Stage Director: Opera-Theatre-Musicals
From a very young age—six years old in fact—I was leaping up in the air, flipping in the back yard and jumping off the low roof of our Connecticut home. For my own safety as well as for my enthusiasm for the sport, my parents thought it wise to enroll me into formal training for gymnastics. A few years later, living just outside Philadelphia, I became an actor—upstaging the poor kid playing Joseph in the Christmas Crèche who had forgotten his lines. Although I was only playing the Second Shepherd I knew all of Joseph’s lines, and I delivered them for him that night in performance! My parents also thought it might be wise if I enrolled in some acting classes, too.
As a young actor, I always combined my acting work with my skills as a gymnast, creating roles that would make entrances swinging on ropes or jumping off of platforms, or flipping through the air to land on the furniture. During High School outside Houston, I continued studying acting, performed often with the school’s Theatre Department, and I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!
During the studies for my Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from the University of Houston, I was part of a Movement Theatre Company under the direction of Claude Caux, an Olympic Fencing Master, international Mime Artist, and a colleague of the world famous Master of Mime, Marcel Marceau. After the dress rehearsal for one of our productions, Claude introduced me to Marceau (as everyone called him when speaking about him) who had been observing our rehearsal. Marceau invited me to study with him at his Ecole Intérnationale de Mimodrame de Paris (International School of Mime-drama in Paris) once I completed my BA in Theatre—and that the rehearsal he had just observed was my audition!
Realizing that there were no graduate programs in the states offering an MFA in Movement for the Actor, I leapt at the opportunity to work closely with the International Master. I paid attention in the French Classes I needed to graduate, and to my great luck my French Conversation Instructor was also Claude Caux’ son, Patrice—having studied Fencing already with Claude, I audited those classes again with Patrice so I could learn the Fencing vocabulary in French. In the summer seasons I worked as an actor in plays and musicals at the Houston Shakespeare Festival and Children’s Theatre Festival, and after graduating from the University of Houston with a BA in Theatre I moved to Paris at 21.
At the Ecole, we studied five styles of Mime in addition to Marceau’s, including the Dramatic Corporeal Technique of Etienne Decroux, French Traditional Pantomime as it relates to the Italian Commedia dell’arte, and the movement techniques of Henryk Tomaszewski with the lead actor of his Wroclawski Teatr Pantomimy, Stefan Niedzialkowski. The training also consisted of Competitive and Theatrical Fencing, Classical and Modern Dance, Competitive and Theatrical Acrobatics, and various Acting courses and corporeal explorations from many cultures. These disciplines were presented each year within a rigorous selection and jury system, spanning a three year program during which I became a representative of the school for the press, and the unofficial translator for foreign master teachers during their lectures. My particular First Year was class of 40 international students, and at the end of the 3 years of study there were only 12 of us who had been selected to compete for the Diploma.
In previous years, Marceau was more often away on tour than he was in France and was not able to commit much time to instructing personally at the Ecole. During my first year of study, Marceau suffered a ruptured ulcer while performing his One Man Show in Russia. After a quick and rather botched emergency surgery in Moscow, Marceau returned to Paris to undergo further surgeries requiring him to remain in Paris for his recovery for an extended period of time. For the first 2 years of my studies in France, we had classes with Marceau himself almost every day. During my third and final year, Marceau was performing in Paris and surrounding cities, and so he continued to teach and direct us personally for that year as well.
At the end of my first year studying at the Ecole, Marceau invited me to become his Teaching Assistant during his American Master Seminars at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (at the theatre where he first played in the United States in the 1950s), and in the following two years I was also given classes of my own to teach at the Seminars. The Fencing Master at the Ecole began teaching me to teach fencing, and had me work with the first year students alongside him. The Acrobatics instructors did the same and also invited me to perform in their Acrobatic-Danse Compagnie in productions across France, including a televised performance at the famous Folies Bérgerès.
In order to perfect my French and rid myself of my American accent, I began studying the Voice and Speech curriculum of the Comédie Française. I pursued a more rigorous training in the techniques of Etienne Decroux, studying with his final two assistants Steven Wasson and Corrine Soum at their own Paris Atelier. To broaden my expertise in Stage Combat techniques, I prolonged my training at the Paris School of Theatrical Fencing and performed in various productions with them. I was awarded an Honorary Diploma from the French Royal Academy of Arms by the great Fencing Master Pierre LaCaz, one of my instructors and Master to my own Master, Claude Caux.
In 1987, after receiving a scholarship from the French Minister of Culture to complete my studies in Paris, I became the second American of only three in the history of Ecole Marceau to have completed the program of studies and to be awarded a Diploma. Of the 12 of us who completed the full 3 years of studies, only 6 of us were awarded a Diploma after a competitive examination of the Techniques and the performance of our own Original Mime-drama Creations. This Diploma was Marceau’s official recognition that we may represent his art and instruct his techniques in his name on an international level. I immediately formed a Theatre Company with 3 more of these diplomés called The Paris Mime Studio, which integrated these specialized movement techniques with more conventional Acting.
The Paris Mime Studio was selected several times by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to represent French Culture abroad with performances throughout Europe, Scandinavia, The United States, Singapore, and Japan. While on the road, I continued receiving first-hand experience in as many dramatic movement techniques as possible including Commedia dell’Arte and Mask Work by Sartori, Japanese Noh and Kabuki, and I began teaching my own master classes in Dramatic Corporeal Studies both privately and at Conservatories while I continued my Decroux Technique studies at the Paris School of Dramatic Corporeal Mime. Among various film and television appearances, I was invited by Marceau to perform alongside him in Klaus Kinski’s film Paganini, and to act as his representative during the Governmental Welcoming Ceremony for Grand Kabuki Master Inosuke III.
In 1990, while coordinating chorus movements for opera productions in provincial France, and helping to “animate” the studio audiences of French Television Game Shows, I became the first graduate of Ecole Marceau to be hired by the school as a Full Professor. In addition to teaching there, Marceau asked me to appear with him as part of the two person additional cast of his One Man Show and to accompany him on his 1991 World Tour. This interrupted my work at the The Actor’s Studio in Paris, yet it was another opportunity to work on stage with Marcel Marceau. It would have been foolish not to accept!
Spending two years touring with La Compagnie Marceau, I profited from even more time and work with the Master of Mime. On his off nights between performances we would often go to a rehearsal studio to explore dramatic sequences and improvise various story lines he would eventually develop for his International Mime Company later on. Often I would improvise a scenario alone or with another mime-artist, and then Marceau would direct us through variations on that theme—the same situation explored as comedy, tragedy, melodrama, dark-comedy, Contemporary Realism, Absurdism, Existentialism, etc. Spending hours on a train with Marceau, I enjoyed hearing about his early work and the friendships he created with Bertolt Brecht, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Red Buttons among many others enriched my life as an artist in ways no other experiences could. His knowledge of art from painting and sculpture and music to his knowledge of world cultures, religion, and literature to his life experiences as a man in times of war and peace, falling in love and raising a family—these conversations were some of the most valuable lessons in my artistic training.
Due to the circumstances surrounding the death of Claude Caux, the man who mentored me through college and introduced me to Marceau, the University of Houston invited me to return to the United States to become their Visiting Professor of Mime and Movement for the Actor as well as act as Artistic Director of The Festivals Mime Company, the professional project of the UH School of Theatre with whom I performed when I first met Marcel Marceau 7 years earlier. Just like meeting Marceau and being offered the chance of a lifetime, I knew I had to act on this opportunity as well. I had wanted to return to the United States with the skills I had attained abroad, and although I was about to sign contracts with La Compagnie Marceau to tour in South America, Greece, and the United States I moved back to Houston. In addition to my teaching load, I instructed advanced Master Classes in Mime Techniques for the Festivals Company, and highlights of the two years I worked at UH include directing the movement work in all UH School of Theatre Productions and designing, directing, and performing in a production of Seneca’s Oedipus as a co-production with The Festivals Mime Company and The Urban Theatre.
I also coordinated combat sequences in Drama Department/KUHT Public Television co-productions, acted as a consultant to the Lyric Acting program In the School of Music (where I began to explore my unique movement approach for women playing Trouser Roles), and directed stylized movement sequences for various Music Videos. In the Spring of 1993, I conceived and directed The Corporeal Intelligence comprised entirely of original Mime-dramas created by the artists of The Festivals Mime Company. I was delighted to take my company members backstage to meet Marcel Marceau during his tour of the United States. He told them he worked with me when I was a Disciple—the word in French for one who studies a discipline with a Master—and now they were working with me as a Master. Coming from a European system of genuine one-on-one apprenticeship where the title Master is conferred only after years of advancement in the field, hearing this word attributed to my work from the Master of Mime himself meant as much again as the Master’s Degree Diploma from his Ecole.
In addition to my work at UH, I became the Movement Coordinator at The Alley Theatre, designing the combat and movement sequence for much of their 1991-2 season including working with such directors as Robert Wilson, Michael Wilson, and José Quintero. Playwright and Director Edward Albee invited me to direct the movement sequences in his world premier play LORCA, A LIFE marking our third collaboration-I played the role of Benjamin in the second cast of his play FINDING THE SUN under his direction, and Fight Director for his MARRIAGE PLAY at The Alley Theatre. I was commissioned to serve as Fight Director for Ben Stevenson’s production of Romeo and Juliet at The Houston Ballet, and by The Children’s Theatre Festival of Houston to write and direct for their 1992 and 1993 seasons. My play Yushi and the Thunder Dragon based on Japanese fairy tale motifs was later published by Eldridge Performance Publishing.
Moving my company of artists to Seattle, I became a Professor of Advanced Acting and a Stage Director at Cornish College of the Arts, the Movement Director at the Intiman Theatre Company, an Actor and Movement Director with the Seattle Shakespeare Festival, an Instructor at the Drama School at Seattle Children’s Theatre and their Advanced Actor Institute. I also founded The Immediate Theatre with the artists I had trained in Houston, as well as local actors form Seattle who had their own dramatic movement training. The underlying methodology of the company as the foundation of true ensemble: directors, designers, dramaturgs, and actors working continuously together under a unified vision. We pursued a shared dramaturgical approach and the development of group methods to explore a number of productions treating texts from different historical periods and different genres. This established the common vocabulary necessary to allow the individual ensemble members to use their particular training, experience, and techniques towards the creation of productions that bore the stamp not just of individuals but of a recognizable whole. One of our productions was of Georg Büchner’s WOYZECK. Integral to its crisp and hyper-stylized physical aesthetic, the production included a Greek Chorus of Freemasons rhythmically chanting liturgical texts which I had inserted into the script as a means of driving Woyzeck insane, visually and aurally.
While I was playing Petruchio in the Seattle Shakespeare Festival’s TAMING OF THE SHEW, several administrators from The Seattle Opera Association attended a performance of WOYZECK, which was enjoying a lengthy run. They knew the Opera of the same name, but had never seen the play, and they were intrigued by the press surrounding our production. SOA Education Director, Perry Lorenzo approached me and asked if I had ever directed an Opera before, because what he was seeing in WOYZECK was what he valued in Opera direction: a facility with large groups of people on stage telling a classical story in an innovative manner that also integrates a musical appreciation of language and movement. He also said that this is what they hoped for as the Future of Opera—what we all began to refer to as The End of Park and Bark.
The Seattle Opera was about to create their new Young Artist Program—a Post-Graduate Level Professional Training Program for Opera Singers. Unlike any other YAP as yet in existence, they wanted this to be a genuine training ground for all aspects of what was becoming the new direction in Opera performance—singing actors who understand the drama, can take direction, are emotionally truthful, and capable of moving in various styles when needed. They also had the vision of culminating the training with a fully supported opera production with orchestra performed by their young artists. Perry asked me to become involved initially by creating and directing two Opera-Theatre Productions casting talented local Opera Singers along with the Actors from my Immediate Theatre. In the two seasons that followed, I co-created and directed two such pieces with Immediate Theatre Playwright Joann Farías and Music Director Dean Williamson, casting my Immediate Theatre collaborator Sheila Daniels in the lead acting role in each production. The results were LA CASA VERDI and ORPHEUS SINGS OF LOVE.
Continuing to collaborate with Perry Lorenzo and Dean Williamson, we then created The Seattle Opera Young Artist Program, where I designed the Acting and Movement curriculum, instructed a Movement Based Acting Program for Singers, and directed the first few Opera productions. In addition to being my first forays into directing Opera, they were the first of many productions over the next several years collaborating with Maestro Dean Williamson.
Based now in New York City, I have enjoyed working as a Freelance Stage Director of Opera, Theatre, and Musicals as well as a Master Teacher of Acting and Movement Techniques and as an Audition Coach for Opera singers since the early part of the 21st Century. After almost 20 years in these combined fields, working at some of the most influential Opera Houses and Theatres across the world, I have created a body of work that includes instructing a specialized curriculum that I have developed and directing professionals who have been trained in that curriculum as well as those who have not. Having authored various articles on these techniques for various Opera and Theatre publications, I am now in the process of writing several Text Books for Singers and Actors outlining the exploration and use of these techniques designed to develop mastery in Movement, Acting, Auditioning for Opera, and the Creative Process of the Performing Artist who wishes to make a career on stage.