learn about different time periods and cultures and carry all those things into your own life! You will be a happier human!

GG: “When you’ve got friends like mine . . . ” (including our last minute addition of screen actress Melissa McMeekin, who hadn't sung since high school!)

Really, I’m lucky to have so many kind, clever and talented friends in the theatre community. If you want to know more about Boston Theatre Project, go to www.bostontheatreproject.com.

Gillian Mariner Gordon with Victor Shopov, Alison McCartan and Alex Marz in Bad Jews at SpeakEasy Stage Company (Photo Credit: Craig Bailey/Perspetive Photo).

Gillian Mariner Gordon with Victor Shopov, Alison McCartan and Alex Marz in Bad Jews at SpeakEasy Stage Company (Photo Credit: Craig Bailey/Perspetive Photo).

If you want to know more about the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund, go to www.tcbf.org.  Here’s to the Boston theatre scene, and thanks, Brian, for doing more than your part as well!

2015 Best Supporting Actor in a Play Nominee: Ryan Landry as Harold in Zeitgeist Stage Company's "The Boys in the Band"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Michael von Redlich.

Photo Credit: Michael von Redlich.

Ryan Landry is an iconic presence in the Greater Boston theatre scene, most notably known for his outstanding and hilarious work with his company, The Gold Dust Orphans. In Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band, Ryan's Harold was biting, aloof, and experienced, creating a dynamic and memorable character for a new generation of audiences to appreciate this important play. In his Interview, Ryan talks about the challenges of the Boston theatre scene, his favorite places to relax, and his favorite (and even lucky!) piece of clothing. 

Hi, Ryan, and thanks for talking with us at ArtsImpulse.  Can you start by introducing yourself to our readers and telling us a little bit about yourself? 

My name is Ryan Landry, and I am an alcoholic.

Tell us about your character in Zeitgeist Stage’s The Boys in the Band.  Who was he, what did he want, and how did he fit in within this group of men? 

I believe Harold to be one part early hippie, one part "Queen Bee" and one part Satan. He has boiled the very essence of “snark” down to its purest form. Yet, he is human, and perhaps the only character in the play living in reality. It seems to me that what he really wants out of life is something he will never have. That would be true love.

True love (in order for it to operate without too many break downs) requires at least a small tinge of innocence. Harold depleted any innocence that he may have once possessed in the experimental follies of his youth. He has now more or less resigned himself to being the captain of his own hopelessly jaded ship.

Do you have a group of friends similar to the men in the play?  Did you relate at all to the struggles of these characters?  If so, which characters, and why?

Yes, in fact, from the time I came out at the age of fifteen (on the streets of New Haven no less), I hung around with people just like Harold, Michael and Emory. They were the only “teachers” available to us at that time, and we soon learned that it was better to worship at the alter then to talk back. Those who couldn’t keep up with the barbs and daggers being thrown around the room were quickly dismissed. It was almost like being a supporting player in an old Robin Hood movie. If you didn’t know when to duck … you were soon written out of the picture. 

What have been some of your biggest challenges in Boston theatre, either as a performer, writer, director, or producer?

My biggest challenge is getting it all done. Getting all these ideas out of my brain and onto the stage within the short time I have left on this planet. 

Also, casting has been as issue lately. As the Orphans get more and more popular, it makes sense that we should be searching out more and more talent. The fact that we haven’t done so is due partly to my laziness and partly to my sense of loyalty. Once someone is in the family, they stay there and I begin to write parts specifically for those people and only for those people. But as always with life, some of the Orphans have recently moved away, others have married and had babies, some have passed onto the great beyond and still others have simply given up the theater. Admittedly, I‘m the one who should be going out and seeing more plays in town as there are many actors in the Boston theater community that I have never seen, and they in turn have never seen an Orphans show. Hopefully, that will change in the coming months.

We will soon be making an independent film and you would think that I would have a stack of head shots a mile high. I don’t. But I should. 

Cowboy (Ryan Wingert) and Harold (Ryan Landry) cuddle on the couch as Michael (Victor Shopov) looks on in Zeitgeist Stage Company's The Boys in the band (Photo Credit: Richard Hall/Silverline images). 

Cowboy (Ryan Wingert) and Harold (Ryan Landry) cuddle on the couch as Michael (Victor Shopov) looks on in Zeitgeist Stage Company's The Boys in the band (Photo Credit: Richard Hall/Silverline images). 

Why do you think The Boys in the Band was ripe for a revival?  What do you think we can learn from the productions after all of these years?  What has changed and what hasn’t changed?

I have recently become friends with the play’s author, Mart Crowley, and he sums it up better than I ever could: “It has never really fallen out of the public eye. It's been made into a film, been revived Off-Broadway every decade or so, produced around the country and the world, fallen out of favor and fallen into favor. But it has never stopped being talked about.”

I believe that there is much to learn from the play as it is a true human document. That is to say that its characters actually existed. Perhaps never physically, but each of the party-goers represents a type of person who can easily be found “within the ether.”

The only difference I see between the gays of yesteryear and the gays of today is that you had to be brave enough to confront, compliment, insult, and love people face-to-face in 1968. Today, we just do it through our cell phones. 

Miscast!  What roles would you love to play but because of reasons (age, gender, race, etc.), you might not traditionally be cast? 

Thanks to having written over sixty plays musicals and adaptations I have been lucky enough to have played every role I have ever wanted to, from Joan of Arc to Joan Crawford. I’ve played men, women, unborn embryos, Gods, devils, politicians, bums, royalty, skanks, old ladies, teenage girls, yuppies, and drug addicts.

But if I had my way I suppose I would have liked to have been in the original cast of Bewitched

Where are some of your favorite places to relax? 

I don’t relax. But if I did I suppose I would have to say my front porch in New Orleans and my hammock in Provincetown.

Do you have a favorite piece of clothing or accessory?  Why?

Yes. My red white and blue leather motorcycle jacket once worn by a trick motorcyclist in a traveling circus. I once gave it away to one of the Orphans who was going through some personal issues at the time, but once those were worked out, [the person] gave it back. I guess [the Orphan] knew how much it meant to me. 

If you could change one thing from the past, what would it be and why? 

I would have liked to have been there during the Annunciation. 

What is a motto, lesson, or quote that you live by? 

“To live only to dream and to die only to rest.”

Do you have any upcoming projects?

How much time do you have?

Yes, we will be doing Legally Blind-The Helen Keller Musical this spring 2016, and then right into Brown is the New Pink with Varla Jean Merman in Provincetown.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Yes, but let me rinse it off first.

2015 Best Male Performer in an Opera: Mark Williams as George Gibbs in Boston Opera Collaborative's "Our Town"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Kate Lemmon

Photo Credit: Kate Lemmon

Mark Williams touched our heart with his earnest and tender portrayal of the "boy next door" as George Gibbs in the Boston Opera Collaborative's Our Town. Mark's bright and nuanced tenor voice, combined with his emotional acting, made this opera stand as a testament to the enduring power of Thornton Wilder's original play.  In his Interview, Mark tells us about his George Gibbs, his favorite opera roles, and some of his guilty pleasures. 

Hi, Mark, and thank you for joining us for an Interview.  Can you start by telling our readers a bit more about yourself?

It’s a true pleasure to be in such good company! I’m a tenor who lives here in Boston. I moved to Beantown four years ago to attend New England Conservatory for my Masters degree, and now I’ve been working full-time for the NPR radio show, From the Top, now as a producer. In addition to singing opera, I really like to read, watch basketball and soccer, and enjoy good food in good company.

Talk to us about how you choose to pursue opera.  What is your training or background?  How did you become an opera performer?  Have you tried musical theatre or plays?

Maybe it’s strange, but I’m not sure there was one moment when I “chose” to pursue opera. It was more of a gradual shift for me, maybe. I started out singing in choral groups, and I was quickly pushed into musical theater in high school. I guess there weren’t many guys doing that where I went to school, so there was a low bar! I did A Chorus Line and The Music Man in high school, and I loved the stage. I had a great voice teacher in college who pushed me to try more opera arias (I was still interested in musical theater as well, and I performed some, but mostly for fun), but I must say I wasn’t all that serious about it until my junior year of college, probably.

Through college (at the University of Virginia), I sang in some wonderful choirs, and I was super involved in my a cappella group, but I really wasn’t doing all that much classical solo singing. I reached a point where I’d been receiving enough encouragement to make me want to give it a try, though, and so I applied to a few conservatories in my year off after graduation. I had no idea what I wanted to do, or what I was in for!

Who is George Gibbs in this opera of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town?  How is he similar or different from you?  What did you discover about him?

George starts out as an exceptionally confident, popular teenager, despite not being the sharpest tool in the shed. He’s really an all-American boy. He’s class president, the son of a doctor, and a knockout baseball player. However, it’s Emily, his girlfriend, who knocks him back to earth – he decides his achievements are less important to him than what Emily ultimately means to him. He decides to forgo agricultural school to get married to her, possibly at the expense of more long-term security.

I definitely feel a connection to George’s youthful spirit and reluctance to growing up. I think I discovered that George is a crucial character in the story because he highlights the central theme of Our Town: humans don’t appreciate life while we live it. Unfortunately, he’s a classic example of this kind of living in the dark, and it’s not until (spoiler alert!) Emily dies that he fully grasps the transience of life.

What have been some of your favorite roles?  Why?  Which would you perform again?  Why?

My favorite role so far was Peter Quint in Britten’s Turn of the Screw. It was the first time I was given the opportunity to be a villain on stage, and I loved the challenges that came with being a ghost who came back to emotionally manipulate a child. It sounds terrifically creepy, and well, that’s because it is. But I learned a lot about what it means to be a villain. They have real thoughts and feelings and motivations. You can’t just say, “I’m going to act like a villain.” That doesn’t work.

The cast of Boston Opera Collaborative's Our Town (Photo Credit: Dan Busler). 

The cast of Boston Opera Collaborative's Our Town (Photo Credit: Dan Busler). 

In a completely different realm, another thrilling experience was performing in Steven Stucky’s opera The Classical Style in Aspen, Colorado, last summer. I played a character called Henry Snibblesworth, who was a PhD student in Musicology. The whole opera was a farce on Musicology. Amazing! I’ve never gotten to be such a super-nerd on stage, and I had one scene that was a reworked version of the “catalogue aria” from Don Giovanni, except instead of a long list of women, I gave a full account of the state of affairs of classical music. I would definitely do that again, if only for the hilarity.

What is one thing that you wish that your friends and family understood about opera?

Opera is about universal human experiences. It might seem larger than life, and of course it is – the stories can be absurdly dramatic, with murders and affairs and love triangles galore – but ultimately every expression is about feelings or moments in time that all humans are capable of living. It tells simple truths in complex ways.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

I must admit that I’m a huge fan of nature documentaries. I watch them like other people watch their reality television. What can I say? I can’t get enough of the drama, the intrigue, the wonder! There’s so much in nature that’s stranger than we can imagine . . . Okay, so now that that’s out there, I can also admit that I love The Walking Dead, The Office, and New Girl. And Breaking Bad. And my favorite podcast is Radiolab. It’s addictive.

If you could go on a road trip to anywhere (accessible by a car), where would you go?  What would you drive?  Who would go with you?

I would probably take a tour of the National Parks in America. I’d take Babe the Blue Ox, otherwise known as my trusty Subaru. And I’m guessing my girlfriend Danielle would tag along.

Tell us a little bit about your hometown.  What are some of your fondest memories?

I’m from Durham, North Carolina, which is now a vastly different town than the one I grew up in. (It’s revitalized and hip!) But I still have fond memories of soccer tournaments, chorus concerts, bowling nights, Duke basketball watching, and lots of video games. You know, like a pretty typical childhood.

Why do you think Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is a classic and timeless story?  How did you relate?

Our Town really is about how we’re never aware of the sweetness of life as we live it. It’s about finding gratitude. I’m always looking for ways to ground myself in gratitude and live in the present. Art is one way I aim to do that by celebrating the miracle that is human experience – through reflection, through awareness, through intention.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

In late March 2015, I’ll play Basil in a revival of an American operetta called Evangeline, taking place with the Longfellow Chorus in Portland, Maine. Then, in June 2016, I’ll be taking on Idomeneo in Boston Opera Collaborative’s Idomeneo. This summer 2016, I head to Austria to take part in the American Institute of Musical Studies program.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thank you bunches!

2015 Best Music Direction of a Musical: Adam Bokunewicz for The Boston Conservatory's "Shrek: The Musical"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Adam_Bokunewicz

Adam Bokunewicz delivers a musical experience well beyond his years in his music direction of Shrek: The Musical at The Boston Conservatory. His passionate conducting and piano playing kept the student actors and orchestra not only as a cohesive unit, but as a tight and integrated musical ensemble for this hip modern score. In his Interview, Adam tells us about some of the challenges in music directing Shrek, his pet peeves, and some of short-term and long-term goals (and even a few dreams)!

Hi, Adam, and thanks for joining us at ArtsImpulse. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a Senior BFA Musical Theater major at The Boston Conservatory (“BoCo”). I am from New Jersey. I play the piano and the trumpet. I am also a Zumba Fitness instructor.

Can you tell us a little bit about your work in Shrek: The Musical?  What were some of the challenges?  What were some of the most rewarding parts?

In Shrek, I was the music director, conductor, as well as pianist in the pit.  I am a musical theater performer before anything else. Therefore, in each new project I encounter new challenges, which then turn into learning experiences. Shrek proposed an interesting challenge due to the fact that it was my first time working with a group of musicians and “conducting” from the piano. As a student music director at BoCo, many of the shows I work on are low budget, student-produced projects. The quality of work is excellent, however the budgets and size of performance space don’t allow for a large pit. Most of the time, it’s just me and a piano playing through the show.

I was nervous on the night of my first rehearsal with the pit. Here I am in a room with extremely gifted conservatory and Berklee music students, having never conducted before. Thanks to help from my teachers, and support of the musicians in the pit, I walked away from this experience with much more confidence.

Talk to us about your style as a music director.  How do you work best?  What kinds of projects do you choose to work on?

My background is performing. Therefore, in my past experiences rehearsing shows, I’ve learned how to lead a productive rehearsal from the music directors I've worked with. Also, they taught me how to efficiently communicate with actors.  My experience as a fitness instructor has taught me how to lead and engage a roomful of people.

The pit musicians (including Adam Bokunewicz) for The Boston Conservatory's Shrek: The Musical.

The pit musicians (including Adam Bokunewicz) for The Boston Conservatory's Shrek: The Musical.

I work best with a set schedule and a time limit. It is important that the cast understands that I am there to help and support them, however it is their job to respect the work and the time of others. I choose to work on projects that are directed by people I know and love. At this point in my education, I enjoy working on shows that I think will challenge me and help me grow.

What have been some of your biggest learning moments or experiences while at The Boston Conservatory?

My freshman year at The Boston Conservatory, my Voice & Speech teacher Deborah Cooney taught me the importance of professional work ethic, respect for the work, and poise. I look up to her and aspire to be like her when I grow up.

My last two years at the conservatory, I have been studying music and musical theater repertoire with Cathy Rand. Her talent, knowledge, and high standard of excellence make her the most influential teacher I’ve ever worked with.

How do you spend your time outside of BoCo?  How does it help you become a better artist and person?

Outside of BoCo, I enjoy dining out, trying different restaurants, cooking, wine, dirty martinis with a blue cheese olive, intense cardio workouts that involve loud music and extreme sweating, and spending time with bae. Most of the time, I try to detach from theater talk. Too much theater talk will smother you.

Having a life outside of the theater is enough to make you a better artist and person.

What are some of your favorite stories, movies, plays, and/or TV shows?  Why?

I love Law & Order SVU. Every time Raul Esparza speaks on the show, I think of his performance in the 2008 filmed version of Company, particularly his rendition of “Being Alive.” I also enjoy The Barefoot Contessa, and I have aspirations of being one of her flamboyant friends that decorates the table as she prepares a stunning lunch on her back patio with Susan Stroman.

Shrek (Cody Garcia) and Princess Fiona (Carly Rose) in The Boston Conservatory's Shrek: The Musical.

Shrek (Cody Garcia) and Princess Fiona (Carly Rose) in The Boston Conservatory's Shrek: The Musical.

What are some of your pet peeves?

I always make my bed. Every day.

What are some of your short-term goals?  Long-term goals?  Dreams?

Short term goals would be to absorb as much as I can before I graduate.

Long term goals, I would love to be a performer/accompanist/vocal coach/fitness instructor/producer.

Dreams: a rent-controlled apartment with a French bulldog and a terrace, maybe a sensible Steinway piano, if there’s room.

What do you hope people come away thinking from Shrek: The Musical?  Did you have specific objectives for any other productions that you have music directed?

I hope people come away thinking that it’s possible to produce a high caliber production without a high budget. When we take away the glamour and spectacle, and really focus on the material itself, the message of the story is illuminated.

Give us a lesson or motto to live by.

“When life gives you lemons, pray that they’re Lulu.”

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am music directing a production of Aida at BoCo next week, as well as a production of In The Heights next month. Also, I will be performing in the Boston senior showcase at The Boston Conservatory this spring. 

2015 Best Supporting Actress in a Musical Nominee: Katie Schiering as Beth Spencer in FUDGE Theatre Company's "Merrily We Roll Along"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Aware, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Ross Brown.

Photo Credit: Ross Brown.

Katie Schiering performed as the lovely and nuanced Beth Spencer, spanning over twenty years in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's final production, Merrily We Roll Along. Her Beth was vulnerable and sweet, and independent and hardened, a beautiful transformation by life's circumstances. In her Interview, Katie talks about her favorite Sondheim musicals, her proudest moments outside of the theatre, and the two famous women with whom she would have loved to have dinner!

Hi, Katie, and welcome to ArtsImpulse! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! Thank you for this opportunity. My name is Katie Schiering (formerly Katie Preisig; I got married this past summer 2015), and I am happy to be a performer in the Boston area, as well as a theater director and vocal coach for a children’s theater program in Wellesley, Massachusetts. I’ve been performing in Boston here and there for about 7 years. I’m originally from Groton, Massachusetts. I currently live outside the city with my husband and stepchildren.

Can you talk to us about your work in Merrily We Roll Along.  Who was Beth? 

Ahh, Merrily . . . such a dear show for me. It was the last FUDGE Theater Company show, and they’ve been a huge part of my life for the past 6 or 7 years. The show is ultimately about friendships . . . how they last and why they fail.

Beth is a lot of different things in the show, considering the show spans the length of twenty years. She starts off as a young woman, aspiring performer, a cheerfully naive southern girl. Her story ends with a very messy divorce. The show is told backwards though, so reverse that.

What were some of the challenges?  What were some of the highlights?

The biggest challenge was certainly the timeline of the show running backwards. I had to draw a map just to figure it all out. It wasn’t like we were in constant rewind . . . we were in a few consecutive scenes of one time period, then a few scenes of a few years before, then a couple scenes of a long time before, and so on . . . It’s genius, but complicated.

The challenge was also a highlight; I loved portraying 20 years of a character. People change so much so it was extremely dynamic.

Some of the cast in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography). 

Some of the cast in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography). 

Have you performed other Sondheim?  If so, what roles? 

The only other Sondheim show I’ve been in was Assassins. I was Squeaky Fromme. It’s a really whacky show but I loved it. I like playing crazy characters. Squeaky was a nut case.

I have a funny story about that show. Squeaky has a picture of Charles Manson that she carries with her and fawns over. After the show closed, I must have put the picture in my wallet but I don’t remember doing so. It fell out one day when I was at a family party, and I had to explain why I had a wallet size photo of Charles Manson on me. They didn’t see the show, so it was hard to explain!

Are there any Sondheim roles that you would love to play?

I constantly change my mind with this one . . . I have never done Into the Woods and it’s the only Sondheim show on my bucket list. I go back and forth between The Witch and The Baker’s Wife.

What have been some of your favorite roles?  What are some other roles on your bucket list?

My top four have been Beth in Merrily We Roll Along, Louise in Gypsy, Holly in The Wedding Singer, and Kate McGowan in Titanic. My ultimate dream role is Eva Peron in Evita. I’ve been rehearsing for that role since I was 7 years old.

I also dream of playing Francesca in Bridges of Madison County, Kate in The Wild Party, Lucille in Parade, and the list goes on.

What is the last song that you sang at an audition or performance?   Why that song?

It’s been a while since I’ve performed, actually the last song I sang on stage was the finale of our closing performance of Merrily We Roll Along. That was an emotional moment, being that it was also FUDGE’s last performance as a company.

How have you grown as a person and performer in the last few years?

I’ve had the opportunity to play some rather difficult characters the last few years, which has really broadened my horizons as an actor. Also, my experience teaching and directing children’s shows has given me a whole new understanding on backstage and technical work. I’ve been doing everything from costuming, to set design, to choreographing, so I’ve had to learn to follow a larger vision.

Franklin Shepard (Jared Walsh) and Beth Spencer (Katie Schiering) in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography).

Franklin Shepard (Jared Walsh) and Beth Spencer (Katie Schiering) in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography).

What have been some of your proudest moments outside of the theatre?

I’m proud of my family. My husband, stepchildren and I are a close unit and we keep getting stronger. I’m also very happy with how I’ve managed to keep up with my incredible friends and form some really strong bonds, despite my work and family schedule.

You have a date night on a Saturday.  What do you plan to do? 

If it’s been a really busy week, then Netflix on the couch is what I crave the most. However, a better date would be going into the city to see a show, tapas for dinner, and strolling through the Public Gardens.

If you could have a meal with two famous people, who would they be?  What would you talk about?  Most importantly, what would you eat?

Elaine Paige and Patti Lupone. I’d love to hear about how they each approached the role of Eva Peron, and how their experiences differed. I would definitely pick their brains for when I (if I) ever get to play this dream part of mine!

I think we’d have to eat at some fancy seafood place . . . they strike me as classy ladies who lunch. I’d love to eat oysters with them!

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’m currently directing Willy Wonka Jr. in Wellesley, and am itching to get on the stage myself when the next opportunity comes along, but nothing on the books just yet.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thank you for taking the time to read about me! I’m honored to be nominated. I love the Boston theater community and hope to work with all of you lovely people in the future!

2015 Best Supporting Actor in a Play Nominee: Alex Marz as Orestes/Young Agamemnon in Fresh Ink Theatre's "The Clytemnestriad"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: David Costa.

Photo Credit: David Costa.

Alex Marz does double duty in Fresh Ink Theatre Company's new play, The Clytemnestriad by A. Nora Long. Alex's empathetic and sweet performance was one of the hallmarks in this adaptation and retelling of the classic Greek myth. In his Interview, Alex describes his two roles in this play, his favorite play, and his dorkiest qualities!

Hi, Alex. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?  Where are you from?  What brought you to Boston?  What are you doing now?

Hi! I actually grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, just outside the city in the ‘burbs, so Boston has always been my city. After undergrad at Connecticut College, I moved in with some friends in Allston and started acting as much as I could.

I have recently relocated to New York City where I am getting my MFA in Acting at Columbia University. I love country music, coffee, and can quote nearly every episode of The Office. And I proudly rock my Sox hat everywhere I go in NYC.

Tell us about your characters in The Clytemnestriad.  Who was Orestes?  Who was Young Agamemnon?  How did these characters work as played by the same actor?

These characters were such a blast to tackle. The brilliant A. Nora Long really dug into The Oresteia to find the humanity behind the original characters, and found a fantastic way to reimagine them through a more modern lens, while keeping the original story generally intact.

In Nora’s script, Orestes is really a regular teenager. When he was very young, he was sent away to boarding school, and he has never seen his family since then. So you can imagine the stress this boy experiences when his sister Electra (played so brilliantly and crazily by Shanae Burch) rolls in demanding that he kill his mother to avenge the murder of his father; it’s a lot to take on with midterms coming up.

Finding the journey from the awkward, high-school boy to the matricidal, tormented man was a real challenge. On the flip side, Young Agamemnon was born to fight, a completely different personality than his shy and unassuming son. He is aggressive, unapologetic and frankly, kind of an ass. 

Young Agamemnon (Alex Marz) and Young Helen (Melody Martin) in Fresh Ink Theatre's The Clytemnestriad (Photo Credit: Louise Hamill). 

Young Agamemnon (Alex Marz) and Young Helen (Melody Martin) in Fresh Ink Theatre's The Clytemnestriad (Photo Credit: Louise Hamill). 

I think the real benefit of portraying both of these characters is seeing how two types of men could be alive in one person. When I would enter as Young Agamemnon, it was clear that I was still Orestes in body, but we worked hard to present the strength and aggression that Agamemnon (wonderfully portrayed by Rob Cope) carried with him so naturally. Every Orestes has the potential to be or become an Agamemnon, and vice versa. 

What was it like working on a new play?  What were some of the challenges?  What did you learn about yourself as an actor, or about rehearsing and performing a play?

Working on new plays is such an amazing experience and I am so grateful that Fresh Ink Theater Company is offering an outlet for new playwrights to develop their work. This show was a wonderful and collaborative effort throughout the whole process. Nora and our amazing director, Caitlin Lowans, had such clear visions and were always on similar wavelengths, so we were able to launch into rehearsals with a clear structure and goal. It felt like the actors were welcome to move in any way they wanted. To say “let me try this!” - and sometimes it would work and sometimes it would totally blowup – but that’s what rehearsals are for, right?

It was really valuable, as an actor, to be working in a room like that - especially when the characters were being developed for their first full-scale production. Things needed to be tested and broken down and rebuilt constantly, and without a supportive environment that would have been extremely difficult to do. Our cast and creative team all worked really well together, and I believe that what we built was a reflection of that. 

Do you have a favorite play?  Why?  Do you have a role that you would want to play in it?

I do - The Zoo Story by Edward Albee. I think that Jerry is a fascinating character. There are so many aspects of his character I love. His longing to make a connection with anyone or anything is truly heartbreaking and so relatable. I also love the simplicity of the script. It doesn’t require anything more than two actors and a park bench, which puts the focus of the play on the words and the meaning behind them. This kind of script is always so much fun to work on as an actor.

Actually, thinking back on the rehearsal process of The Clytemnestriad, one of Jerry’s lines really resonates with me: “Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly.” As artists, we are constantly finding new paths and creating new ideas. Like I said before, sometimes these ideas are just nonsensical and don't work for the final product, but the experience of creating a wrong answer in pursuit of the search for the right answer always informs the final product brilliantly. 

The Zoo Story has always been at the top of my list of favorites, and I hope one day I can really dive in and play Jerry in a full production. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

Why do you think that we return to mythology?  What did we have to learn or think about in The Clytemnestriad?

The simplest answer is: mythology is just the coolest. I grew up, as I’m sure a lot of us did, reading as much of it as I could. The stories are so epic; in a sense they are really what theater is about: Gods and humans. Questions of why we are here and who really controls our destiny. Mythology tackles the grand questions in grand ways. 

Orestes (Alex Marz) and Electra (Shanae Burch) in Fresh Ink Theatre's The Clytemnestriad (Photo Credit: Louise Hamill). 

Orestes (Alex Marz) and Electra (Shanae Burch) in Fresh Ink Theatre's The Clytemnestriad (Photo Credit: Louise Hamill). 

In The Clytemnestriad, we are shown the ripple effect of excessive pride. The House of Atreus has been cursed for years, but Agamemnon really blows it when he displays his hubris before the Gods, claiming that he is a greater hunter and warrior than they. In response, they turn off the wind so that he can’t get his fleet to the war in Troy to fight alongside Brad Pitt. Our play picks up just after Agamemnon apologizes to the Gods by sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia (the amazing Melody Martin) – something his wife Clytemnestra (played incredibly by Jade Guerra) is not too keen on. This sets off a chain of events that ultimately leave us with a very bloody situation, but the moral of the story is, humility is the key to not dying in a bloody, family-wide murder/”sacrifice” fest.

What do you think is your geekiest or dorkiest quality or interest?  Why?

I am so heavy into the world of Game of Thrones it’s almost frightening. I have read all the books and eagerly anticipate the next one – George, you take your time, my man – and have even read (and reread…) the book The World of Ice and Fire – a fictional history of the world of Game of Thrones

I am also a huge fan of “dad jokes.” I could have written all these answers down for you by hand, but my pencil ran out of lead. It was pretty pointless . . .

If you could relive one memory or moment in your life, what would it be?  Why?  Would you change anything?

When I was in high school, I went out to Colorado Springs to work on a ranch as part of a community service trip. That whole experience is something I've always wanted to go back to. We would move cattle on horseback, we rebuilt a one room school house, we lived without electricity in that school house while we built it - the whole time it was like something out of a novel. I wouldn't change a single moment of that experience, I mean… I was a cowboy. It was incredible.

What has been the strangest thing that you have been asked to do onstage?

I was once in a scene that ended with my character cutting out the tongue of another character. We figured out how to make it look pretty real (and gruesome), but it involved me carrying around a cow tongue in my pocket for the entire scene. That was definitely a strange moment.

For what are you most thankful?

I am extremely thankful for my family and friends who have always stood by me. The life of an actor is a tough and confusing one and even when I doubt what I’m doing they have always supported me and pushed me to keep going. It means the world to me. I am thankful for them, and for Game of Thrones.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

At the moment, I am about halfway through the second semester of my first year at Columbia, so all my projects right now are for class. Grad school is rad school.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

I am truly honored to be nominated for this award. This is the first time I have ever been nominated for anything like this, and it is humbling and amazing. The Boston Arts community is full of amazing and talented people; it is the greatest community there is. I am honored to have been a part of it. I miss it every day and look forward to returning. Break legs to all!

2015 Best Leading Actor in a Musical Nominee: Jared Walsh as Franklin Shepard in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's "Merrily We Roll Along"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

Note: If you were nominated a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Jared Walsh is an effortless talent as crowd-favorite, Franklin Shepard, in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's final production, Merrily We Roll Along. This Sondheim show and leading role is a difficult challenge for even the most talented performers. Jared Walsh brings his boyish smirk, his smooth vocals, and his relatable charm to this complicated role. In his Interview, Jared tells us about his Frank, the three best traits in a friend, and what inspires him.

Hi, Jared, and thank you for joining us. Can you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself and your work? 

Hey, Brian, thanks for having me.  I am originally from the Boston area and I have been in the theater scene for the past seven years or so.  I’ve been involved in productions both in the city, and as far west as Natick and Framingham.  I grew up in Braintree, and I went to school out at Westfield State University.  I’ve also been in a band, Barricades, for the past seven years or so, and we’re currently in the studio releasing our third recorded project; I’m very excited.

How did you get involved in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company’s Merrily We Roll Along?  Have you been involved in other F.U.D.G.E. productions?

Of course!  My fondest theater memories in this area heavily consist of my work with F.U.D.G.E.  I’ve been involved in five different F.U.D.G.E productions and it was F.U.D.G.E. that gave me the opportunity to break-into the Boston theater scene when I cast in their production of Violet.  Ever since then, until they eventually closed up shop, I made it a point to be involved in as many F.U.D.G.E. productions as I could. 

The production that I hold closest to my heart is Spring Awakening.  It was just the perfect cast at the perfect time and really was a wonderful experience that I will hold onto forever.

Who is Franklin Shepherd?  Do you identify with him?  Are there other Sondheim characters (from this show or his other shows) with whom you identify more?  Why?

Oh . . . “dat Frank.”  Frank is an opportunist who would do anything to get ahead and push everything and everyone aside for fame, esteem, and money.  He sounds like a peachy keen, squeaky-clean guy . . .

I wouldn’t say I identify with Frank, but I do at least understand his wants and needs to see the work that he produces be recognized and for it to be successful.  Everyone wants to have what they do to be regarded as important; it’s why we do what we do in life.  It is the process and path we take to get that success and recognition for which we are judged. I don’t think everyone necessarily wants fame and fortune, but there is value to be had into putting effort into our lives, relationships, and careers, and coming out with some sort of validation, or recognition for those efforts. 

Sondheim writes in such a brilliant way that even his most unattainable characters on the surface can be related to in some facet of their personality.  For example, I don’t necessarily agree with how Bobby goes about his life in Company . . . but I do absolutely relate to the want and need to love and be loved.  It’s so central in his character that you can’t help but to root for him to find what he’s looking for in the end.  “Somebody force me to love/Somebody force me to care”  is a lyric that sticks out to me that exemplifies that.

Charley Kringas (Adam Schuller) and Franklin Shepard (Jared Walsh) in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography).

Charley Kringas (Adam Schuller) and Franklin Shepard (Jared Walsh) in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography).

How do you relax?

Relax??? Relaxing and I don’t usually go together.  I constantly find myself on the go.  I teach, coach and play baseball, play in the band, perform in shows, tutor, and travel when I can.  My life is one ball of organization and planning . . . and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you could list three best traits in a friend, what would they be?  What are three personality traits that you hope others would use to describe you?

Loyalty, understanding, and humor. 

I just hope people understand that I generally have what I think are their best intentions at heart, all of the time.  The most valuable thing we have in this life is time, and I choose to spend it with the people I love. It may come at weird intervals, or strange gaps in appearances because of schedules and general life-happenings . . . but I feel as though the people I keep in touch with, and the people I reach out to (even sparingly), know that I’d be there for them when they needed it.

What has been the scariest thing that you done onstage (either fear for your safety or just challenging)?

The scariest thing I do on-stage is dance.  I’m not a dancer.  I dread it.  Tell me to run a post pattern and catch a football one handed, while being draped by a defender . . . or to hit a fastball on the outside corner . . . my body is more than able to do those things. 

When it comes to dancing, I just can’t seem to move my body the way that I know it can or that it should.  It’s terrifying.  Most of the shows I’ve auditioned for have had little dancing . . . and that’s on purpose.

What is one message that you would want to give to millennials in theatre?  In their professional and personal life?

Keep going.  Don’t stop.  It’s cliché, and it’s boring and it’s sort of a copout answer but it’s true.  I’m guilty of it myself sometimes.  I feel as though I’ve missed opportunities, or have been hesitant to take a risk . . . but no one is going to give you anything, in anything you do.  If you want to go out and get something, certainly use your resources but you have to go get it for yourself.

Charley Kringas (Adam Schuller), Frank Shepard (Jared Walsh), and Mary Flynn (Andrea Giangreco) in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography).

Charley Kringas (Adam Schuller), Frank Shepard (Jared Walsh), and Mary Flynn (Andrea Giangreco) in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography).

What inspires you?

Seeing the people I love do the things that they love to do.  Eloquent, I know.  For real though, I am just flabbergasted by the people I’ve grown up with from home, and the people I went to college, and those I’ve met since then.  They’re doing awesome things in their lives and it is what inspires me to do what I’m passionate about.

Tell us a funny audition or performance story. Make us laugh.

I was fortunate enough to be called back for the national tour of Once.  I had to sing “Say It to Me Now,” and I just did my best to mimic Glen Hansard from the movie version. When I finished, the casting director looks at me and goes: “Wow . . . you’re really comfortable up there, huh?” He meant singing in my upper register, or, as I call it, yelling on pitch.  I came back with “Well, yeah, I’m playing Gabe tonight in Next to Normal, I have to be.”  They all laughed and it certainly made me feel good about the audition.  Sadly, nothing ever came of it, but it made me happy to make them laugh.

Do you have any resolutions or goals for 2016?

Spend my time with the people I want to be around.  It’s all I try to do.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

My band, Barricades, just finished up our third album.  It has yet to be named, but we’re hoping an official release some point in the near future!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Nothing really, just stay classy!

2015 Best Supporting Actress in a Musical Nominee: Sarajane Morse Mullins as Blanche Barrow in The Umbrella's "Bonnie & Clyde"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: Tara Lynn Sen Photography.

Sarajane Morse Mullins played Blanche Barrow, a woman as devoted to her Christian values as her crime-scheming husband, Buck Barrow, in The Umbrella's Bonnie & Clyde. Sarajane played this dichotomy to pitch-perfect effect, and this conflict tore into her heart and spirit, shown in her desperate actions and soulful voice. The warmth of Sarajane's Blanche was a bright light, and her support, whether through her voice or acting performance, brought the best out of her scene partners, especially in scenes with Tim McShea's Buck. In her Interview, Sarajane tells us about her role as Blanche, why the role was one of her most challenging to date, and one of her theatre rituals! 

Hi, Sarajane, and thank you for joining us for an interview at ArtsImpulse.  Can you tell our readers a bit more about yourself?  Who are you, where are you from, what do you do?

Hi, Brian!  Thanks so much for this opportunity.  I’m a Midwestern girl who fell in love with the power of theater at an early age.  I came to New England to pursue a theater arts degree at Boston University.  I spent ten seasons in the Midwest doing summer stock and regional theater. 

In 2011, I started a small teaching company called Live Arts Education that delivers affordable after-school theater programming in the Boston area. While trying to grow as an actor, a teaching artist, and a professional, I finished an MS in Mental Health Counseling at UMASS Boston and I currently practice as a mental health clinician.  When I’m not performing, I really enjoy integrating the arts into therapeutic and educational work. 

Put simply, I love people and the study of the human spirit.

Talk to us about Blanche.  Who is she?  What is her story in the musical Bonnie & Clyde?  What research did you do to prepare for this role?

My homework for Blanche was easy because she wrote a book!  The musical presents Blanche as a bible-thumping Christian woman who despises crime (and Clyde!) and fights hard to keep her husband out of trouble.  In reality, Blanche was a battered wife who was on the run from her abusive husband when she ran into Clyde’s brother, Buck.  She loved Buck furiously, and refused to leave his side no matter what trouble he got into. She collaborated with the Barrow Clan for years and served a prison sentence for her involvement.  

(From Left to right): Buck Barrow (Tim McShea), Blanche Barrow (Sarajane Morse Mullins), and Salon Women (Cathy Merlo, Tristyn Sepersky, and andrea giangreco) in The Umbrella's Bonnie & Clyde (Photo credit: Meghan Donnelly). 

(From Left to right): Buck Barrow (Tim McShea), Blanche Barrow (Sarajane Morse Mullins), and Salon Women (Cathy Merlo, Tristyn Sepersky, and andrea giangreco) in The Umbrella's Bonnie & Clyde (Photo credit: Meghan Donnelly). 

She wasn’t as Christian and “anti-Clyde” as the musical portrays her.  It’s quite obvious that the musical authors read Blanche’s book, as there are some uncanny similarities in the wording.   

What are some of your favorite love stories?  Why?

I believe love is most exciting when it challenges our beliefs, our comfort zones, our expectations, even our morals.  I’ve always doubted the notion that two people must focus on what they share in common.  The true love that I’ve found has challenged me to think outside of the box I’ve made for myself and challenge the expectation that I need to share anything more than the desire for love to triumph. I believe love is humbling, it is unexpected, and it is unpredictable.

I might go as far to say that my favorite love story is the one that isn’t finished yet because it offers us the freedom of possibility, with no promise of perfection.

If you were going to be committed for any crime, what would it be?

I’ve always desired to house unusual animals as pets.  I probably would go down for some illegal zoning of exotic species inside my residence.  My first choice would be a feral cat hybrid; I’m thinking something mountain lion-ish or cheetah . . . or maybe a monkey.

Why do you think that Bonnie & Clyde at The Umbrella was a successful production?  How did audiences react?

Bonnie & Clyde was cast well ahead of time and the rehearsal process had the time and room for significant direction from the production/creative team.  We never felt rushed, underfunded, or under-supported.  I felt the audience was engaged and impressed. 

I think the show’s primary strength was the casting and production assigning.  This show needed dynamic star vehicles, and a team of versatile musicians and special effects consults.  It also needed a director who was brave enough to face the show’s challenges, especially given the musical’s exciting, but brief and rather failing stint on Broadway.  Often, productions benefit from good casting or great producing but I think this production was layered with both.

What have been some of your most challenging roles?  Why?  Would you play any of them again?  Why?

Blanche has actually been my second-most challenging role.  Figuring out how to play a climatic scene of someone dying in your arms towards the end of a pop/country/rock (I’m still torn which genre is primary) musical was a challenge.  It ran the risk of being too self indulgent to be believable and also ran the risk of being meaningless if the character’s journey wasn’t quite right.   Balancing a woman whose religious and moral values are such a focus in the script wasn’t always easy. I didn’t want Blanche to remind the audience of the last Christian they encountered who shunned their friends and family on an imagined pedestal of moral high ground.

Buck Barrow (Tim Mcshea) and Blanche Barrow (Sarajane Morse Mullins) in The Umbrella's Bonnie & Clyde (Photo Credit: Meghan Donnelly). 

Buck Barrow (Tim Mcshea) and Blanche Barrow (Sarajane Morse Mullins) in The Umbrella's Bonnie & Clyde (Photo Credit: Meghan Donnelly). 

I wanted them to relate to her more than that. If the audience doesn’t like Blanche and Buck by the scene of his death and her incarceration, the play can really fall flat.  I made it my goal, whether it ever came across or not, to share every humbling moment possible with the audience in the hopes that they would recognize this woman as blindly guided by her religion yet hopelessly human and caring.  She chooses to stick by someone out of love, rather than punish them for not following her moral code.  She proves to be flexible and humble.  I discovered her to be admirable and once that happened, I really fell in love with her.   I’d play her over and over again. 

Some roles just sit with you the right way.  Like a dress that flatters all the right places, I found Blanche gave me so much confidence and joy.  Figuring out the level and balance of emotion to bring to the character’s trajectory took some timing and pacing.  Our musical director, Ben, really challenged me vocally and had me signing outside of my comfort zone. Nancy Curran Willis, our director, and Tim McShea, the actor playing Buck, are both people I’ve worked with before.  They allowed me the time to play with this character and figure out the pacing of scenes.  Tim never grew frustrated or tired with me, no matter how many times I wanted to run some dialogue or talk about a scene.  I credit him with making me feel comfortable and free to do the work.

Do you have any routines or rituals as an actress?

As a ritual, I never attend the sound-check in full costume.  I wear a robe, half the costume, anything besides the whole thing.  It’s been a ritual since I was seven years old, and it’s become a superstition.  Most actors like to be ready with more than enough time.  I hate to be ready too early.  It makes my nerves kick in.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I’m realizing that I never told anyone about my sound-check ritual before.  Most people also don’t know I’m a real estate nerd.  I’m that girl who wants a tour of your condo or wants to know how much water damage is in your basement.  I have a real estate license and I dabble from time to time.

Tell us a funny (or just embarrassing) audition story.

I once had a busy audition week and I got two audition dates and times confused.  I showed up for a contemporary rock role and sang 16 bars of an Italian aria and 16 bars of a Rogers and Hammerstein musical.  The creative and production staff were so confused or amused that they chose to say nothing, and I didn’t realize that I sang the wrong material until I stepped into the lobby and listened to the vocalist after me.  I literally sang opera at a rock audition.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’m wrapping up one project for an industrial voice-over this month and then looking forward to some spring auditions.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thanks for supporting theater in the Boston area!  I believe theater is massively powerful and such an underused tool.  Support theater arts whenever you can - in your politics, in your spiritual beliefs, in your school, in your workplace!

2015 Best Supporting Actress in a Play Nominee: Tiffany Nichole Greene as Marc Antony in Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston's "Julius Caesar"

Photo Credit: Eric Richardson

Photo Credit: Eric Richardson

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Tiffany Nichole Greene rose like a bright star as Marc Antony in an exhilarating production of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar by Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston ("Bridge Rep").  Her Marc Antony was as fierce as ever, but her presence as a formidable leader and her cool calculation made Tiffany's performance even more palpable. In her Interview, Tiffany talks about her performance in Julius Caesar, her acting training, and what she wishes that her family and friends understood about theatre.

Tiffany, thank you so much for joining us for our ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us about yourself?

Hi! I’m an actor and director from Houston, Texas, which is the city that I still call home. I’ve been living in New York City for 4 years now. I have a doggie, Amos, whom I love very much and have had for all 14 years of his life. I love to travel. I travel a lot for work (and so does Amos!). I greatly and equally love Shakespeare and contemporary works the most.

Tell us about your role in Julius Caesar and the overall production.  What was different about it?  With what did you struggle?  What came easy for you?

Well, for one thing, I played a role that I’d guess is rarely played by an African-American female. However, I was greatly encouraged and inspired by the unique twist my casting added to the conflict amongst such powerful male characters. Because Marc Antony is written to be an outsider amongst the Senators, it was pretty easy to allow my race and gender to fully be present in the world without having to manipulate Shakespeare’s language (beyond a few pronouns, of course).

I found myself constantly negotiating the balance of Marc Antony: I wanted to allow her to be fully powerful in her own right while also being careful not to deny the human characteristics of any person dealing with loss, justice, or revenge that may be labeled as “feminine” when seen on a woman. While this required my close attention, it came to be quite natural and fitting.

Marc Antony (Tiffany Nichole Greene*) in Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston's Julius Caesar (Photo Credit: Marc Franklin) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Marc Antony (Tiffany Nichole Greene*) in Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston's Julius Caesar (Photo Credit: Marc Franklin) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?  Why?  Do you have a least favorite?

My favorite is Macbeth!! And The Winter’s Tale!

My least favorite may have to be . . . I don’t know . . . Comedy of Errors?

Talk to us about your acting training.  How did these program(s) prepare you as a professional?  How did they not prepare you?

I’m an MFA graduate of Brown University/Trinity Rep. Our text work training is pretty amazing, and we are fully encouraged to start character development with what we DO know/identify with in the character. From there, we can extend through imagination and expand into behavior, which encompasses emotion as a component, but it is much more active, realistic, and, ultimately, more 3-dimensional. Because we train under a company of collaborators, I think we tend to go through a bit of shock when we get out into the real world and we are all in competition with one another.

We’re going out to dinner.  Where are we going?  What are we eating?  What would we talk about?

Flying down to Texas for enchiladas wrapped in flour tortillas from Pappasito's Cantina! We’ll chat about . . . Everything! I love a good catch-up session.

What surprises you about theatre?  What inspires you?  What bores you?

Theatre is an intimate, shared experience between audience and actor. Blood, sweat, and tears are literally shed for one another. In both directions. That’s pretty breathtaking.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be, and why?  What would you do with it?  Would you wear a cape?

Definitely the power to teleport!!!! I would work everywhere and all of the time. Since my cape would be glittery gold, I would wear my cape on special occasions. Wouldn’t want to show off too much!

What do you wish that your family and friends understood about your life in theatre? 

I wish my family understood on a truly deeeeeep level that I’m not getting fired. Everyone is being let go. The play is over and there’s no work left to do on the project. And we can still celebrate the achievement even though we can’t hold on to the event itself. And the “down time” not a time of mourning. It’s ok.

Marc Antony (Tiffany Nichole Greene*) and one of the senators (Jacob Athyal) in Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston's Julius Caesar (Photo Credit: Marc Franklin) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Marc Antony (Tiffany Nichole Greene*) and one of the senators (Jacob Athyal) in Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston's Julius Caesar (Photo Credit: Marc Franklin) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I just directed a reading for a full-length play in a festival in NYC, called The Fire This Time Festival. I’m also directing two one-acts right now at New Perspectives Theatre Company (NYC). Both will open in late February 2016 and run for a month in repertory. Oh and last, but not least, I'm a 2015-2016 SOHO Rep Lab Director.

NOW FOR THE BOSTON STUFF! I’m directing Bridge Rep’s next show, The Launch Prize, which opens in March 2016; and I’m acting in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s upcoming production of BootyCandy, which also opens in March 2016! Busy, Busy!