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 Leading Actress in a Musical: Lori L'Italien as Miss Adelaide in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's "Guys and Dolls"

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

Photo Credit:   Tess Johnson

Photo Credit: Tess Johnson

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

Lori L'Italien won our hearts and ears with her brilliant and nuanced portrayal of the iconic role of Miss Adelaide in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's Guys and Dolls. Her strength and conviction was displayed in her interactions with Nathan Detroit, but also when she sang her solos to the audience, captivating us with her inner struggle to get the man she loved, despite societal limitations.  And there was no limit to Lori's voice, exhibiting superior control and range, especially in her "Adelaide's Lament." In her Interview, Lori describes her interpretation of Miss Adelaide, her vocal training (and her newest educational pursuit), what she would change about Greater Boston theatre, and her many upcoming projects (see below to catch a class act!).

Hi, Lori, and thank you for interviewing with us at ArtsImpulse.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi there, Boston theatre scene. I’m Lori, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview with ArtsImpulse. I’m originally from Maine, but I have been a proud Bostonian for the past 10 years.

Tell us about your role as Miss Adelaide in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s Guys and Dolls.  What is her story?  How did you approach the role?  What were the challenges?

As you probably know, Adelaide has been engaged to her fiancé, Nathan Detroit, for fourteen years. She’s tried just about everything to try to get him to settle down, to no avail. Adelaide is such an amazing character and I’m lucky enough that this was my second time getting to portray her.

Miss Adelaide (Lori L'Italien) and her Hot Box Girls in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's  Guys and Dolls  (Photo Credit:   Herb Philpott  ). 

Miss Adelaide (Lori L'Italien) and her Hot Box Girls in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's Guys and Dolls (Photo Credit: Herb Philpott). 

I’ve always related to Adelaide and loved her quirky, spunky character. My own boyfriend and I were together for 13 years before getting married. Funny enough, he popped the question about a week after I closed my first Adelaide (I guess it was a good hint). So, the show and the character will always hold a special place in my heart.

It was important to me that my portrayal of Adelaide grew from the last time I played her. I wanted her to be a strong, independent woman who knows what she wants and is willing to fight for it. I find that too often Adelaide is played as a “dumb blonde.” She’s not dumb at all; in fact, she’s incredibly clever. She knows what works and what will jab Nathan right in the heart. Her tactics might be a little unusual but she truly loves Nathan and everything comes from the best of intentions.

What roles have you played that you have identified with most strongly?

Aside from Adelaide, my favorite role has been Lucille Frank in Parade with The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company (RIP). Lucille is an incredibly strong character, perhaps far more so than her husband. She does what needs to be done to see that her husband gets fair treatment and the false evidence from the trial thrown out. In that day and age, when a woman’s job was to stay home, cook and have babies, what an incredible amount of strength it took for her to confront the authorities of Georgia. I loved her story and her strength and it didn’t hurt that I had a fantastic Leo to partner with, and an amazing cast and director.

How would audience members, reviewers, and teachers describe your voice and “type.”  Do you feel like you have a type?

Um . . . Big? Haha! Well, that has been the question for the last 12 years! My history with my vocal training has been incredibly varied, but, in the end, I’m grateful for the training because it’s given me a very versatile voice.

In high school, I sang tenor in the choir, and I had zero head voice but a heck of a belt. When I got to undergrad, I only sang classical soprano in my voice lessons. I remember asking for a musical theatre piece and my teacher gave me “My White Knight,” from The Music Man (not what I had in mind!). I then went to get a Masters in Opera Performance before coming back to musical theatre. While I consider myself a mezzo/belter, I feel very comfortable in the soprano register of musical theatre thanks to my operatic training.

Tell us about your training and education.  How have they prepared you as a professional?  What have been some of the most valuable lessons?

It’s been a long road to find what I really want to do with performance, but I feel like I’m finally on the right path. I went to University of Maine for a Bachelor in Music Education, and then I taught music in a middle school for two years. I enjoyed teaching but I wasn’t completely fulfilled. I missed performing.

Thanks to a summer-stock experience at Hackmatack Theatre in Berwick, Maine, and the encouragement of a friend, I auditioned for graduate school in June (way after any auditions or applications were due). I sang for the director of the program and she said, “Okay, You’re coming here in the fall!” My boyfriend (now husband) and I packed up our lives and moved to Boston and I got my Masters in Music in Opera Performance at Longy School of Music.

I performed for about 2 years in the area and was doing pretty well for myself, but I wasn’t completely in love with the music. I never loved practicing opera as much as I loved practicing musical theatre. So, after a particularly wretched round of classical auditions, I auditioned for a production of Cabaret in Saugus and I got Sally Bowles. I haven’t looked back since.

Miss Adelaide (Lori L'Italien) plans how to win a wedding proposal from Nathan Detroit in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's  Guys and Dolls  (Photo Credit:   Herb Philpott  ).

Miss Adelaide (Lori L'Italien) plans how to win a wedding proposal from Nathan Detroit in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's Guys and Dolls (Photo Credit: Herb Philpott).

This is the music that really speaks to me and that I love to sing. I’m now pursuing my Masters of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre at The Boston Conservatory. It’s an amazing program and is really helping me fill in the gaps in my training. I had plenty of music and voice knowledge, but I had never actually taken an acting class or a dance class, which you obviously need in musical theatre. All the going back and forth from one genre to another (and getting older) has really helped me realize that if I’m not doing what I absolutely LOVE, then what’s the point? Let’s face it, none of us get into it for the money, so if I’m going to be broke, I may as well be happy and broke!

Do you have any mentors?  Who inspires you?

This is hard! So many! My voice teacher, Kevin Wilson, is incredibly grounding and has really helped me realize that I need to just get off my butt and do what makes me happy instead of being afraid of everything.

I’m inspired by anyone who pursues theatre as a career. It’s incredibly scary to give up stability, and consistent work to follow your dreams and make art, but, man, there is no better feeling in the world that I’ve found.

I’m also insanely inspired by my students. It’s like working with a fresh slate. They are excited and driven and ready to work every rehearsal. You get to help them practice and build their craft and inspire them to enjoy something you love. It’s a great opportunity to say, “Hey, if I could do it over again, what would I want to learn/know/do/create?” I’m constantly learning from them.

What do you do to relax?  What are some of your guilty pleasures?

I’m a huge nerd. My husband and I love craft beer and checking out breweries in the area. We also both love nerdy games (Catan, Dominion, Carcassone, etc.) and nerdy fantasy books. I love the adventure and fantasy of transporting myself to another world. I guess it’s just another way of “playing pretend.”

If you could change one thing about the Greater Boston theatre community, what would it be?  Why?

This is easy, money, space, and support. I really wish there was more support for the small fringe companies in the area. Recently, two of my favorite companies to work with, The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company and Woodland Theatre Company had to close due to finances. These two companies were producing some AMAZING theatre and had been recognized alongside much larger theatres with MUCH bigger budgets, but, because they had to rent smaller venues or were a little further from the city, it was hard to pull in audiences.

I have this dream to buy this old gas station lot down the street from my apartment and build a huge theatre, rehearsal and storage place that could be available at an affordable rate or through a government grant for smaller fringe companies. It’s so hard to find affordable space that companies are spending all of their resources on rentals instead of on attracting new audiences and pulling in new talent. Maybe if I win the lottery someday . . .

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

Hmmm. I guess people are always surprised when they learn that my husband and I have been together for 15 years. We met in choir in college, when we were both 19 and have been together ever since. I’m insanely grateful for his support.

I also love 80s hair bands! haha! I guess that’s something not a lot of people know . . . I think?

Miscast!  What are some roles that you wish that you could play, but because of gender, age, ethnicity, etc., you might never get the opportunity to play?

YES! So many of my dream roles, I won’t be eligible for another 15 years: Mama Rose in Gypsy, Mrs. Lovett in Sweenedy Todd, Ursula in Disney's The Little Mermaid.

But, for Miscast, I’d LOVE to play Kim in Miss Saigon, Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd, and George in Sunday in the Park with George. I’d also love to play Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, but, let’s be real, that ship has sailed.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Quite a few! I’m singing this Friday, February 12, 2016, with North End Music and Performing Arts Center in their annual Valentine's Concert Amore: American Love Songs.

On February 20, 2016, I’m heading up to Maine to sing for a University of Maine Singers Fundraiser Concert in Windham, Maine. I’m singing in MetroWest Opera’s Friendraiser at Club Cafe Boston on February 22, 2016. I’m performing in The Vagina Monologues at The Boston Conservatory on February 24 & 25, 2016. I’m also going to be performing the role of Anne in Jake Heggie’s To Hell and Back with The Boston Conservatory Student Opera on April 22 & 23, 2016.

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

Thank you so much for including me in such an amazing group of nominees and for the fun interview! What an amazing community we have in Boston and I’m thrilled to be a part of it!

2015 Best Student Actress Nominee: Sierra Pilkington as Olympia in The Boston Conservatory's "Big Love"

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: Zach Strand.

Photo Credit: Zach Strand.

Sierra Pilkington might have played the youngest (and most spoiled) sister in Charles Mee's Big Love, but that did not detract from her strength and conviction when she was biting someone's face off! Sierra's Olympia was strong and nuanced, playing for love and for keeps, convicted in her pursuit of a man but only one who was worthy of her. In her Interview, Sierra tell us more about being a student at The Boston Conservatory, the last song that she sang at an audition (we love that song!), and her next project at The Boston Conservatory!

Hi, Sierra, and thank you for interviewing with us.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! Thanks so much for interviewing me! I was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, to the lovely parents of Mary and Don Pilkington, and have a twin brother named Dakota. I was blessed with the opportunity to go to public school and grow up surrounded by a supportive family, sports, and the arts. When I’m not in school, I love hiking, going on adventures, meeting new people, dancing, working out, and doing arts and crafts. 

Talk to us about Conservatory life.  What made you decide on The Boston Conservatory? Describe your day.  How would your days be different at a liberal arts university or program?

For me, Conservatory life is very different than my public high school. Growing up with Dakota meant growing up with sports, and I miss that. Don’t get me wrong, I love Conservatory life, and living in Boston is awesome with so many different colleges and so much art everywhere.

I decided on The Boston Conservatory because I wanted an adventure, to live away from home, not to mention the amazing program that I have the privilege of attending. At The Boston Conservatory, I feel like I have grown so much as a person as well as a performer. I’m excited to take what I have learned, go out into the world, and enjoy where it takes me! 

What is Charles Mee’s Big Love?  Who was your character?  Did you relate with her?

Olympia (Sierra Pilkington, The Boston Conservatory '16) in Charles Mee's  Big Love  at The Boston Conservatory (Photo Credit: Alexis Sheer). 

Olympia (Sierra Pilkington, The Boston Conservatory '16) in Charles Mee's Big Love at The Boston Conservatory (Photo Credit: Alexis Sheer). 

Big Love is an incredible story about finding love and discovering what you want. All of the characters in this show speak about what love is to them and who they believe they are based on what the world has told them. 

I had the honor of playing the part of Olympia, the youngest sister of the three. There is such a strong bond between the sisters and what they go through together. Olympia is the spoiled Daddy’s girl who always gets everything she wants. She is not used to having to do things for herself. I learned so much from Olympia and she showed me a lot about myself. I relate to her through the way that she loves her sisters, even though she can’t stand them sometimes, while also relating to her through her passion and love for life. 

A big part of Big Love was the relationships among the sisters.  Do you have any siblings?  What is your relationship like with them?  Did you use any of these relationships in your performance?

I have a twin brother and he is one of my favorite people. Growing up with a brother was awesome because we have learned so much from each other. I got to use our relationship in many different ways as inspiration for choices in Big Love, such as the funny memories we share, the times we don’t get along, and the other times when we are like best friends. I am very thankful for our relationship, and I’m excited to see how it continues to grow. 

Of what are you most proud?

In this particular production, I am most proud of learning stage combat, and how to kill someone. I never thought in a million years I would be ripping someone’s neck off with my teeth and getting covered in blood. It will always be one of the most thrilling experiences I have had on stage. 

What is the last song that you used at an audition?  Why did you choose this song?

The last song I used for an audition was “On My Way” from Violet. I chose that one, because it’s one of my favorite songs to sing. I love the feel of the song, and Violet is a role I hope to work on one day. 

Movie night!  What are we seeing?  Are we going out or staying in?  What snacks do we have?  Are we inviting anyone to join us?

Anything except for horror, and let’s go out and make it a night on the town! Popcorn is the bomb and one of my favorites. Anyone and everyone available is welcome to come! 

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be?  What would you do?  Who would you take with you?

I would love to go backpacking through Europe. I just want to meet people, explore, and enjoy the beautiful earth and the people in it! 

Do you believe in unconditional love?  Do you believe in unconditional lust?

Olympia (Sierra Pilkington, The Boston Conservatory '16) gets revenge in Charles Mee's  Big Love  at The Boston Conservatory (Photo Credit: Alexis Scheer). 

Olympia (Sierra Pilkington, The Boston Conservatory '16) gets revenge in Charles Mee's Big Love at The Boston Conservatory (Photo Credit: Alexis Scheer). 

I believe in the unconditional love of God. I don’t know if I believe in unconditional lust or not. Still experiencing life and learning as I go along. 

What are some of your biggest challenges as a performer?  What do you believe is your biggest strength?

One of my biggest challenges as a performer is not trusting myself. I freak out about the smallest things, and hope I don’t forget everything.

I believe my biggest strength is being present throughout the performance. 

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am starting rehearsals for Aida this coming week at The Boston Conservatory, directed by the incredible Danny Hutchins! I’m very excited to be working with this awesome cast and crew!! 

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

I am so thankful and very blessed to be where I am today! I have an awesome support system and I’m excited to see what the future brings! 

2014 Best Student Actor: Zach Jones as Chip in The Boston Conservatory's "On the Town"

Although we have announced our 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Winners, we continue our Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Few performers "wow'd" us in 2014 like Zach Jones.  A rising senior at The Boston Conservatory, Zach has the triple threat with a side punch of a charming smile; a kick of an abundance of energy; and the love, respect, and work ethic to tackle any project.  His Chip in The Boston Conservatory's On the Town was a standout in a production that exceeded expectations, dancing, singing, and smiling into our hearts.  In his Interview, Zach explains conservatory life, his strong relationships with his co-stars in On the Town, and some of his guilty pleasures.

Photo by Julia Gannon

Photo by Julia Gannon

Hi, Zach, can you introduce yourself to our ArtsImpulse readers?  Who are you, where are you from, what is your performing background? 

Hello!  My name is Zach Jones and I am a rising senior at The Boston Conservatory!  Huzzah!  I hail from the west suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where I grew up with my mother, Robyn, and two brothers, Austin and Sean.  My performance career began when I was five years old shortly after my older sister, Felicia, passed away.  Felicia was an all-star big sister and all-around wonderful young person.  She took piano lessons, played softball, danced at the park district, was a total bookworm, and really took care of my brothers and me in our early years of life. 

When she was 10 years old, she passed away from an acute pancreatitis.  At the annual dance recital that year, friends and families brought flowers, expressed their sentiments to my mother, and asked if “the boys” were going to start dancing.  Before she could say, “No…”, my brothers and I jumped and screamed, “Yes!”, and from that summer on, we were hooked.  After 13 years of dance (10 years being a part of the Aspire Dance Company), 9 years of choir, 7 years of theater, and 18 years of my life, I had no idea what the future would hold.  Or what I even wanted to do for the rest of my life.  For as much time as I dedicated to the performing arts, I had never considered pursuing dance, or theater professionally.  Then again, I had yet to really think about any career.  But I remember something one of my high school teachers told me.  She said to do something that filled me with passion.  To work hard at everything I do, but build my life on something I enjoy.  When I could not picture my life without performing, I knew I had made my decision to become an artist.  But I didn’t just want to dance.  I wanted to expand my person and abilities to be able to work and express myself in all the ways I love to.  After not being able to schedule an audition because they were all full, getting an audition at the last minute because someone cancelled, having a wonderful audition experience, and, two months later, I was accepted to The Boston Conservatory!  Huzzah, once more! 

And since then I’ve been a part of numerous Mainstage productions at the conservatory (On The Town, The Pajama Game, Oklahoma!, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar); senior director projects (The Wild Party, Peter Pan, Urinetown); and outreach/fundraising performances, such as Disney’s On The Record, Post Secret Cabaret, Miscast Cabaret, and our annual drag show!  I have had nothing but wonderful experiences at BoCo.  I have learned so much already and look forward to the school year to come!

How does The Boston Conservatory prepare you to play roles in new and old musicals and plays?  What is the training program like? 

The conservatory prepares you to do practically anything.  Seriously.  Our teachers provide us with solid acting, vocal, and dance technique to safely, intellectually, and artistically explore the widest range of material.  We study the history of theater, history of musical theater, Shakespeare, and modern drama to expand our vocabulary and expose us to an unlimited number of styles.  In addition to studying IPA and dialects, we work on a bunch of texts, monologues, and speeches ranging from Greek to Shakespeare and beyond. 

The most important thing we learn is who we are as artists and people.  The conservatory helps each student to develop a personal aesthetic.  Our program is about digging deep into yourself, finding the human you are, artist you aspire to be, and cultivating that. We are not a “cookie-cutter” program. We are individuals striving for personal excellence. It is through strong technique and personal exploration that we are able to breath new life into classical characters.

Walk us through a typical day for you.  Where do you go?  What do you do in Boston? 

The typical day entails waking up, falling asleep, and a heck of a lot of in between. Some days, class starts as early as 8am and finishes around 7pm.  From 7:30pm to 11pm, I am usually in rehearsals for a show or school project.  After that, I’ll meet with scene partners, hit a practice room, or head home, Rice Bowl in hand, slap on some Netflix, and pass out.  Attending the conservatory is highly demanding, exhausting, and hard work.  But it is all worth it to do what I love, with people I love, in a city I love, every day.

Who was your character in On the Town?  What is his story?  How did you make the role your own? 

I played John Offenblock, but the fellas called me Chip!  Chip is a rather kooky guy.  A U.S. sailor from Peoria, he’s a family man through and through, with the biggest heart in the world.  He is dedicated to his family, friends, and country, but, most of all, his guidebook.  His father was in New York in 1934 and brought back a guidebook for Chip full of all the restaurants, buildings, and parks there.  Chip became fascinated and infatuated with the city, hoping one day, if only for a moment, he could see its beauty in the flesh.  So how fortunate for him when their unit docks in NYC and he has 24 hours on shore to see all the famous sights! 

Chip schedules the entire day around visiting everything in the guidebook, an ambitious, nearly impossible task.  When Gabey wants to meet the gorgeous, one and only Miss Turnstiles, Ozzie convinces Chip to put his plans on hold and go find her.  After the three split up, Chip stumbles upon, or is stumbled upon by Hildy, a wild, sexy, NYC taxi driver.  She shows him the town in ways that no guidebook ever could, and not just because the guidebook is incredibly out of date.  She teaches him to let go and realize life isn’t about the places you see, but the people you see them with.  And sex.  Lots of passionate sex. 

One of my favorite parts of discovering Chip was creating the guidebook.  I researched all of the places that he mentions in the text and filled the book with information, pictures, and quirky facts.  Using a prop I worked so hard on dropped me right into the period of the show and the organized nature of Chip. 

Another component to making Chip my own was working so closely with Michelle Chassé, my director and choreographer.  Michelle is a fantastic leader and collaborator.  In choreographing On The Town, she allowed so much room for discovery, play, and personality.  The story and relationships were constantly evolving, and having that space to work was tremendously helpful.

Tell us about your relationship with Ozzie and Gabey, and the actors playing them.  How about with Hildy, played by 2014 ArtsImpulse Award Nominee for Best Student Actor Mimi Scardulla? 

Ozzie and Gabey are Chip’s two best friends.  He looks up to the both of them a great deal.  Ozzie’s confidence is something Chip looks for in himself, and Gabey’s strength and heart remind him so much of home.  Gabey saved Ozzie and Chip’s lives and that really unites the three of them as brothers.  From that moment on they would do anything for each other.  Which is so much of what Jordan Ford (Gabey), Cameron Herbst (Ozzie), and I found working together. 

Before every show, the three of us would go into a studio in our sailor under garments, play music from the ‘30s and ‘40s, and give ourselves a little bootcamp.  Pushups, crunches, planks… the whole shebang.  Jordan and Cam are bigger guys, so I would try to keep up, much like Chip would.  The dynamic between the three of us was so much like the three of the sailors that performing with them was an absolute pleasure each and every night. 

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Photo by Eric Antoniou

The exact same with MiMi Scardulla (Hildy)!  Chip and Hildy were instantly attracted to each other.  She is dangerous, wild, and not afraid to get what she wants.  Hildy makes Chip spontaneous and impulsive, and he tames her, not a lot, but enough to really share genuine moments of care and love.  The two complement each other very well.  MiMi was such a dream to work with.  Having just come off of Cloud 9 together, MiMi and I knew each other very well and clicked instantaneously.  She is such a wonderful, loving person and generous partner that working with her was easy as pie.  MiMi is bold and unafraid to take risks, which opened me up to new choices, as well!  Hildy would write Chip cute little love letters for each show, wishing him "safe travels" and telling him how much she loved and missed him and leave them in my dressing room.  Any guy would be lucky to have MiMi Scardulla as a partner, and I hope I get to work with her again in the future!

What are some of the roles on your bucket list?  What about some roles that you’d never play, but you’d want to nonetheless? 

Jack from Into The Woods, Bobby Strong in Urinetown, Jimmy Harper in Reefer Madness, and Bobby in Company.  I would also love to be Velma Kelly.  I’ll leave that on the bucket list.

What do you consider to be your performing strength?  Performing weakness?

From the moment I step on stage, I am the happiest man alive.  There is nothing I’d rather be doing than living and breathing song and dance, and connecting with an audience.  I find my joy and love for what I do to be my biggest strength. 

My weakness would definitely be self-judgment.  I love to perform, but I too often worry what others think.  In the worst instances, my fear inhibits my work and sucks the joy out of it for me.  Learning to let go of fear is something I continue to work on.

What are some of your guilty pleasures? 

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Lost.  Long showers.  Dominos pizza.  Mango margaritas.  Always.

What are some of your goals for 2015?  What are some of your career goals? 

I look forward to soaking up every bit of my senior year.  I want to grow as much as I can in the final stretch before I graduate.  My ultimate goal is to provide young, aspiring artists opportunities to pursue their dreams.  My mother has worked so many jobs and sacrificed so much to provide for my brothers and me, and I hope my success will allow me to alleviate that stress for similar families.  The arts have played such an important part in my life and the lives of many, and I want to be there for the ones who need it.  I want to help people find their happiness the way that so many have helped me.

What is one movie, play, musical, or story that has left a lasting impression on you?  Why? 

My friends are totally going to make fun of me for this, but the ABC television series Lost is everything.  I’ve seen it a bunch of times.  The show is about a plane crash on a mysterious island and much more generally about journey, redemption, and letting go. It’s a universal story of personal struggle, self-discovery, and love.  The thing that resonated most on my first watch was the characters.  All people hurt.  All people are learning.  And you never know the kind of life that a person has lived.  It inspired me to strengthen the way that I treat and relate to people.  To always be kind, curious, and eager for life.  Plus, it has the best quotes!  “All we really need to survive is one person who truly loves us.”  I mean, come on!  “If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.” *cue tears running down my face.*  I highly recommend.

If I stole your iPod right now, what would be the “most listened to” song?  What would be the “last listened to” song? 

Ha!  My most listened to song would probably be Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk.”  I listen to it every time I travel.  The one time I didn’t, it started playing in the airport!  Don’t know why, it’s just one of those songs.  J 

And the last listened to song is “Belief” by Gavin DeGraw.  No fun story, I just like the song.

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Photo by Eric Antoniou

How would your best friend describe your personality?  How would your mom describe your personality? 

Oh, boy.  In three words or less:  Friendly, Goofy, and Big.  My mom would call me a Diva, and leave it at that!  But, actually, she would probably describe me as reliable, mature, and loving.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

This summer I will be working in St. Louis at The Muny in Hairspray running from June 23rd-June 30th, and Beauty and the Beast playing July 27th through August 7th!  Then, I am back in Boston welcoming the incoming class of BoCo students as an Orientation Leader and preparing for senior year.  After that, we shall see!  J

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

On The Town was a dream, playing Chip an absolute joy, and both will live in my heart forever.  I thank you so much for this nomination, your time, and “We’ll catch up some other time!”

2014 Best Student Actress Nominee Interview: Paige Berkovitz as Mary Flynn in The Boston Conservatory's "Merrily We Roll Along"

Photo by Dennis Apergis Los Angeles Photography

Photo by Dennis Apergis Los Angeles Photography

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Paige Berkovitz showed the joy and humanity behind the cynical, biting Mary Flynn in The Boston Conservatory's Merrily We Roll Along, convincing us of the many layers behind these Sondheim characters. Moreover, Paige reinforced the strong character work and scene study present at The Boston Conservatory, never settling and always curious for more.  In her Interview, Paige discusses her love for Sondheim, her dreams, and her love for chocolate!

Hi, Paige!  Thank you for agreeing to participate in an Interview.  Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?  What is your performing background? 

I started performing when I was eight years old. My mom signed me up for a community theater production of Annie and I fell in love with performing. 

What is the story of Merrily We Roll Along

Tricky question. I think the story of Merrily boils down to friendship. Do not let fame or fortune get to your head. 

How did you choose to play Mary Flynn?  What was the biggest challenge?  What was your favorite moment? 

Well, you have to be careful with Miss Mary. She is easily portrayed as the snarky, cynical, witty best friend. You have to try to make her as likable as possible instead of falling in the trap of the “love sick woe is me girl.”

My favorite moment had to be the end when we all meet each other on the roof for the first time. That scene shows such a promising future for the three of them and leaves you with such hope. 

Had you performed a Sondheim musical before?  Do you have any other Sondheim roles that you would like to play?  How is a Sondheim show different or similar to other musical theatre?                                                                          

I was in Into The Woods in high school and I played Cinderella. I honestly think I would like to play every female role in a Sondheim show. I would want to be Baker’s Wife and the Witch, Petra, Dot, Beggar Woman, Martha. Name the role and I will probably say yes. 

Sondheim is in his own category. He writes in such a special way that any actor is lucky to work on his material. Each beat and breath mark in his music is written out for a specific dramatic purpose. It is gift to work on his material. 

To students looking for a strong musical theatre program, what advice would you give?  What should students ask themselves?  What questions should they ask to their potential schools or programs? 

Go with your gut and visit as may schools as possible. Shadow classes and ask everyone you see all the questions you can think of down to “How is the food in the cafeteria?” Also, research the program and really ask yourself is “This what I want to commit to for the next four years?”

What are some of your go-to audition songs?  Monologues? 

I think your song choice and material depends on the show you are going out for.

What is your favorite kind of candy?

CHOCOLATE.

If you could do anything else but act, what would it be?  Why? 

Art Curator. I have discovered some really great museums in New York and I have found a new passion for art. 

Merrily We Roll Along is partly about dreams.  What are some of your dreams? 

Oh, that could be a whole other section. One of my dreams for the theater world would be to originate a role on Broadway. A non-theater dream would be to move to a different country without knowing anyone and learn the language and customs and discover a new world. 

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

Not in the immediate future but I will keep you posted!

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

Thanks for the nomination! 

2014 Best Student Actor Nominee Interview: Connor Baty as Charley Kringas in The Boston Conservatory's "Merrily We Roll Along"

Photo by Peter Hurley

Photo by Peter Hurley

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

 NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Connor Baty was a shining star in the outstanding production of The Boston Conservatory's Merrily We Roll Along, captivating audiences with his enthusiastic and sympathetic portrayal of the dreamer Charley Kringas. It was Connor's exceptional understanding of Sondheim's work and his ability to execute the difficult score that earned him an ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Nomination.  In his Interview, Connor talks about the positive effect of his Boston Conservatory education (especially the passionate professors), his favorite movies and books, and a little bit about a new cycling program that is quickly sweeping the nation (get on board, y'all!). 

Hiya, Connor. Can you introduce yourself?  Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, your performing background and experiences, and what you’re currently doing?

I grew up in Overland Park, Kansas.  I started seriously doing theatre when I made the jump from Catholic school to public school, and I found an amazing acting teacher who really set me on my path.  While so many high schools were doing Grease, Oklahoma, etc., we really sunk our teeth into some great material such as the original melodrama of Sweeney Todd and the heavy play Shadow Box.  Currently, I am living in Chicago.  Having spent 4 years in the east coast, it’s nice to be back in the Midwest.  Right now, I’m working at SoulCycle, an indoor cycling class, and on that working actor grind in Chi-town.

Tell us the story of Merrily We Roll Along.  What appealed to you about this musical?  About your character, Charley?

Merrily We Roll Along is the story of friendship, tried and tested.  It chronicles the journey of 3 friends (Frank, Charley, and Mary) whose working relationship eventually breaks down their personal relationships. 

What appealed to me about this show was, quite simply, the lyric genius of Sondheim.  I liken him to the musical Shakespeare, where his songs, although they seem difficult to sing, are actually quite simple.  He really lays everything out to you in the music and makes it so accessible to the actor. 

What I love about Charley is that he never truly gives up.  He is always reaching for what he knows could be there in his relationship with Frank, but he is also realistic.  He understands the limitations and understands what he wants out of life, something that I think Frank lacks.

Why do you think that this is a rarely-performed Sondheim?  Do you know what critics thought about early productions of it?  How did audiences at your production respond?

The show runs backwards in time.  I think this is initially why the show wasn’t accepted extremely well in its time.  But I also think that’s what makes this show special.  You start at such a dark place, but in the end you get to see the hope.  You get to see what could have been.  It really allows you to reflect on your own life and the choices you have made to get where you are.  I think it is especially poignant for young theatre students.  It deals with the idea that attaining your professional goals is important, but not nearly as important as maintaining the relationships with those who care about you.

Why did you choose to attend The Boston Conservatory?  What did you learn?  What was your training?  How is it helping you now?

I chose to attend The Boston Conservatory because of its faculty.  I can honestly say that I have met some of the most caring and nurturing people through BoCo.  Thank your teachers, y’all.  They work hard for you.

I emphasized in acting and directing and really discovered my passion for directing.  I think that the fast paced environment of BoCo helps you prepare for the intensity of the actor life.

How have people described your performing style?  What do you consider to be your strongest attribute?  Are you a singer, dancer, or actor?  Do you think that you have a weak point?

I think that I have been lucky to have teachers that always pushed my acting.  I always have strived to do everything in the most truthful and honest way I can. 

Definitely would not consider myself a dancer.  Just ask Sarah Crane, choreographer of Merrily, about my skills.

What do you dream about?

I dream about happiness.  I think that all those goals that we set for ourselves: fame, Broadway, television, etc., those are all nice.  But I think you first and foremost have to be happy with where you are.  And if you aren’t, then choose the path that will lead you there.

If you could live in any other time period, what would it be?  What would you do?

Maybe this is cheating the question, but I would stay where I am.  I think that there is such an excitement about the times we live in.  We still have ways to go, but we have never been closer as a nation and as world.  Complain all you want about the age of the internet, but I think it has brought us together and it has also brought to light some of the deep rooted issues in our society that we are finally talking about.

What are some of your favorite movies, TV shows, books, and theatre?  Let’s limit to Top 3 of each.

Ooh, that’s a tough one. 

Movies: I’m actually a huge fan of the original Star Wars. And just cause I’m a sucker for dumb humor I’ll say Scary Movie 3 and Bring it On All or Nothing

TV Shows: Lost, Game of Thrones, American Horror Story (honorable mention: Downton Abbey). 

Books: Harry Potter, duh. Anything by Chelsea Handler or David Sedaris. 

Theatre: Into the Woods, Macbeth, and Peter Pan (the play).

MerrilyWeRollAlong

What is the hardest thing about going from being a student to being a theatre professional?  What is one thing that you wish that someone had told you?

One of our mantras at SoulCycle is: “You are exactly where you need to be.” I think that so many young, recently graduated actors are so caught up in the idea that everything has to happen immediately.  But this is a lifelong profession, so the most important thing I have learned is to focus on the life part.  Be happy where you are, and don’t stress about the future.  Good things will come to people with open hearts.

How do you react to negative reviews or criticism?  What is the worst thing that anyone has ever said about one of your performances?

Hahaha!  Well, you’d have to get in touch with my acting teacher, Steve McConnell, on that.  I think, in general, I can sum up my junior year of acting class by me doing a Greek monologue and him throwing things at me.  But for real, he is an amazing teacher and I am so thankful to have had him in my life.

What is one quote that you try to live by?

One of our instructors at SoulCycle, Anthony McClain, always says in his class: “It’s not THAT you move, it’s HOW you move.”  Obviously that pertains to the actual work out, but I have also tried to implement that into my own life.  It’s not the product that matters, but the journey, and what you learn along the way.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

I am just now finishing up my second show in Chicago called Down the Moonlit Path.  It’s an immersive production that portrays multiple children's stories from different countries intertwined together.  My next project is the show Bent and I have a couple films I’ve been shooting here and there. 

And then, of course, there’s SoulCycle.  If you haven’t tried SoulCycle yet I highly recommend it.  It will seriously change your life.  (Also there’s one coming to the city of Boston soon!!)

2014 Best Student Actress Nominee Interview: MiMi Scardulla as Hildy Esterhazy in The Boston Conservatory's "On the Town"

Photo by Heidi Bowers Photography

Photo by Heidi Bowers Photography

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

MiMi Scardulla is a rising senior at The Boston Conservatory, but you should say that you knew her when. With an impressive command of the stage and a thrilling mix of acting, singing, and dancing talents, MiMi was an immense pleasure to watch in the giddy production of On the Town as madcap but lonely Hildy Esterhazy.  Her talents and commitment remind us why we choose to review university students, and encourage us to continue to recommend such rising stars.  In her Interview, MiMi discusses how The Boston Conservatory is helping her achieve her goals and dreams, her favorite parts of On the Town, and some of the roles on her Miscast! list. 

Hi, MiMi. So wonderful to speak with you. Can you start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself?

Well, I am a rising senior at the Boston Conservatory. I grew up in the small town of Hammond, Louisiana. I’ve been doing theatre since I was five years old, and I knew the stage is where I was meant to be when I was cast as a butterfly in The Sleeping Beauty.

I really owe my career to my sister. So, thank you, Annie, for being an awesome big sister and dancing and doing theatre because, if I didn’t want to be just like you, I probably would’ve never entered the crazy world of show business. From that little butterfly to making my New York debut this year in an Off-Broadway Lab, I have loved every second of being an actor. 

How did you end up at The Boston Conservatory?  What made you choose Boston?  Where do you hope to go and do after graduation?

I owe ending up at The Boston Conservatory to Dave Clemmons. He was my college advisor and, at first, I did not want to audition for the Conservatory. However, Dave insisted and I, of course, listened. On a snowy day at Chicago Unified auditions, I walked into a dance call with Michelle Chassé. Two hours later, BoCo was my number one choice, and I remember telling my mom: “If I get in here, there is no question, I am definitely going!”

Michelle Chassé, my director for On The Town, was the reason that I chose The Boston Conservatory. That dance call in Chicago never felt like an audition. It felt like two hours of absolute fun. Michelle not only challenged me, but connected with my personally, which helped me perform at my best. She wasn’t only auditioning us, but already teaching. I thought to myself: “This is the kind of person who could bring my performing to the next level.” And Michelle has most definitely done that tenfold.

I hope to move to New York after graduation and pursue the dream. I want to kick-ball-change up on that stage as long as everyone will let me, but I’m also an aspiring choreographer and I would love to pursue that as a career path as well. Way down the road, I wish to move back to Louisiana and open up an arts school for children and teens.

Talk to us about your training.  What is a conservatory program like?  What classes do you take?  What is a typical day for you?

A conservatory program is very challenging. A typical day for me last from about 9am to 7pm, and, if I’m in a show, we go ‘til 11pm. As crazy as that sounds, I love it. I get to do what I love all day! The challenging schedule truly prepares you for the reality of the business. I even say I feel over prepared because, on top of my performance-based classes, I have theatre history courses and other liberal arts classes to keep up with.

A typical day for me is as follows:

9:30 Voice Lesson/ 10:30 Musical Theatre / 12:30 Voice and Speech Dialects Training/ 2:00 Music Theory/ Ballet or Jazz 4:00/ 5:30 Liberal Arts Course

Who was Hildy?  What is her story?  What does she want?

Hildy was a sassy cab driver who gets what she wants no matter what. I absolutely love her. I love how she is so impulsive; I always said: “She says and does everything I don’t have the guts to say and do.” She is a New Yorker through and through. She knows the city like the back of her hand and she loves the city as if it were part of her family. She drives her cab looking for adventure and a good time and can’t seem to stay awake on the job.

However, she sure wakes up when Chip walks by and the rest is history.  The two of them are a match made in heaven. She brings out Chip’s wild side and Chip calms her down a bit. Chip is what she wants. Not exactly him, but I think Hildy wants someone to share her life with someone to last more than one night. She wants someone who can tame her!

What was your favorite part of On the Town?  What was the most challenging?

My favorite part of On The Town was “You Got Me.” The five of us in that number (Chip, myself, Ozzie, Claire, and Gabey) became such good friends during the rehearsal process that when we got to that moment in the show it was a pure celebration of friendship. I’ll never forget the energy I felt on stage during that number every night.

The most challenging thing for me was rooting Hildy in reality. She is a crazy character, but it was important for me to not make her a caricature. So, I developed very clear intentions and wants throughout her storyline so I didn’t fall into the trap of just trying to be funny. Also, Chip (Zach Jones) and I really focused on making each time we met on stage feel like it was happening for the first time. That was not too hard considering he is one of my best friends.

Why do you think that On the Town was revived on Broadway?  Had you seen the show before?

I think On the Town was revived because a few reasons. First, it is a beautiful marriage of music, song, and dance. Second, it is a love letter to New York City, celebrating all the amazing things that the city still offers to this day. Third, it is, as they bill it on Broadway, “a helluva good time!”

I have been lucky enough to see you act in a play and in a musical.  Which do you consider to be your strongest attribute, singing, acting, or dancing? Why?  What do you think is your weakest?

I always think this is the hardest question to answer. I believe that I am pretty good at doing all three at the same time. My strength is performing and, when I’m on stage, I’m trying my hardest to create a marriage between the three.

I believe where I have room to grow is in my dramatic acting. Comedy has always come easy to be, being the big goofball that I am! Dramatic acting is a skill that The Boston Conservatory has definitely helped me hone and, moving into my senior year, I will be focusing on my attention on that in an acting emphasis.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?  Why?

To read people’s minds. I am such a snoop. My friends say that in another life I was a secret agent because I like to know what’s happening at all times. Reading minds would make that much easier and make me the coolest super spy ever!!

What is your favorite movie?  Favorite musical and/or play?

My favorite movie is Dirty Dancing! I’ve been watching it since I was a little girl and I can perform all of the choreography on command. My favorite musical is Sunday in the Park with George. To me, nothing beats that score; I think it one of Sondheim’s most beautiful scores. 

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Miscast! What are some roles that you could never conventionally play (because of age, race, gender, or other restrictions), but you’d want to play anyway?

I LOVE THIS QUESTION. I’ll just list them! Effie White (Dreamgirls), George (Sunday in the Park with George), Carol King (Beautiful), Benny (In the Heights), Frankie Valli (Jersey Boys), Girl in the Yellow Dress (Contact), and I could keep going, but I won’t!

Do you have any goals for 2015? For after graduation?

To stay focused and stay calm as I go through the year preparing to showcase in New York and graduate.

My friends and I are also working hard to found a Non-profit theatre company with a focus on getting children involved in theatre for no cost. So, be on the lookout for that!

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Well, I hope to be cast in the great shows that we’ll be doing next season. For sure next year at Boston Conservatory, I will Directing/Choreographing Shrek the Musical on October 23 and 24.  I'll also be in Charles Mee's Big Love in the fall. I’ll also be choreographing Aida in the spring. There are a lot of exciting things happening senior year!!

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

Just a big giant thank you for this nomination. Hildy is a role that I would love to play again someday, and the fact that y’all fell in love with her like I did means so much to me. Also, thank you for supporting The Boston Conservatory Theatre Program. We are so thankful to have such an enthusiastic community.