Stage and Music Director/Actor/Educator
Stage & Music Direction
International Performing Arts Institute
Kiefersfelden & Hamburg, Germany
Summer 2015 and 2010
Just after I accepted the offer to coordinate the BFA Musical Theatre Program at USD in 2010, I accepted an offer from Bruce Earnest, the producing artistic director of the International Performing Arts Institute, to spend three weeks in Germany directing and teaching at the International Performing Arts Institute. IPAI provides training in musical theatre and opera for American and artists of other nationalities who would like to pursue professional employment in Germany and Europe.
I was pleased to return to Germany again in the summer of 2015 to serve as the Coordinator of Musical Theatre, a performer, a director, a voice teacher, and an acting teacher. IPAI has a working relationship with Stage Entertainment, the largest producer of musicals in Germany. Stage Entertainment allows IPAI’s artists to workshop with their artistic staff and casting directors as well as to audition for productions that Stage Entertainment is currently casting. In addition to performance (see video at right), my duties were to direct scenes and solo songs, to give private voice lessons, to teach classes in acting for musical theatre, and to provide organizational and logistic support.
The creative artists that we work with come from college music and theatre programs from all over the world, and have a wide variety of training and singing/acting techniques already under their belts. Therefore, my process was to introduce students to the Lessac work, which was new for most of them, to show how it could enhance the skills they already possessed, and to demonstrate how integrating methodologies can make their work fresh and vibrant. With only three weeks to coach these young artists, I wasn’t trying to change them or have them reinvent themselves. Rather, I focused on identifying and building on the strengths they already possessed and providing possible solutions or new ways of approaching aspects of their work which still needed improvement.
I plan to continue my work with IPAI as I greatly enjoy the artistic, collaborative, and professional aspects of the program. It is an exciting opportunity for students and faculty alike to share their talent with a European audience.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Black Hills Playhouse
My process in working with the cast of To Kill a Mockingbirdcentered around two areas: group discussion of the multi-layered social issues the story deals with, and childlike playfulness. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beloved and revered novels in American literature, and the stage adaptation is very true to the book. It was important that our production be true to the characters that audiences would expect to see, but also that we made connections between the issues Scout, Jem, and Atticus dealt with in the 1930’s and how those same issues are relevant today. This was particularly important for the three child actors in the cast, for whom social the struggles involving racism, class stratification, and bigotry that their characters encounter in the play were completely new. We began the rehearsal process with several round-table discussions with the whole cast about these issues and the prevalent use of the word “nigger” in the script, and how that emotionally charged and incendiary word was used then, and how its use has evolved. At every staging rehearsal, we read the text to be staged first, discussed the story and concepts, and made sure that everyone understood the context, action, and symbolism therein. Questions were encouraged, particularly from the children, and it was exciting to see the kids begin to make connections between the story we were staging and their own world.
Creating an environment where it was safe and fun to play was also critical, particularly because this was the first time on stage for the young actors playing Scout and Dill. I started by having our three young actors research children’s games of the 1930’s, and then we played some of those games that they discovered. We also identified the games that their characters play throughout the story, like “Predators on the hunt” when they are sneaking up to Boo Radley’s porch, or “Spy Games” when they follow Atticus to the courthouse to see where he is going with the light. Making these connections to everyday games made the process less complicated and more fun for the children, and as their confidence and focused playfulness grew, it carried over to the adult actors, even in the most dramatically charge scenes.
Photos by Sage Studios. Used with permission.
Scenic Design by Christian Boy; Lighting Design by Christopher Haug; Costume Design by Amber Marissa Cook
I created the Senior Industry Showcase at USD during my first year as Coordinator of the BFA Musical Theatre program, and have directed and organized all aspects of the Showcase every year since then. The Showcase is a culminating experience for senior B.F.A. Musical Theatre and Acting majors, and as such offers a tremendous opportunity for participants to synthesize and apply the rigorous training they have received at USD for a large group of industry professionals during an exciting and intense week of auditions and workshops in New York City.
Our process is simple, yet thorough. During the fall semester, seniors audition for the Showcase cast. Those who make it then meet weekly with me to prepare on two fronts – preparing all of their branding materials (headshots, resume, personal websites, cover letters, postcards, business cards, etc.). At the same time, we begin the process of determining the best set of audition songs and monologues for each student, focusing on material that best market their current type and talent. I provide constant artistic feedback and direction to the students, while demanding individual ownership of each piece performed. I also solicit feedback from my performance colleagues at USD to provide different perspectives for each student on their quality of their selections.
Senior Industry Showcase
New York City, NY
Emily Vortherms webpage
Brianna Bernard webpage
Christine Pietz webpage
Tony Garcia webpage
Casey Coates webpage
2015 Showcase webpage
Each student ultimately puts together a three-minute audition, package, and then it is off to New York City in March for further workshopping with me and industry professionals. The cast ultimately performs for dozens of industry representatives at Actor’s Connection, a professional networking company for actors and industry artists.
The Showcase is a bridge between the academic and the professional worlds, and the real world experiences, feedback, and connections that our students encounter during that one week empower them to believe that they are ready for the next step in their artistic lives, and confirms that the training they have received at USD prepares them as well or better than performance graduates from any other program in the country.
An additional benefit of the Showcase program is that not only do we take our students to New York to work with industry professionals, but through the connections we've made over the years, we've been able to bring several top New York artists to workshop with our students on campus at USD. Acting coach Kimberly Vaughn, who is represented by several of her students in Broadway and national tours, came to USD in 2011. Talent agent Chris Nichols and Broadwa musical director/vocal coach Dr. Bryan Wade came in subsequent years, and we will actively continue to bring top artists to campus to work with our students in coming years.
As the saying goes, "the proof is in the pudding," and in just the five short years that USD has been presenting a showcase in NYC, many of our graduates have used the showcase as a springboard to jumpstart their careers.
A few examples include Cody Strand (BFA Acting, 2012), ,who secured an agent at the showcase, and within 18 months was playing Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon on Broadway. Cody is currently playing the same role on the national tour, and recently read the Jack Black role, opposite Tony Award nominee Sierra Boggess, in the tableread of the new School of Rock musical being written for Broadway by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Kendra Vernon (BFA Musical Theatre, 2013), received multiple offers for representation after her showcase performance, and she recently toured nationally with Theatreworks USA's production of Freedom Train. Liz Wright (BFA Musical Theatre 2011) is working successfully in New York City, with national commercial credits and an appearance on HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
Sioux Empire Community Theatre
Directing Avenue Q for a second go around, this time at Sioux Empire Community Theatre in Sioux Falls, SD, was an exciting opportunity to revisit this hilarious, yet deceptively difficult-to-pull-off show. As before, the first step in the process was puppetry boot camp, and I was fortunate to have had my work in the first production I directed to fall back on, which allowed me to immediately start working on puppetry basics with the cast. We didn’t receive the rehearsal puppets until our third week of rehearsal, so I had the cast make their own hand puppets on our first night together, which served a practical as well as social, cast-bonding purpose. I was also very fortunate to once again get Jennifer Barnhart from the original Broadway cast of Avenue Q to coach the cast via three live teleconferences, spaced at the beginning, middle, and end of our rehearsal process. Her mastery of puppetry technique and communication was invaluable to the cast and me.