2015 Best Leading Actress in a Musical Nominee: Katie Anne Clark as Ruth Sherwood in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's "Wonderful 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 Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

We are delighted to interview Katie Anne Clark, a local Boston theatre star who made her Equity debut this summer at the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston with a deliciously comedic and highly energetic turn as Ruth Sherwood, the dynamic but secretly sweet half of the Sherwood sisters in Wonderful Town.  Katie commanded the show, striking just the right notes with her brash sense of humor, her warm tenderness, and her spunky attitude towards life and success.  It was Katie's chemistry with Jennifer Ellis as her onstage sister, Eileen, and her emerging infatuation with Kevin Cirone as Robert (Bob) Barker that made Katie Anne Clark shine brightest among the Greater Boston stars this season. 

In her Interview, Katie tells us about how she landed the role of Ruth in Wonderful Town (thanks, Miss York!), her biggest challenges as a performer, her guilty pleasures, and her advice to her 50 year old self!

Hi, Katie!  Thank you so much for joining us for our Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Hi there!  My name is Katie Anne Clark and I am from Medford, MA, born and raised.  I went to college in Indiana for Musical Theatre, lived in New York City for a few years, toured the country with a National Tour, and came back to Boston about 3 years ago for a theatre contract.  Boston has treated me well, and I’ve been very lucky, so I’m still here!

Tell us about the audition process for Wonderful Town.  Was there anything different about this process?  How did you feel during each round?

Actually, yes!  The role of Ruth Sherwood was originally cast when Reagle announced their season.  Broadway vet Rachel York was pre-cast in the role.  However, she had to decline the contract because she booked something else, and they needed to hold auditions for the role of Ruth after all.  I found this out 3 days before the audition.  I went into the audition and sang and read for the role, and, luckily, I was a fit for the production team.  The rest is history!  Wonderful Town was my first Equity contract, so I will forever be indebted to Miss York. 

How did you connect with Ruth?  How were you different?  What did you discover about her?

I GREATLY connected with the character of Ruth.  We are eerily similar and even the way her dialogue was written, it felt like it was written for me.  Her timing, her jokes, and her sense of humor were all written in the style and cadence of my own voice and mannerisms. 

It was fun to discover the softer side of Ruth.  We see her brashness and her boldness most of the time, especially when trying to get a job and make her dreams happen in New York City.  But what was lovely to explore was her softer side with her sister Eileen (Jennifer Ellis) and how she dealt with falling in love with Bob Baker (Kevin Cirone).  For a role that seemed somewhat one note, it was an actor’s dream to be able to find all those different colors and really make Ruth more of an actual human being as opposed to just a cartoon character.  

Ruth (Katie Anne Clark) and Eileen (Jennifer Ellis) share a laugh in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's  Wonderful Town  (Photo Credit:   Herb Philpott  ).

Ruth (Katie Anne Clark) and Eileen (Jennifer Ellis) share a laugh in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's Wonderful Town (Photo Credit: Herb Philpott).

A big part of Wonderful Town is the relationship with Eileen (played by Jennifer Ellis), Ruth’s sister.  Do you have any siblings?  If so, what is your relationship with them?  How did you establish your relationship with Jen in the show?

I am the baby of the Clark family with an older brother (Matthew – 40) and an older sister (Tara – 37).  And it’s funny because Jen is actually the eldest of her siblings so we both got to flip flop from our personal lives.  It was lovely to be the nurturer, the “mother-hen” type of character and I know Jen had a blast playing the silly, naive younger sis.

What have been some of your biggest challenges as a performer?  What do you want to work on in 2016?

I’m fortunate to always be cast in the great comedic roles in musical theatre (Ruth in Wonderful Town, Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Miss Krumholtz in H2$), but what I really want to explore are the more dramatic characters in the canon of musical theatre.  I want to be able to really sink my teeth in to a meaty role and really “act,” not just play shtick.  I would love to explore straight plays and challenge myself to not hide behind a song or a tap step or jazz hands.  It frightens me to even say it!

What are some of your favorite hobbies or activities?  Guilty pleasures?

I’m addicted to Food Network.  A closeted foodie!  I would love to take real cooking classes and learn to be able to cook like the chefs on Top Chef

Miscast! What are some of the roles that you would love to play but would not typically get cast (because of gender, race, age, etc.)?

Oooooo what a great question!  I would love to play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.  I know I could really have fun with that dialogue and banter between her and Higgins.  And, honestly, I would love to play Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.  I’ve been performing that role for my mother in our kitchen for years.  I could SLAY “If I Were A Rich Man.”

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

At 10?  I would tell myself to not be so shy and hesitant.  It took me years to come outside of my shell and not be afraid to fall or make a mistake.  I never took chances as a kid and I would tell myself to go for it more and not play it safe.

At 20?  Woof.  I would tell myself that it doesn’t matter what school you went to or how tall or thin or fat or blonde you are; all that matters is the work and making connections and showing up prepared and ready.

At 50?  I would tell myself to get on that treadmill because I’ll need endurance to get through “Rose’s Turn.”

Do you have any opening night or performance rituals?

Nothing specific, but whatever routine I create for myself during tech and dress, I keep that down to a science once the show is up.  Once that pre-show routine is set, whether it’s saying “break legs” to the cast or stretching in a certain spot backstage, or setting quick changes, I MUST do that the same way every day, every show or else I’ll be thrown off. 

Ruth (Katie Anne Clark) raises the roof and swings in the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's  Wonderful Town , leading an Ensemble of talented singers and dancers (Photo Credit:   Herb Philpott  ).

Ruth (Katie Anne Clark) raises the roof and swings in the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's Wonderful Town, leading an Ensemble of talented singers and dancers (Photo Credit: Herb Philpott).

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I do!  I’m currently in rehearsals for Mary Poppins at Wheelock Family Theatre.  I’m in the Ensemble and I am the Dance Captain, and I also helped with a little bit of the choreography.  Then, in the spring of 2016, I’m playing Queenie in LaChiusa’s The Wild Party with Moonbox Productions, directed by Rachel Bertone

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

I’m just so excited to have been nominated, truly!  Getting to play Ruth was a dream come true and I could not have been happier for those 4 short weeks.  Also, getting to play with Jen Ellis and Kevin Cirone every night was also a blast.  I am a very lucky girl. 

2014 Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: Justin Budinoff as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm in Arlington Friends of the Drama's "A Little Night Music"

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.

Justin Budinoff perfectly encapsulated Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm's pompous and aloof personality in his performance in Arlington Friends of the Drama's A Little Night Music.  His impressive and resonant baritone voice, especially in "It Would Have Been Wonderful" secured him a nomination as Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.  In his interview, Justin tells about why he participates in community theatre, his favorite meal, and a Sondheim lyric that speaks to him now. 

JustinBudinoff

Hi, Justin, can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? 

I grew up in Holliston and Sudbury, Massachusetts, and I have pursued theater and film from a young age.  I have a degree in Film Production from NYU, and I actually began acting in local theater to expand my ability to communicate with actors from a crew perspective.

What made you audition for A Little Night Music?  Did you know the story?  Had you seen the show before?

It’s always been a bucket list thing to perform Sondheim and A Little Night Music is one of my favorites of his scores, plus I’ve been an Ingmar Bergman fan since college.  I saw the film Smiles of a Summer Night in my early twenties.

Who was your character, Count Carl-Magnus?  In five words, how would you describe him?

Emotionally-oblivious thick-headed egotist!

His privileged background has allowed him to grow up spoiled and belligerent but confident, which was great fun to play.

What was the most challenging thing about this Sondheim musical?  Had you performed Sondheim before?

First time with Sondheim.  The biggest challenge was putting every aspect of performance together for “A Weekend in the Country”!

If you couldn’t play Count Carl-Magnus, what other role would you want to play in A Little Night Music?

That’s tough because Carl-Magnus was exactly the role I wanted…I guess Fredrik would be a good challenge.

What do you do in your spare time?  How do you unwind?

I’m a huge music nut, I follow blogs and online radio sites of all genres and go to as many concerts as I can.

If someone was to cook your favorite meal, what would they cook?

Roast duck.  No contest.

Pick a lyric from A Little Night Music or any other Sondheim musical that you think applies to your life right now.

“Don’t bother, they’re here.”

Why do you choose to perform in community theatre?  What makes Arlington Friends of Drama (“AFD”) different than others?

You will make no better friends than in theatre at any level, and community theatre allows you to contribute both onstage and offstage in whatever capacity draws you.  I find that there’s a quality to the house and setup at AFD that’s atmospheric and lovely; it’s hard to explain but it contributes to the spacious feel of the shows there.

Do you have upcoming projects or productions?

Currently, I am writing a short play to submit to a scene night.

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

Thank you for your interest and support of local small theaters, it helps both the arts scene and the community in general more than you can know!

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 Supporting Actor in a Musical or Opera Nominee Interview: Sam Simahk as Rapunzel's Prince in The Lyric Stage Company's "Into the Woods"

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.

Sam Simahk brought his charming energy to a spellbinding production of Into the Woods at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston.  His Rapunzel's Prince easily lived up to his princely duties, especially his "Agony" and "Agony [Reprise]" of one-upmanship between Rapunzel's Prince and Cinderella's Prince. In his Interview, Sam dazzles us with his personality (he's also charming in real life!), including telling us about his favorite Disney prince (he wish he would quit monkeying around), dishing about his favorite karaoke songs, and reminding us why we should smile. Sam, you made us smile, onstage and offstage!

Photo by Billy Bustamante of BillyBPhotography

Photo by Billy Bustamante of BillyBPhotography

Hi, Sam, it is a pleasure to interview you for ArtsImpulse.  Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?  Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

Thanks so much; it's a pleasure to be interviewed!  I'm from Ashburnham, MA, a small town in northern central MA.  I'm an actor/waiter/bartender that currently lives in NYC, but, luckily, I've been doing a lot more acting work than food service as of late.

What is some of your performing background and training? 

I started acting as a kid.  I did every school show I could, and I performed at the local community theatre, Theatre at the Mount, in Gardner, MA.  After high school, I went to Emerson College in Boston and graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre (five years ago today . . . starting to feel old).

Tell us more about Rapunzel’s Prince.  How did you choose to portray him?  What was most fun about playing him? 

I loved playing this character.  I think he's a funny guy--he's a prince, but he'll never be king; that's his brother's role.  So, he's got this Prince Harry thing going on.  But more importantly than his nobility, he's a little brother.  And, as a little brother, he's constantly trying to measure up to Cinderella's Prince.  So I tried to make that evident without hitting the audience over the head with it; most of us have siblings and can identify with the inherent rivalry that comes with growing up together.

Had you seen the Into the Woods movie?  What was different from The Lyric’s production? 

I actually have not seen the movie yet!  I'm so bad about seeing things in theaters, and usually just wait until I can watch them at home, where pants are not a necessity.

If you could be any Disney prince, who would you be and why? 

I don't know about the princes, but I always wanted to be King Louis in The Jungle Book; he gets to sit up in the treetops, eating bananas, and dancing like a goof.  That's way more fun than rescuing damsels from dragon-witches (and the stakes are a lot lower).  Plus, the princes always seem a little creepy to me--something about romantically kissing sleeping acquaintances rubs me the wrong way.

What is the best compliment that anyone has ever given you about your performing?  About you as a person?

Honestly, it's always the little things that are the most flattering.  And it's always from the scene partners.  I'd take a million bad reviews if I can have one scene partner say: "[T]hat was a great scene tonight," as we leave the stage.  

Likewise, I think the best compliments I could possibly have are personified in my friends.  I'm just lucky that such cool, fun, kind, hilarious people end up letting me hang out with them, even when I get up on a soapbox about something that doesn't matter, or choose to dwell in melancholia once in a while.

If you could turn back time, where would you go?  What would you do? 

This is always a tough question, partially because prior to the 1960s a half-Asian person would be considered an abomination by a lot of people.  If that weren't an issue, I'd probably want to go to a time when the world had yet to be discovered and I could travel around, seeing sights that nobody in recorded history had ever seen before. 

And maybe some medieval setting, where I could ride around on a horse and dispense vigilante justice.  But I think that's mainly because I'm really into Game of Thrones right now.

What are some of your favorite karaoke songs?  Where do you like to perform them? 

"I Believe I Can Fly" is usually a crowd favorite. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," complete with lascivious double-entendre, is also a lot of fun. "Ballroom Blitz," by the Sweet, is the wild card, "I've had way too much caffeine" choice. I don't do karaoke all that often, but I definitely have my favorites picked out, and I will do them anywhere near a karaoke mic.  

MISCAST! What roles would you love to play but you, sadly, cannot for whatever reason (age, gender, race, voice type, etc.)? 

The Baker's Wife in Into the Woods is a miscast dream role.  "Moments in the Woods" is such a great song, and it'd be great to do it in the context of the show.  Jim Conley in Parade is also such a great character, or anybody in that show.  I may be a little ethnically-ambiguous to play a post-Civil War good ol' boy, though.

What makes you smile?

When something goes wrong onstage and you make eye contact with one person.  And in that instant, the two of you say (completely non-verbally), "[T]hat wasn't supposed to happen, and you know that, and maybe they don't know that, but they probably do.  Either way, this is funny, and now we've gotta figure out how to make it work."  It's all in a quick glance, and even if I'm not smiling externally, I'm beaming underneath.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

I'll be returning to Boston late this summer, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to disclose any more information than that as of yet.

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

I'd just like to thank everybody for the honor of being recognized for doing what I love.  When I was a kid, this was just something I did for fun.  As I've gotten older, it's become something that I do for a career, and, sometimes, it's a lot more work than I'd like for it to be.  But when I'm up on stage, I'm right back to being that little kid, and I'm just glad that people allow me to keep on doing it.  So, thanks for watching, reading, and enabling me to stave off adulthood, one day at a time.  Cheers!

2014 Best Music Director Nominee Interview: Matthew Stern for Wheelock Family Theatre's "Hairspray"

Photo by Fresh Focus Photography

Photo by Fresh Focus 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.

Matthew Stern is known throughout the Greater Boston area for his crisp and educated music direction, coaching actors through some of the toughest musical scores.  His Hairspray cast navigated the non-stop, musically-varied score with ease, thanks to Matthew at the helm. In his Interview, Matthew tells when he first knew he wanted to be a music director, his favorite musicals to direct, and some of his professional goals. 

Hi, Matthew! Thank you for taking the time to interview with us.  Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hello!  I’m Matthew Stern, and I’m a Music Director in Boston, where I’ve been involved in over ninety musical theatre productions in the past decade.  I’m currently in the MFA program at Boston University for Theatre Studies, focusing on Musical Theatre, and I’ll be graduating next year.  I did my undergraduate work at Brandeis University, where I received a dual degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, and Vocal Performance.

What is your music directing background?  Did you always know that you wanted to be a music director?

The first time I knew I wanted to be a music director was actually when I was a kid seeing Seussical on Broadway.  I don’t have any particular affinity or dislike of Seussical, but I remember sitting in the mezzanine with my mom looking at the conductor and thinking about how I wanted to do that one day.  I didn’t actually fulfill those dreams until college, when I began music directing some student-directed productions at Brandeis University.  I then began pursuing music directing work more seriously and professionally.  I’ve been playing piano since I was about 8 years old, and I’ve been singing seriously since I began participating in the Philadelphia Boys’ Choir as a child.  I feel really lucky to be pursuing this career path.  I love musical theater, and I love making music with wonderful people, so there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.

Talk to us about the music in Hairspray.  What were some of the challenges?  What was the most exciting and enjoyable?

Hairspray is a really great show to work on as a musical director.  The score is pretty challenging for singers, particularly because of the non-stop back-up singing that goes on throughout the show.  Some musical numbers that don’t sound particularly complicated are actually very difficult for singers to learn (“It’s Hairspray,” for example).  The music is also really fun to play and conduct.  I love the band arrangements, and I was fortunate to be working with some great musicians in the pit at Wheelock.

What have been some of your favorite shows to music direct?

I will always say that my top three shows are Sweeney Todd, Parade, and Ragtime.  I’ve also had a couple of experiences doing shows at BU that I feel like I’ll never get to do again – specifically, Pacific Overtures and The Human Comedy.  It’s always nice to take on those kinds of projects that feel like once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

What is one song from the musical theatre canon that you hate to play?  What is one song that you hope that you never hear in an audition room again?

I really hate playing “My Favorite Things.”  I don’t think that I mind the song itself, but I hate playing it for some reason.  The accompaniment just feels so clunky.  As for a song I hope never to hear in an audition again, I’d probably have to go with “Gimme, Gimme.” Again – great song, but I’ve just heard it too many times in audition rooms.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

Cheesy romantic comedies.

Why do you think that audiences and reviewers reacted positively to Hairspray?

I think Hairspray is a story that really hits everyone.  It has such an overt and positive message about race relations and acceptance, but never becomes preachy.  The characters are really loveable, the music is really catchy, and the story moves.  Most of our performances ended with the audiences up on their feet dancing along to “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”  It’s a show that – if done well – is hard to leave without a smile on your face.  We were also lucky to have a really hard-working and excellent cast, and a great design and creative team.  It was really one of those rare theater experiences where everything just works well, and I think we all felt lucky to be a part of it.

What are some of your professional goals?  Personal goals?

Professionally, I’m really beginning to search for a faculty position at a musical theatre program now that I'm thinking about the completion of my graduate program.  Whenever I land a really exciting job, I always try to think about what the next exciting thing might be and start shooting for that.  This past year was a pretty big year for me professionally, so I’m having a fun time opening up my imagination to what might be next, but I’m also really enjoying all of the opportunities that I have, and I’m thankful for the projects I get to work on and the wonderful collaborators that I get to meet on each new show. 

Personally, I really would love to get to the point in my life where my schedule will allow me to have a dog.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what are three things that you would be sure to bring?

This is tough.  I’d have to bring a piano.  I don’t know how I’d go about doing that, but it would be necessary.  I’d definitely need coffee every day.  And I’d probably bring some sunscreen, because I'm sure that’d be helpful.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

I’m finishing up Shrek at Wheelock right now, and then I’ll be heading off to French Woods Festival for my sixth summer, working on lots of exciting shows.  When I get back to Boston, it’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Stoneham Theatre, an unannounced musical at BU in December, and then Violet (one of my favorites!) at Speakeasy Stage in January.

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

I’m proud to be on this list of nominees with such wonderful and talented people! 

Thanks to the Boston theatre community for being so rich and vibrant!

2014 Best Choreographer Nominee Interview: Rachel Bertone for Moonbox Productions' "Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)"

Photo by Justin Clynes

Photo by Justin Clynes

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.

Rachel Bertone has a gift for not only understanding dancers' bodies, but knowing and implementing diverse styles of dance in her choreography. Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) was a perfect show to direct and choreograph in order to highlight her love for the stage and showcase her impressive repertoire of choreography.  In her Interview, Rachel discusses how she got involved in Musical of Musicals, what every dancer or actor should know for a (dance) audition, and some of her many upcoming projects!

Rachel, it is so wonderful to interview you. Can you remind our readers a bit about yourself and what you’ve been doing this year?

Thanks, Brian! It’s really exciting to talk to you again and thank you for the nomination! Musical of Musicals was such a unique and rewarding experience for all of us! For those of your readers who don’t know me, I am a director and choreographer in the Boston theater scene. This past year, I’ve had the great pleasure to direct and choreograph Musical of Musicals, and choreograph South Pacific at Reagle Music Theatre and City of Angels at The Lyric Stage. When I’m not in the rehearsal room, I’m on faculty at The Boston Conservatory and The Jeannette Neill Dance Studio, where I teach musical theater jazz.

Tell us about your process for selecting MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (THE MUSICAL!). Why did you choose this musical? Do you need to be a musicals aficionado to enjoy the show?

That credit goes to my music director and partner-in-crime, Dan Rodriguez. You see, Musical of Musicals is both a satire of and homage to classic musical theater of the 20th century. Dan knew just how deep my love for classic musical theater goes and about all my experiences working on so many of the shows that Musical of Musicals references. So when he threw that suggestion out there, it was clear to him that I’d be a natural fit to direct and choreograph this show. And he was so right!

But, to be completely honest, I was actually pretty hesitant to take on the show at first. I thought that, as written (with only four characters dressed in black and playing all the parts), it wouldn’t be accessible to a broader audience that couldn’t catch all the lightning-fast musical references. As I started brainstorming the possibilities, however, I realized that if I created an ensemble for the show and staged it as a full musical, then we could tell a great story and give the audience something to really enjoy, even in the moments they weren’t catching the (often subtle) humor. So we did it our way—the response was incredible! But, without question, the people who enjoyed the show the most were probably the musical theater nerds who got all the little inside-jokes.

How did you prepare to direct this show? What were some of the challenges? How did your cast and production team help you?

I read A LOT of books and watched A LOT of musicals! The actors have a challenging job of needing to represent and embody 3-4 different characters in each section (for example, in the Sondheim section, the ingénue June represents various characters in his canon, including Dot from Sunday, Johanna from Sweeney, and Amy from Company). That is not an easy task as you can imagine. Luckily, many of my actors had performed some of the roles they were channeling and were able to bring that knowledge to the table. It was also important for me to help the actors find a through line for each character (even if it wasn’t written that way), both within each of the five acts, and throughout. Of course, I also had an amazing creative team who had worked on many of the originals referenced in Musical Musicals—so they were able to bring the elements of those worlds into their brilliant designs.

Do you prefer to direct or choreograph? Do you think that it is better for the same person to do both for the same production? Do you think that directing makes you a better choreographer or actress?

Without question, I prefer to direct AND choreograph because I strive to create a seamless blend between movement and storytelling. That said, with the right team, I’m perfectly happy filling just one of those roles. I’ve been a choreographer for many years now, and now that I’ve started directing too, I can see how directing has made a major impact on my choices as a choreographer.

What people might not realize though, is that it works both ways: my background as a choreographer strongly informs and strengthens my ability to direct as well.

What is your favorite musical? Musical style/period?

Easy! West Side Story. Where dance, character, and song work in perfect unison to support the story.

What is the hardest thing about choreographing? What is the easiest part?

I’ll actually answer this in the reverse order. The easiest part is choreographing when you are inspired. Often, especially when you are working with brilliant music (e.g., Bernstein, Kander and Ebb), all you need to do is listen to it once, and the whole dance just comes together in your head – like improvisation. But, it isn’t possible to be inspired all the time. Because being a choreographer is my profession, I don’t always have the luxury to wait for a magic moment of inspiration! This is the hardest part. During those times, I need to listen to the music over and over, and rely on my technique and training as a dancer, and my years of experience as a choreographer, to tie dancing, movement, and characters together through deliberate planning, and thinking, and working through each detail. But at the end of the day, all of it bleeds together, and you get a full piece of choreography!

What shows would you love to choreograph? Direct? Perform?

I would LOVE to direct and/or choreograph: Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Cabaret, Gypsy, Damn Yankees, On the Town, Seven Brides for Seven Bothers, and anything Fosse!

I grabbed the car. We’re going on a roadtrip. Where are we going and why are we going there? Who else is going with us?

WOOT! WOOT! We are going to Miami!! Because it is beautiful, sunny, and away from all my work.

If you had to eat something every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

And still fit into my pants?? My mom’s amazing homemade peanut butter pie!!

Photo by Sharman Altshuler

Photo by Sharman Altshuler

What basic dance skills should a performer have if they want to audition for a musical? What are choreographers and directors looking for on the other side of the table during an open dance call? What about during a callback?

Ideally, actors should have a basic dance vocabulary going into a dance call. I always encourage actors to take different styles of dance classes—jazz, ballet, modern, tap—to become more comfortable with various forms of dance. This will help them pick up combos, execute steps with a sense of technique, and have the confidence and ability to dance with intention at the dance call. Without technique, you can quickly resort to your bad habits as nerves and exhaustion kick in, thereby preventing you from showing off your best self!

At a dance call, I always say I am looking for two things: specificity in movement and bold choices that show a character. I want storytellers, not technicians—although having both is, of course, ideal. As a side note, I strongly believe that dance training is essential for actors as well! The ability to morph into a new character depends largely on your ability to find new physical choices. Dance training gives you the language with which to explore your physicality.

Regarding callbacks: I am looking for similar things, although at that point, I usually give a more challenging combo and teach it more quickly. With short rehearsal processes, you really need to know how quickly someone can pick up, and if they can’t, how they deal with that. Biggest pointer: Enjoy yourself and have as much fun as you can!!

What makes you smile?

Vacationing with my boyfriend, teaching my students, watching my actors perform onstage, spending time with my family, watching Dr. Who (yup, I’m a dork), and answering this question.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Yes, I do! I am about to choreograph Guys and Dolls at Reagle Music Theatre. The show opens in June and I’ll be reunited with the dynamite Reagle team that brought you Les Miserables and South Pacific!

Then in August I’m so excited to be directing a new work called Creative License that will be performed at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Finally, the most recent news is that I am going to direct and choreograph The Wild Party at Moonbox Productions next spring. We just had auditions and I’m very excited to take on this meaty musical!

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

Thanks for supporting theater and for reading this far down!!

2014 Best Choreographer Nominee Interview: Michelle Chassé for The Boston Conservatory's "On the Town"

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.

Photo by Eli Akerstein

Photo by Eli Akerstein

Michelle Chassé transforms the next generation of Broadway performers each day in her classes and through her leadership at The Boston Conservatory.  Her brilliant guidance, sharp knowledge of dance and movement, and kind support was evident in her stunning choreography and direction for The Boston Conservatory's On the Town.  In her Interview, Michelle discusses her dance background and history; her love for On the Town and visual storytelling through dance; and some of her upcoming projects, including a program at The Boston Conservatory this summer!

Michelle, can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi! My name is Michelle, and I am the Chair of Musical Theater Dance and Resident Choreographer in the Theater Division at The Boston Conservatory. I live in the South End with my husband and our puppy, Ivy. I’ve traveled all over the country and the world, and I still find Boston to be one of the most beautiful and culturally rich cities I’ve seen.

When did you start dancing? When did you know that you wanted to make theater and dance your life?

I started dancing at the age of 5, at the Gladys H. Rubin School of Dance in Maine, and, by the age of 12, I was studying ballet at the Boston Ballet and the School of American Ballet in New York City, the training program of the New York City Ballet. I earned my BFA in Dance Performance at The Boston Conservatory. I’ve always known that dance was going to be part of my life – the reason my parents took me to dance classes as a child was so that I would stop destroying furniture in the house by chainé-ing and chassé-ing into lamps and walls! I’ve always been more graceful in the studio and on the stage than walking down the street. As far as theater goes, I’ve always been very “theatrical.” As a kid, I would recall The Carol Burnett Show and recreate every scene to make my family laugh; Shakespeare started rolling my socks up and down in high school and still does today.

Why is dance important? What style(s) of dance speak strongly to you? What style(s) do you prefer to dance? To choreograph?

Dance is important because one single, simple gesture can transport an audience completely. In the context of theater, it can bear the great responsibility to advance plot wordlessly – it makes me a little crazy when people call it a “dance break,” because I see it as the “dance continuation of the story.”

Ballet has always spoken to me, as well as good old-fashioned theater dance in the style of Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Gower Champion, and so many others. Those happen to be my favorite styles to perform as well!

I enjoy the artistic challenge of choreographing within multiple styles, not just within the theater world – everything from concert dance and contemporary dance to commercial dance and theater dance.

Talk to us about On the Town. What is the musical about? How or why is dance important?

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Photo by Eric Antoniou

On the Town, beyond the story of three sailors looking for love and adventure on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City, is about people looking for themselves by experiencing the same place in very different ways. It’s about friendship and dedication, not only to each other but to service and their country. For example, the main character Gabey rescued his friends and fellow servicemen, Chip and Ozzie, from certain death by drowning (‘the drink’) at some point prior to the musical’s action, and, in a subtle but powerful way, that sense of gratitude and indebtedness informs so much of those characters’ relationships.

It’s also one punchline after another, a silly, playful romp these three young men take through one of the great cities of the world. Along the way they meet three strong, vibrant, modern women, and the various entanglements around the six of them getting to know each other form the bulk of the musical’s plot.

For one thing, there is a gigantic amount of dance in this show! So much of it, though, far from being merely decorative, stands alone without dialogue to deepen our understanding of these characters and to advance the narrative with great power and beauty. Not all musicals provide such a window into the mind of their characters through dance.

“The Times Square Ballet” at the end of Act I takes us on the sailors’ journey with them, as they explore the sights and sounds of New York City, sometimes taking a right turn into a wrong neighborhood. By contrast, the way I chose to choreograph the “Dream Coney Island Ballet” towards the end of Act II shows us Gabey’s struggle to feel at home on land, and his struggle between his sense of duty and finding love.

Have you seen the Broadway production? Will you? Why do you think the musical is being revived now?

I haven’t seen the Broadway production that opened at the same time as our On the Town at the BoCo, but I did see the Barrington Stage production in the summer of 2013 that featured much of the same cast and creative team, including BoCo alum Alysha Umphress as Hildy. As to why it’s being revived, I think that American audiences are hungry for a musical that incorporates various kinds of storytelling. And who doesn’t love Bernstein’s score?

What are some of the joys of working with student performers? What are some of the challenges? How do you think that the BoCo students are setting themselves apart?

Student performers are willing to try anything. They tend to be fearless in their creativity and they also have lots of energy! They tend also to be spread very thin on account of their class schedules, and sometimes lots of energy can make rehearsals pretty noisy. And, of course, many young people have not experienced so many of the life events that bring great depth and character to a mature artist’s performance and presentation. While every theater program aspires to train true “triple threats,” I feel that the BoCo students really reach astonishing heights of achievement in the three disciplines of singing, acting, and dancing, and their work ethic is beyond compare.

Do you ever perform? Are there any roles that you would want to perform?

Not as much as I used to, but I miss it! The Girl in the Yellow Dress from Susan Stroman’s Contact is definitely a role I would love to perform.

What is your favorite movie? Why? If you could change anything about it, what would it be? Would you want a sequel? Why or why not?

My favorite movie is Jean De Florette because it absolutely rips your heart out of your chest. I would not change a single thing about it! (OK, maybe I would add a warning to have tissues at the ready.) As it happens, there already is a sequel, Manon Des Sources.

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Photo by Eric Antoniou

What is your biggest pet peeve as a director? As a choreographer? As a person?

As a director, my biggest pet peeve is when things don’t happen on time or people are unprepared. No matter what the rehearsal process is or what it’s for, you never ever have enough rehearsal time, so to have to waste time waiting for anything – props, people not being prepared, whatever – really grinds my gears.

It’s really about the same as a choreographer! I need my dancers to show up on time (preferably early), be prepared, be respectful, and be ready for us to make the absolute most of the time we have together.

As a person, my biggest pet peeve is people that are unaware of other people. I’m peeved by people who let doors slam in front of the person behind them, or cut in front of you in line, or any other of a whole list of self-centered behaviors that unfortunately we all see every single day.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

I’m currently working on the Boston’s Gay Men Chorus production Smile, their 30th anniversary celebration performance which also coincides with their annual Pride concert. I’m providing stage direction and choreography for the performances, which will take place at historic Symphony Hall. In the fall, I will be choreographing Threepenny Opera at the BoCo.

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

I’m the director of a summer program at the BoCo called the Musical Theater Dance Intensive, a three-week immersion experience with faculty, consisting of BoCo theater alumni as well as current Theater Division faculty. Please check out www.bostonconservatory.edu/extension-programs/ for more information!

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. 

2014 Best Director of a Musical or Opera Nominee Interview: Leigh Barrett for New Repertory Theatre's "Closer Than Ever"

Photo by David Costa

Photo by David Costa

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.

Leigh Barrett is well known in Boston for her enormous talent as an actress and singer, re-imagining roles and astonishing audiences with her versatility. Leigh shows that she has an equal talent behind the scenes, as she directs the intimate song cycle, Closer Than Ever, with the perfect amount of grace, humility, and fun. In her Interview, Leigh discusses how she came to direct Closer Than Ever, her advice to a younger Leigh, and her exciting new summer project (here's a hint: She's back in the director's chair, and we couldn't think of a luckier cast!).   

Leigh, thank you so much for agreeing to an Interview.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  Where are you from, what do you do, what is your training and background?

I’m originally from Wakefield Ma. I currently live in Reading Ma. I went to school for voice performance at Baldwin-Wallace University in Opera.

What are some of your notable accomplishments and experiences on stage?  In your personal life?

Hmmm, notable accomplishments? I think continuing to work in this business is an accomplishment! I’ve won 2 Elliot Nortons and 2 IRNEs; that was pretty cool. I’ve had some great experiences on stage with terrific creative teams and casts. I’ve been very lucky.

My personal life? My two sons are my most notable accomplishments, for sure.

Talk to us about Closer Than Ever.  How did you decide to direct and perform in this intimate musical?  How was New Rep the perfect choice for this musical?  Why do you think that production worked so well?  

Well, Jim Petosa and Harriet Sheets had approached me about directing another piece but the actress they wanted for it wasn’t available. I had wanted to direct [Closer Than Ever] for a while, so I saw an opportunity and ran with it. Jim and Harriet loved the idea and my vision for the piece. I assumed it would just be a black box piece in their season and they said: “[W]e see this on the Main Stage as the season opener” I was screaming with excitement in my head, but played it cool!

I will be forever grateful to them for their love and unwavering support. They were amazing.  I think the production worked so well because we all, the entire creative team, cast, and staff or New Rep worked together with one vision, a commitment to that and we were a family. We had an absolute blast putting it together and then living it.

What is Closer Than Ever?  What are some of the songs and scenes?  What was your connection to the stories and themes?  Why do you think that the audience connected with it?

Closer Than Ever is a song cycle by Richard Maltby and David Shire. (they wrote Baby). Some of the songs might not be all that familiar to people - my favorites, besides All of Them, are Life Story, Miss Byrd, Three Friends and If I Sing. I treated each song like a self-contained play or vingnette; each song is like it’s own play -- they have a beginning, a middle and an end. I tried to give each one a contextual place, to help the audience a little but not tell them expressly how to feel. I let the actors and the songs do that.

The demographic for this piece skews older -- late 30s mid 40s, a very under-represented market. I did this show when I was in my 20s and although I could connect to them as a human, my personal connection to the songs was not, then, what it is now. Singing songs like Life Story mean so much more when you have actually lived the lyrics, like “at a well toned 49” or “so now my son’s half way through college,/ I pay tuition like a fine.” I can say that now and actually MEAN it! I think that audiences related because the music told the stories of their own lives on a very, very intimate and personal level.

You are known in the Greater Boston area for performing.  Why venture into directing?  How does both directing and performing make you a better theatre professional and artist?

Well, why not? I think every actor is a “back seat” director. Like the armchair quarterback (without the deflated balls), and I have lots of ideas. As an actor, I wanted to see what it was like on the other side of the table. I understand the actors pretty well because that’s where I live. I speak “actor.”

Well, I think that doing both directing and acting at the same time was a challenge, for sure. And I could NOT have done it without the amazing Ryan Began my Assistant Director on this project. he was the other half of my brain. He was “me,” when I had to be “Leigh the Actor.” It was an amazing symbiotic relationship.

Directing certainly gives me an appreciation for what has to happen to pull off a show, for sure, and for what other directors with whom I’ve worked have to do and why some decisions get made. It’s made me both more appreciative and more understanding and generous but it’s also made me a stronger performer and has given me much more confidence in my own artistic vision.

What are some other plays and musicals that you would like to direct?

Honestly? Anything . . . I’m hungry for it, I want to do more of it. Get at me, theatre companies!!

What do you do in your spare time?  What would you do if you had more spare time?

HAHAHAHAAAA! Spare time, that’s hilarious, but, seriously, laundry, grocery shopping, TV, and Facebook. Glamorous, right?

What scares you the most about performing?  Directing?  In your personal life?

Failing . . . at all of it. Disappointing someone, mostly myself.

Tell us a funny audition or performance story.

O gosh, so many. I was auditioning for my first Equity show, at a dance call (I’m not a dancer -- does “singer who moves well” still exist?). We had been broken down into small groups and the actual dancer in the group ahead of me fell, wiped out badly, and hurt her knee. They carried her out. I was up in the next group. I fell but only because I’m an idiot -- they were like “OH NO! Lawsuit!” They told me to just sit it out, don’t worry. I got cast.

If given the opportunity, to where would you travel?  Who would you take with you?  What would you do?

I’d love to go to England and Italy with my family. The whole family actually. I’d love to rent a castle in England and a Villa in Italy and spend a month or so, just casually visiting the countryside and all of the touristy stuff-with a personal tour guide at my beck-and-call. Are you available? Or Peter Mill?

What do you see as the future of the Greater Boston theatre scene in the next year?  In the next five years?  What is changing?  What is staying the same?

I love seeing so many new companies popping up, taking chances on new plays, new works and new people, either onstage or behind the scenes. I love seeing theatre reach new audiences in exciting new ways. I think that theatre is changing in the way it is created and where and I see Boston embracing that.

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

I have to see my children, I have to work out, I have to check Facebook (I’m ridiculous. I’ve tried to quit but I’m addicted)

What advice would you give younger performers?  If you could, what advice would you give yourself in your mid-twenties?

Omgosh, um . . . be NICE. It’s so hard to just be nice and if you are nice to hold onto that because this life will beat you down. We get so used to being treated badly. And be honest and true to who you are, also very hard.

To Leigh in her mid 20s -- Get out there! Try!! Stop being so afraid.

What song describes your life right now?  Include a lyric or two!  

A Way Back to Then: “I would know that confidence, if I knew a way back to then.”

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

I’m directing Into the Woods for a brand new summer intensive for high school students and I’ll be directing my son Matt for the first time (officially!).

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

Thank you all so much for not only supporting my work but the work of the incredible Boston Theatre community. I am truly humbled and truly, truly grateful.

2014 Best Leading Actor in a Musical or Opera Nominee Interview: Andrew Giordano as Inspector Javert in The Company Theatre's "Les Miserables"

Photo by Nikki Cole Photography

Photo by Nikki Cole Photography

Andrew, thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  How did you begin performing?

I grew up outside of Boston and spent my summers on Cape Cod. I went to college at Westminster Choir College where I was a vocal performance major then transferred to The Boston Conservatory where I majored in musical theater.

I'm also on the alumnus of the international group UP WITH PEOPLE®.  

My mother told me that before I could walk, I used to pull myself up and hold onto the stereo, “sing”, and move (in time) to the music.  I did my first show when I was 5. I played Little Jack Horner in a children’s theatre show. I ended up opening the show by singing an entire song called “Neverland” (not from Peter Pan).  I still remember the song!

What was your role in Les Miserables?  Was this a role on your “bucket list”?  What made this role special for you? 

Javert was a role on my “bucket list” I had done the show 2 previous times.  I had understudied both Javert and Enjolras.  The entire show is special; it’s a show that when I first saw it, while it was on tour, I knew that I’d some day be a part of it.  It’s one of the few shows that I could do open-endedly (is that a word?) and never tire of the material or ever “phone it in.”  I STILL get emotional just listening to certain parts of the show, especially “One Day More,” which is my favorite Act 1 ending of any show.

It’s a show about the life of the poor, about redemption, about humanity, etc. It continues to touch many people and inspire many singing actors.  It’s special to many people.  One of the shows that to this day, when auditions are held, there is always a huge turn out.

What did you do to prepare for this role?  How was your Javert different than other performers?  We know that it was much better than Russell Crowe!

Funny you should mention Russell Crowe.  When I was promoting the show, I would say: “Come hear me sing better than Russell Crowe!”  Actually, I never saw the movie.

I have seen several two-dimensional performances of Javert.  From the first rehearsal, I told the director that he can’t be just two dimensional, that I wanted to show a bit of his humanity.  By seeing a bit of his humanity, the audience can better understand him, his background (from where he came), as well  his beliefs.  The audience needs to feel for him and understand his struggle when he (SPOLIER ALERT!!) jumps off the bridge and kills himself. Javert is NOT the bad guy. He’s following the law and his beliefs. 

I was fortunate to learn the show from the International Resident Director of Les Miserables, who, since the 1980s has been with the London and international productions, so I got a lot of “Les Miz” education!

How do you choose your projects?  What roles do you prefer to play?

I have a list of shows and roles that I’d love to do.  I really try to pick projects that I’m passionate about.   But, sometimes you need to do a show for a paycheck and insurance weeks. #thatreactorreality.

I have always played the role where you sing pretty and kiss the girls.  In addition to those roles, I find myself drawn to the roles that have the driving ballads.  My vocal “wheelhouse” seems to be the Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and other similar music, as well as music by Michael John LaChuisa, Sondheim, and other “legit” composers.

What some don’t know is that I’m actually funny and good with comedy. Playing Trevor Graydon in Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Stoneham Theatre, directed by the INCREDIBLE Ilyse Robbins (Hi Ilyse!) was a career highlight, as well as playing Adolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone at The Company Theatre.

I also play evil . . . very well.

How do you spend your days when you’re not performing?  How do you hone your craft between productions?

I’m currently doing a lot of singing and taking a lot of voice lessons.  I had always sung tenor. Then, because of my “type,” I started being considered for and getting cast in  baritone roles so I had to learn to sing baritone.  I’m now getting the “tenor back.”

I have a business in NYC called Step It Up Classes, which are audition classes for actors taught by Broadway casting directors, Broadway Associate/Resident directors, agents etc. I also have an entertainment act that performs at corporate events, parties, and on cruise ships.  Currently, I’m writing another show to book on cruise ships and at resorts. 

I’m at the gym every day either taking or teaching ZUMBA® dance fitness as well as other classes.

What were some of the differences for you when you became an Equity performer?  What should young performers consider when they get their Equity cards and credentials?

I was fortunate to get my Equity card by doing a Broadway show. I didn’t do that much non-union work, but the non-union work I did was quality where I was working with Broadway performers all of which were great learning experiences. 

The differences are in salary and benefits. 

It’s hard to tell an actor if they should take their union card.  It really depends on the person.  Actors need to remember that when they take their card, they are now “swimming” in a much bigger talent pool.  More people “competing” for fewer jobs.  Some people take their card and rarely work.  Some work all the time.

What do you wish that you knew a year ago? Five years ago?  Ten years ago? 

A year ago: That I should have started working again on my tenor voice.

Five years ago: As an actor, you are the CEO of your own business.

Ten years ago: That it’s “Just musical theatre;” chill out, take things one day at a time, one audition at a time, one project at a time!

What do you think is your biggest strength as a performer?  What are you continuing to improve upon?

I’m a good business person.

Of what are you afraid when onstage?  In daily life?

On stage, I’m pretty fearless. Not so much in auditions (but I’m working on it!)

In daily life, I realized that I have a tendency to “get in my head” and self-sabotage.  Just started really working on this.  I have an AMAZING hypnotherapist in NYC.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

I always have irons in the fire.  Waiting to hear about a couple of projects. Also, I’m working on the music for two of my dream roles in a dream show . . . for which I’ve had a couple of auditions and, for which, I’m keeping a candle lit.

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

Thanks for taking the time to read all this. GO SUPPORT GOOD THEATRE! Also, thank you, Brian for being so passionate for theatre; it’s amazing that you wear so many theatrical hats! 

2014 Best Supporting Actress in a Musical or Opera Nominee Interview: Crystin Gilmore as Shug Avery in SpeakEasy Stage Company's "The Color Purple"

Photo by Stephanie Naru

Photo by Stephanie Naru

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.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Crystin Gilmore. I was born and raised in Tennessee. I'm the daughter of a preacher and an educator & I'm an actress who's not afraid to bare my soul. 

What is your performing history? 

My performance history is based mostly from Theatre. I have a love for straight plays but when I get an opportunity to sing my heart out in Musicals that touch me, I get on so excited!

What is your connection with The Color Purple?  Had you read the book or seen the movie?  How did this impact your performance?

I have loved The Color Purple since my childhood. I could quote lines from the film from the age of twelve. I have read the book as well and I just fell in love with the story. All of the women had different challenges to overcome. Self love and acceptance was the theme that stood out most for me. In a world of social media and photo enhancement in magazines,  I can truly relate to that struggle of loving yourself flaws and all.

Who was Shug Avery?  Did you identify with her at all?  How did you hope to portray her? 

Shug Avery is my hero. She was truthful and bitterly honest. I can sum up Shug as beautiful pain. I relate so much to Shug, it's scary.  We are both preachers children, performers, from the south, and fearfully fearless. Shug is just an all or nothing woman and I respect that about her because I'm that way myself. I hope I portrayed Shug with honesty. She is flawed, raw and love able. That was my goal, to humanize her and make her relatable. 

Last season hosted a feast of plays and musicals about the journeys and struggles for African Americans (Fences, The Color Purple, Guess Who is Coming to Dinner, etc.).  Do you think that these productions and stories are still important?  Why or why not?  What would you like to see done?

Absolutely, we as people are more alike than we will ever be different. Those productions showed that we all feel. The only difference is the race of the characters, the stories and emotion remain universal. We all have family issues, we all have internal struggles that manifest into our adulthood, we all have differences that we soon realize make us more similar than separate. 

I would like to see more productions that combine people as we are in life. We are all living, doing the best we can. We are a melting pot of nationalities and relationships. I would like those similarities to be portrayed on stage because that's what our yearbooks, photo albums, friendships and families really look like. The central connection of all of our stories is love or  the lack there of.

What is your biggest challenge as a performer?  As a person?

My biggest challenge as a performer is having the opportunity to become a character that reaches, teaches, and/or evokes change in the audience. That's why I do this. The accolades are great but if the audience doesn't get the message then I have failed at my job. It's important to me to be a vessel for someone's story but I want to make sure the story is worth telling. 

My biggest challenge as a person is balancing it all. As an actress, wife, sister, Godmother and lover of people, I have to make sure I feed my soul. I have to take what I do seriously and not so seriously. I have to sacrifice my time with my husband to give to an audience the gift of a laugh,  an "awe hah" moment or a tearful release. That's important to me. I have to make sure I give myself a break from New York and the hustle and bustle. I have to make sure I set my own standards of success and ride the roller coaster of this business to the best of my ability. I write my own rules and determine my happiness. This is my challenge and I'm at my happiest when I live in my truth.

What are your favorite kinds of plays and musicals to see?  To perform?

I love to laugh! I love to be challenged to think differently. I love to see productions that make me question myself or what I've been taught. I love to perform in shows with meat and potatoes. I'm picky about what shows I audition for. The show has to speak to me and the role has to challenge me.

What is the last book that you read?  What is on your “To Read” list?

The last book I read was A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. My must read list consist of all things Walter Mosley. 

How do you warm-up as a performer?  Do you have a favorite exercise? 

I meditate. I exercise. I do vocal warm ups and I pray before every performance. I always get butterflies and I would be concerned if I didn't. I would feel as though I'm too comfortable and not present in the moment. 

My favorite exercise is lying down in the dead man's pose. It makes me feel available to receive all that's for me.

If you could have one super power, what would it be?  More importantly, would you have a cape? 

My superpower would be to be invisible. Sometimes on the NYC trains I want to disappear! 

If you could give one piece of advice to a young college or high school graduate interested in the performing arts, what would it be? 

Find a way to release the passion that's within you. Be 100% sure that it's what you want. Make sure it's worth the sacrifice that comes along with it. And don't have a plan B. It has to be your all or nothing if you want it to be your life long career. 

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

Yes, I will be performing in Beehive: The 60's Musical this summer at Greenbrier Valley Theatre in West Virginia & The Seat of Justice with Charleston Stage Company in Charleston, SC February - March.

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

I'm so grateful to have had an opportunity to perform for you. Boston's Theatre community has been very warm and receiving to me. Thank you for allowing me into your hearts.

2014 Best New Work Nominee Interview: Kevin Cirone for "Creative License"

Photo by David Costa

Photo by David Costa

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.

Kevin, thank you so much for discussing your new musical, Creative License. Can you start by telling us a bit about your background? Who are you and what have you done on and off-stage?

Well, I've been performing in the Boston area for about 10 years now, and in that time I've pretty much covered the gamut – film, straight plays, sketch comedy, commercial, and of course musicals. Most recently people may have seen me in The Secret Garden at Stoneham Theater.

I've also written a lot of different things, including poetry, sketch comedy, and screenplays, but Creative License is my first fully-realized theatrical work thus far.

How do you spend your days?

Lately my days are spent frantically getting my ducks in a row for the New York International Fringe Festival, which selected Creative License to be produced in NYC in August, which is both hugely exciting and terrifying. Besides that, I've been writing and auditioning a lot when I'm not at my day job as a software engineer. In my (lately rare) downtime I'm home hanging out with my dog and watching Hulu.

Talk to us about the plot for Creative License. Who is the story about? What happens?

Essentially it's the story of two childhood friends, Casey and Bethany, who haven't spoken in a year, brought back together to save Denison's Pub, Casey's family business. Casey, a budding writer, employs the help of Dr. Hardy, Bethany's employer, who has a brilliant original work that Casey and Bethany try to produce. When the play is revealed to be not all it seems, the two have to work together to find a creative solution.

Why did you decide to write Creative License now?

The essence of the story is something that's been floating in my head for kind of a long time. It started as an unfinished screenplay and then evolved into the show it is today. I wanted to tell this story of some small-town dreamers and the struggle to be inspired and create something real, and it's morphed into this tale about lifelong friendships and the power of theater. I think it's pretty cool.

How would you describe the style of the book and the score? Did any other composers inspire or influence you? Did you borrow any motifs or ideas from other works?

I guess the short answer is, it's Sorkin meets Schwartz? Kind of? I write like I talk, so these characters have a very modern cadence and sense of humor, but there are also moments when the action stops and a character is given free reign to say how he feels, musically or not. There are certainly aspects of the music that have roots in rock as well as traditional musical theater (plus a handful of homages), but as it has evolved I think the finished product is pretty fresh and original. Or at least entertaining.

What is your songwriting and playwriting background? I’ll ask the age-old question: what comes first, the words or the music?

I'm pleased? I guess? To say that I have no formal background in songwriting, but I have always loved to write and have a lifelong obsession with coming up with alternate lyrics to existing songs. The thought definitely ran through my head at one point to just make a show with parody versions of existing songs, but then eventually there were tunes coming to my head that had no basis in existing music, so I started writing them down and eventually the whole thing was original. Besides, the Gold Dust Orphans kind of have the market cornered on parody and I doubt I could do it half so well.

The music and lyrics usually come around the same time, although those first few songs the tunes came first. Later on my process became more like writing poetry and thinking up a melody that went with the words and action of the scene.

Photo by Kevin Cirone

Photo by Kevin Cirone

What is the most challenging thing about writing a new musical? What is the most rewarding? What was the biggest surprise for you?

I think with any new work the challenge is that it's never finished. You keep iterating and workshopping and polishing and workshopping some more and you always find new things that could be clearer or funnier or just better. That is very rewarding on its own – getting audiences involved in the process of creation. The biggest surprise to me is that people actually seem to like it!

Why do you think that we don’t have more original musicals in Boston? What would encourage and inspire more original musicals?

There are more than you might think. I think creating anything is hard, to start with. I also think like with most theater there's a sense that New York is where the opportunities are and you have to be there to be inspired and get produced. There might be some truth to that, but I also firmly believe there are small-town dreamers and artists who have stories to tell and it shouldn't matter where you live or where you came from to tell it. I think the passion and resources are there in Boston, you just have to know where to look.

If you could erase one musical or play from ever existing, what would it be? Why?

Yikes. Maybe I've just been lucky, but I've never seen any play or musical that didn't have at least some redeeming qualities. I've seen PRODUCTIONS I'd like erased from my memory, but I have too much respect for people putting their work out there to say it should never have existed.

Are you re-writing any of Creative License since the last performance? What are you changing? Why or why not?

I changed a fair amount of the dialogue since the 2014 workshop for clarity or brevity or because certain jokes didn't work well or relationships weren't well-established. I think the show is much tighter, more cohesive and believable now and the stakes are the level they should have been all along. The opening was revamped to set up the energy of the show right away. Musically, not much has changed except a few lyric tweaks. And hopefully I won't decide to write any new songs during rehearsals like last time.

You’re also a very accomplished actor. How do you think that training and experience helps you as a writer?

It has certainly helped me think through the production aspect of playwrighting. When you have a fast-paced show like this you need to be cognizent of things like “How hard is this going to be to show? Is that set piece going to cause a ridiculously long transition?”. I think my love of improv and sketch comedy has also informed my sense of humor and that translates to the writing. I definitely have a lot of stage directions regarding the pace of the dialogue and even occasionally informing delivery. I love actors to be able to put their own spin on things but at the same time there are certain things the obsessive megalomaniac in me wants done juuuust so.

What is your “bad habit”? What is your biggest pet peeve?

Well, I do chew my nails when I'm nervous, which is always. My biggest pet peeve – I suppose people who are ignorant.

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

I wish that instead of everyone starting their own theater company there could be more collaboration. Trust me, I fell into the same trap. But imagine instead of six fringe groups of three people you had one group with eighteen. Suddenly you're not fighting for resources or an audience with five other companies. I know everyone has their own ideas and I as much as anyone know how ego plays a part, but when you start to realize your way isn't any better than anyone else's, you start to see Boston theater as a community and not the competition.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Creative License at FringeNYC will be occupying my summer. I'll be producing it and also performing in it.

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

See as much theater as you possibly can. And if you fancy a trip to New York City in August, you can see the new and improved Creative License at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival, directed by Rachel Bertone and music directed by Dan Rodriguez. Shameless plug over.

2014 Best Director of a Musical or Opera Nominee Interview: Ilyse Robbins for New Repertory Theatre's "The Little Prince"

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.

Photo by Joe Henson

Photo by Joe Henson

It is a joy and delight to be around Ilyse Robbins and to see her work.  Each of her productions is infused with lightness and color, movement and depth.  As a director, choreographer, and performer, Ilyse brings a wealth of knowledge to each of her productions.  For that, she is nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award for Best Director of a Musical or Opera for her production of New Repertory Theatre's The Little Prince.  In her Nominee Interview, Ilyse describes her joy in being a Mom and a director (and how they complement each other!), her passion for adaptations to the stage, and her guilty pleasure (let's just say that Ilyse rivals them in super powers!).  

Ilyse, thank you for interviewing with us.  It’s wonderful to interview you again, after your fun and introspective interview with My Entertainment World last year.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

Now that’s an open-ended question . . . My son, having just watched Guardians of the Galaxy three times would like me to answer, “I like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain.” I am the Mom of two great kids, which is my first job. I direct, choreograph, act, coach presentation skills, and teach. People ask which is my favorite job, and my answer is always whatever I am doing at the moment.  We just got a dog this year - my first ever - and I adore her. I am writing my first book, a young adult novel. We’ll see if I ever get it off my computer and out into the world.

How did you choose The Little Prince?  Had you grown up reading the story?

The Little Prince chose me. The New Rep had announced it for their season and after talking with Bridget O’Leary, I decided to pitch myself to Jim [Petosa].  And yes, I have read the story many times throughout my life.

How did being a mother impact you as director for The Little Prince?  How does it impact you as a theatre professional and artist?

Being a mom helps me in everything that I do. I had a teenager in my cast and I treated him as I would want someone to treat my teenager - both with care and respect. I wanted the show to be something my kids would both enjoy and learn from, and they came to rehearsal now and again which helped keep me on my path. Honestly, having kids puts everything into perspective for me. They give me a richer, fuller life. And in return, getting to do the work that I love makes me a better Mom.

It was certainly a rich production! Why was The Little Prince so impactful as a production?  What do you think that the adapters did well to make it a success?  What did you and your cast and crew bring to the production?

I think many people knew this story very well and were thrilled to see it brought to life. And for those who didn’t know it well, it is a beautiful journey that teaches some wonderful life lessons - lessons that we often need to be reminded of at any age. The adapters kept VERY close to the original Saint-Exupery book and I think that was what makes it most successful. I also think the choice to use one actor to play all the men of the planets makes a very interesting statement. I think our cast and crew infused this production with new life. My designers and I tried to create a world filled with surprises and whimsy - a land to play in. In this production, I brought the actors on to play several characters that were called for to be “off-stage voices.” I also had the actors manipulate the set. I wanted this to be an ensemble story-telling production and I think we succeeded.

Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

The joy and depth that my actors brought to this piece was astounding. I was incredibly lucky to work with four actors who were fearless and creative. I would be remiss to not mention my Music Director, Todd Gordon, who was just as flexible and playful as well as David McGrory who scored the piece for piano and reed (which is not how it was originally conceived).

I loved the woodwinds! Such a great sound! Why is it important to do adaptations of other works?  Are there any stories that you would like to adapt or direct onstage?

I am a huge fan of adaptations. I “grew up” doing theater at Northwestern University. Chicago is a breeding ground for ensemble-based, adaptive theater. We called it “Performance Studies” at school. There are beautiful stories that have been written by the most talented authors that really have stood the test of time. There is a reason these stories still resonate - their themes still have meaning to us. Adapting them for the stage is a logical next step. We bring them to life and breathe with them. I am dying to work on Laura Eason’s adaptation of Tom Sawyer. I went to school with Laura and I got to see the piece on stage in Hartford a few years ago. It is fantastic. There are many stories I would like to adapt. Right now, I am working on adapting several children’s stories with my students at Wheelock College. I feel like it is a place that I really like to live.

Sign me up if you ever do Tom Sawyer! What are the joys and challenges of working with youth performers?

So many joys. Most of the young performers that I work with are just joyous about theater. They don’t think twice about the fact that a play is called “play.” They are creative and inventive and excited and intelligent. They are like sponges and want so much to learn and improve. 

The greatest challenge? Young men’s voices changing - hands down. Next in line - scheduling. I often work with middle school children and they are going through a lot of life changes - but we’ve all been there. It’s just something that I, and my casts and crews, need to remain sensitive to.

It’s wonderful to see your directing work, again! I know that you also perform and choreograph.  How does working in each of the other areas affect your work as a theatre professional?

Aren’t you sweet! Thank you. I was just saying to a friend that each makes me better at the other. Directing makes me a better actor as being an actor DEFINITELY makes me a better director. I can see things through the eyes of the other. And I still love to choreograph because I learn so much from the other directors with whom I share the room.

What do you think is your biggest strength as a theatre artist? Your biggest challenge?

I would say that my biggest strength is the fact that I am able to work in so many capacities. I think it broadens my perspective and I am able to speak the many languages of the theater. It also makes me a more empathetic person.

My biggest challenge is that I always feel there is so much to learn and never enough time to do everything I wish that I could with all the people I would like to work with.

If you could go anywhere in Boston on a Friday night, where would you go?  Who would join you?

On a date. With my husband.

Do you have a favorite TV show? Guilty pleasure? Why?

Right now, my husband and I are binge-watching Breaking Bad. But I am really just biding my time, waiting for the next season of Sherlock. Most of my friends know that my guilty pleasure is comics - especially Batman and Legends of the Dark Knight - and any really good superhero TV shows and movies. I can not wait for Heroes Reborn.  Though I am disappointed that Zachary Quinto is not rejoining the cast.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

My current project is my Story Theater class at Wheelock College. We are putting together a half-hour of adaptations of children’s stories to bring to schools and daycares. After that is How To Succeed…  at Stoneham Theatre. I will be directing and choreographing.

I’ll be directing/choreographing for Wheelock Family Theatre’s Summer Youth Intensive for the sixth straight year alongside John O’Neil and Sophie Rich over the summer. I think that’s it for now!

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

Just that I want to thank you, Brian, for adding a new, fresh, and exciting voice to Boston theater. See everyone at the theater!

2014 Best Supporting Actress in a Musical or Opera Nominee Interview: Jennifer Beth Glick as Penny Pingleton in Wheelock Family Theatre's "Hairspray"

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. 

Photo by John Isaacson

Photo by John Isaacson

Jennifer Beth Glick as the energetic and sweet Penny Pingleton was one of the many outstanding parts of Wheelock Family Theatre's 2014 production of Hairspray.  In addition to being a talented dancer, singer, and actress, Jennifer also works as a trusts and estates lawyer; with a mixture of the analytical and creative, Jennifer brings intelligence and passion to each of her roles.  In this Interview, Jennifer discusses her history as a theatre orphan, her diverse 2014 performances, and her expected delivery this month! 

Jennifer, tell us a bit about yourself and your performing history.

At age 7, I made my theatrical debut in Camp Matoaka’s production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  I was cast in the pivotal role of Dopey and I had one line (“My name is…um, um, Dopey, that’s right, Dopey”), which I delivered with passion and aplomb.  My childhood and early teen years involved a series of Annie productions, culminating with a role in the pre-Broadway flop, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. 

During high school, Wheelock Family Theatre ("WFT") became my home away from home.  There, I had the opportunity to play a variety of British heroines, including Sara Crewe in A Little Princess, Wendy Darling in Peter Pan, and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.  After a three-year stint in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I received my law degree, I returned to Boston.  As a young associate at a large law firm, I spend my days in the office and my evenings on stage.  I have been pursuing a career as a singing, time-stepping attorney ever since.

As a fellow lawyer, I’m fascinated by what draws you to performing and the stage.  Has your legal training ever helped you win a role or play a part onstage?

I think it’s very much a “yin and yang” phenomenon.  Somehow, the analytic, lawyerly part of my brain thrives when I’m engaging the more creative side of my mind, and vice versa.  I have yet to use my legal training onstage, though I would like to think my “trial advocacy” and “litigation” law school classes helped me hone my improv skills.  One of these years, I’ll mount a one-woman production of Legally Blonde

What have been some of your favorite roles?  Why?

This year, I had the chance to play two of my favorite roles to date, Penny in Hairspray and Eponine in Les Misérables.

Penny was not such a stretch for me – we have a lot in common.  I remember my awkward teenage years quite vividly (and, sometimes, I feel like I am still living them).  Like Penny, music and dance were the ultimate escape for me and a source of increased confidence and self-definition.  As an actress, it was an absolute treat to chart Penny’s evolution over the course of a two-hour musical.  Though she begins the show constrained by her shyness and physically confined by her mother, by the end, she has literally found her own voice and is not afraid to belt it out.

Eponine is a role that I have wanted to play since I donned my first Annie wig.  Coincidentally, the theatre where I played Annie at age 9 (The Company Theatre) is where I returned this summer for Les Misérables.  Eponine’s story of unrequited love has always resonated with me, as I think it does with most people who have seen the show or read the book.  She is damaged in so many ways and, yet, there is this intense streak of purity – unadulterated love – that cannot be contaminated by the literal or figurative filth that surrounds her.  Playing the part was admittedly quite tricky because you run the risk of devolving into a cliché, especially given audience members’ expectations and the many interpretations of the role over the past twenty-five years.  So, in addition to it being one of my favorite roles to date, it was undoubtedly one of my most challenging. 

What do you consider to be your strongest talents?  Do you have any secret or hidden talents?

I have been told that I am a culinary genius when it comes to Kraft macaroni and cheese (and a culinary failure in every other regard).  Also, I can sing, tap-dance, chew gum, and twirl a baton at the same time (my mother has VHS proof).

What is at the center of a Tootsie Pop?

I’m not sure, but I will gladly spend the rest of my days trying to figure it out.

What was the best part about being in Hairspray?  Why do you think that audiences and reviewers connected so strongly with this production?

There was so much to love about WFT’s production of Hairspray – the infectious music, the gorgeous (and absolutely exhausting) choreography, the creative direction, not to mention the enormously talented and quirky players in the cast.  The story itself is universal and you can’t help but become invested in the characters (even the not-so-nice ones).  I think everyone involved in the production brought their “A-Game” to the table and the stakes were raised higher and higher. 

For me, the best part about being in Hairspray was watching the audience members dancing in their seats during the final number.  The worst part about being in Hairspray was unwittingly losing my skirt during said final number, watching the audience erupt into laughter and remaining clueless as to what was so funny (I told you Penny and I are a lot alike). 

Miscast!  What are some roles or songs that you would love to sing if given the opportunity (disregard race, age, gender, or voice type)? 

Any part played by Bob Saoud. 

I recently saw Michael C. Hall in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  That would be an incredible role to tackle. 

Who are your acting or performing role models or icons?

Barbara Streisand, Kathy St. George, and Miss Piggy.

If you were snowed into a cabin in the woods, who would you want to be with you?  What would you do?

My husband and my son.  They are a source of constant entertainment :) 

Is there any song lyric that describes your life at the current moment?

“Oooh my feet, my poor, poor feet” – The Most Happy Fella.  I should qualify that by adding that I am 37-weeks pregnant.

Do you have any upcoming theatrical productions or projects?

Our baby girl is due at the end of the month.  We anticipate that she will be a theatrical production unto herself, but I will look forward to getting back on the stage in the not-too-distant future.

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

Thank you for supporting Boston theatre and embracing WFT!