Goodbye, 2016

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What a year this has been. 2016 brought many new experiences with a fair share of challenges and excitement, travels afar and visits home, fantastic collaborations and artistic adventures, reunions with old friends and exploits with new.

Some highlights:
1. Performing in my first reviewed Chicago plays/musicals and having a ball doing it under the direction of Christopher Kidder-Mostrom, RudyHogenmiller, and Bob Estrin. Thank you for many amazing moments.
2. Collaborating with some fiercely creative ladies (I’m talking to you, Kate Black and Ilana Atkins, my all-stars) on my first outdoor choreographic outing.
3. Mounting my first one-woman cabaret, with the marvelous Andrew Milliken. Thanks to all who made it out.
4. Filming my first music video for the Kerosene Stars, with eternal thanks to Eden Ames for making it all happen.
5. Being present for several milestones of Kristen Makuszewski this year, a graduation and wedding among them. So proud of my sister and thankful for our loving, supportive family who have enabled us to soar.
6. Venturing into the pinup world and winning my first contest out of the gate, #MissDDay2016. What a thrill!
7. Dancing the blues away with Jessica Schmidt at the Jazz Age Lawn Party in NYC. Let’s do it again.
8. Dancing more blues away with the effervescent Clayton Alan, a match made in ‘Mame’ heaven.
9. Moving to The Lawrence House and being embraced by FLATS Chicago – what a home this has become.
10. Exploring the many historical gems of Chicago, including Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, with marvelous friends who have made me much richer for their company. Let’s ring in the New Year with speakeasy style!

Cheers to 2017, everyone.

Hello, 2016

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I usually start off my new year with a blog post dedicated to fresh resolutions and goals, but my newsfeed has become full of friends sharing wonderful recaps of their previous year and how the events of the past have impacted their outlooks for the future. In order to move forward, it’s important to look back at where we have been and where we are today. Why not join in?

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I resolved to kick off 2015 with focus, strength, and direction. Looking back at the past 365 days, I’m elated to find that this year was truly guided by those principles. Spring was full of self-discovery and opportunities that enabled me to refocus my professional pursuits. While still maintaining active involvement in the administrative side of things, my artistic ambitions took flight, allowing me to “fire on all cylinders” and fully utilize my skill sets. It was absolutely freeing and invigorating.

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Summer brought incomparable adventures with my first repertory theater experience. The opportunity to contribute to a fantastic company (in a beautiful locale) surrounded by dedicated artists, mentors, and community members was absolutely incredible and something that I will forever cherish. I am so grateful for my Montana summer; its impacts
will stay with me for life.

Mary Poppins

Fall brought my first forays into the freelance world and a surge of travel. I enjoyed reconnecting with valued friends and refreshing my love of three key places (Chicago, New York, and Florida). I see myself hopping between these spots quite a bit in the future, especially as my network of friends continues grow in each area.

Winter brought one of my greatest personal and artistic gifts to date, as I was able to return home to enjoy the holidays with family and portray a dream role, Mary Poppins. With the support of an amazing cast amid the presence of hometown friends and mentors, Mary really took flight. In fact, she soared with a heart full of gratitude and unbridled joy. I would jump at the chance to revisit Cherry Tree Lane, although it would be hard to top the jolly holiday had on that stage.

NYE2

With so many fulfilling things in 2015, it’s hard to fathom how 2016 could be better! But I do have several things in the works and big plans to make this year the one to beat. With rehearsals for my next show on the horizon and many auditions forthcoming this spring, I’m ready to launch 2016 into the stratosphere. After all, if you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in. Hello, 2016!

 

 

Practically Perfect

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It seems that Mary Poppins has only just arrived, yet she is already making preparations to fly away again. Until the wind changes, I plan on thoroughly enjoying a few more jolly holidays with the fantastic cast comprising the current production at the Youngstown Playhouse.

Mary and I go way back. When I was a little girl visiting Disney World for the first time, all I wanted was a Mary Poppins doll. She traveled home with me and has never left my heart since our first meeting twenty years ago. As I have re-read the P.L. Travers books in preparation for this role, I can see why this magical character has entered the lives of so many and positively impacted readers and audiences alike. There is nothing better than knowing you’ve made a small impact on a community, and although time together may be fleeting, memories stay forever.

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There are not many Broadway productions that I have seen more than once, but Mary Poppins is the exception to that rule. The story of familial redemption, as well as the timeless music of the Sherman brothers, manages to connect with you wherever you are in life’s journey. I remember first seeing the show on a high school choir trip to the city and spontaneously bursting into tears during the eleven o’clock number, “Anything Can Happen,” which provides an incredibly stirring call to action for anyone pondering dreams of the future:

Anything can happen,
Raise the curtain.
Things you thought impossible
Will soon seem certain…
Sally forth the way we’re steering.
Obstacles start disappearing.
Go and chase your dreams, you won’t regret it.
Anything can happen, if you let it.

Yes, the lyrics may be quite blunt, but the point definitely gets across and allows self-doubts to be erased in a moment of euphoria. It is one of my favorite moments of the show – nothing beats an entire cast singing with full voices, warm hearts, and open arms stretched toward the heavens. If we are doing our job right, the audience is with us among the stars, too.

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My summer experiences aptly prepared me to take on a myriad of duties within this production, and while the tech challenges of this show were legion, our team pulled it off with Poppins aplomb. All the while, our staunch ensemble handled fast-paced rehearsals and tackled a wide range of choreography with unfailing enthusiasm and amazing dedication. This show soars due to the efforts of many, and I am so grateful for the chance to be part of the magic.

Until the wind changes…
From Mary Poppins, with a good deal of love.

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Everybody Cut Loose!

FOOTLOOSE

“On Any Sunday”

This weekend we closed the final show of our summer season, Footloose. And wow, what a night it was, full of extreme highs and unexpected lows at the sudden realization that our time together as a company had come to an end. It was a fantastic release of so many emotions both onstage and off, and it will not be an evening I will soon forget.

As with the other shows of the summer, Footloose further solidified the bonds between our company of friends. One of the most special memories I will cherish will be the recent Sunday when four of us sang in the local church choir just as we sang together onstage with the congregation of Beaumont. It was a surreal morning with art reflected in life and love shared among all as we raised our voices together in harmony.

[Actually] On Any Sunday

[Actually] On Any Sunday

Footloose is among movie musicals such as Dirty Dancing and Flashdance that have been adapted for the stage to not quite the same effect as the original cinema versions. While the plot can be difficult to sustain without the movie’s trademark fast cuts and music video qualities, there are quite a few hit songs and honest lines that ground the production among a plethora of dance sequences.

There is a time to every purpose under heaven — a time to laugh and a time to weep. There is a time to mourn and there is a time to dance…And this is our time. Our time to celebrate life. That’s the way it was in the beginning, the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it should be now. (Ren McCormack, Footloose)

I immensely enjoyed my time portraying Vi Moore in Footloose. Through the course of the show, Vi supports the fresh ideas of newcomer Ren McCormack while trying to facilitate a seemingly impossible reconciliation of her broken family. Still recovering from the loss of her son, she struggles to reclaim relationships with her distant husband and headstrong daughter. Vi presented my most dramatic musical role to date, offering rich opportunities for character study and the discovery of vulnerable and raw moments. Our preliminary character development discussions with director Michael Smith proved invigorating and generated much material for consideration in making strong choices, and I found myself utilizing previously undiscovered capacities in intellectual and emotionally stimulating ways. Although my role required no dancing in the “dance musical” of the season, I left the stage each evening fulfilled with the same simultaneous sense of exhaustion and excitement as I do performing more movement-heavy roles.

Closing night of Footloose was replete with quite a few tears, but it was also an unabashed celebration of life just as Ren states in Act II. The summer nights at this “theatre by the bay” have flown by rapidly, but we have seized every chance to live life and share our passions with the amazing people that form our audiences, friends, and families. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Stay Open to the Maybes

ANNIE

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“N.Y.C.”

The story of little orphan Annie is one that is familiar to most, whether it be from the original Chicago Tribune comic strips, the mid-century radio shows, the Broadway musical, or the subsequent hit movies. I was exposed to Annie at a young age and vividly remember my first time watching the 1982 movie; it was a rapturous experience to observe Broadway talent gracing the silver screen, a phenomenon not typically seen in blockbuster movies. That cast acquitted the story so well without distracting from its core themes, themes which continue to resonate with today’s audiences to make Annie a timeless classic.

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“N.Y.C.”

This season I had the pleasure of participating in this heartwarming story under the guidance of director-choreographer Janie Slavens, whose past experiences with the show provided special insights into our production. Our music direction was capably handled by Max Luton, who kept our cutoffs on point and our harmonies on track, especially for our brief stint on the airwaves at the top of Act II. One of my favorite parts of the show, the radio scene, provided excellent fodder for real-life friendships throughout the summer. I cannot express how much I loved being a Boylan Sister, and how dearly I cherish the bonds of sibling love that formed between Connie, Ronnie, Bonnie, and our watchful brother, Jonnie. Our nightly intermission warmups, gum-chewing, giggle fits, and stealthy shared looks resulted in quite a few spontaneous and memorable moments as we sang words that reflect my personal outlook on life:

Your clothes may be Beau Brummelly,
They stand out a mile,
But brother you’re never fully dressed
Without a smile!

No matter how tough things may seem in the present, they will get better, and we must always look for the positive in every situation. It is this sense of optimism that prevails through the entirety of Annie as one little girl brings smiles and joy to everyone she meets, making the troubles of the Great Depression fade away. We were so fortunate in our cast of little girls, who handled themselves so professionally and gave each show their all, even singing the refrains of “Tomorrow” together backstage after the curtain had closed. Their families kindly welcomed us company members into their homes, becoming our surrogate BSP parents much in the manner of Daddy Warbucks and Grace Farrell.

The Boylans!

The Boylans!

The love among this cast has been incredible, and the enthusiasm for life absolutely infectious. On opening night, our director gently reminded us to “stay open to the maybes” and keep a curious mind for whatever opportunities the world has to offer. This whole summer has reaffirmed the validity of her suggestion for myself and I think for many other company members. We all took a chance on life by venturing far beyond our homes to perform and grow in a magical mountain town few of us had heard of prior to this year. As we took the plunge and dove headlong into this incredibly wild season, we forged friendships and lifelong bonds that will stay with us no matter what comes our way. And as we prepare to part ways, we part with open hearts and warm smiles, knowing that tomorrow is only a day away.

It’s Family First and Family Last

THE ADDAMS FAMILY

When You're An Addams

“When You’re An Addams” 

Strangely enough, the act of emerging from a dusty old crypt has been one of the absolute highlights of my summer. It has been an unexpected joy to be a member of the Addams family, a troupe replete with wildly funny and highly colorful individuals (don’t let the ghostly white makeup fool you). This bunch of crazy, happy people is most certainly alive and kicking up a powder storm of unabashed joy every night.

Let's Not Talk About Anything Else But Love

“…But Love”

Rehearsals for The Addams Family occurred simultaneously with Man of LaMancha, offering the company a great chance to embrace contrasting styles of contemporary and classic fare. While Addams specializes in a lighter tone of slapstick and crisp comedic moments, it provides a surprisingly emotional punch through its heartfelt themes of embracing differences and cherishing family bonds. Our fantastic director, Scott Seidl, emphasized the core message of the show throughout the amazingly efficient rehearsal process, which focused on bold choices and tight pacing. Our insightful choreographer, Marisa Kirby, created a highly specific movement vocabulary that accentuated the quirky style of the family and beautifully complemented the score. We were also led by the fearless Lizzie Hatfield, whose strong musical direction aided and abetted in the sharp delivery of darkly humorous and often poignant lyrics. On opening night, we were reminded to keep words from the closing number in mind for the duration of the run:

Move toward the darkness. Welcome in your pain.
Let each foreign forest offer you its rain.
Only at our lowest can we rise above.
Move toward the darkness and Love.

I have truly loved performing this show; it is such a wonderful send-up of old-school vaudeville combined with contemporary sensibilities and has something for every audience member of every generation. As the Bride Ancestor (I have named her Elizabeth Addams, a wistful gal doomed to a failed engagement and quite a few overdramatic crying spells) it has been a riot to unveil myself at the top of each performance in the throes of a dusty cloud. It has been a great time trying not to choke on the powder as I toss my bouquet and join in the annual family line dance, haha. Everyone on that stage is sincerely having a grand time, and the audience gets swept along with us for a wild ride of a night. Several community members have commented that our close friendships offstage translate well onto the stage, and that is particularly true with this show; we are indeed a family united, our bonds made stronger by embracing our differences and cultivating the best in each other.

"Just Around the Corner"

“Just Around the Corner”

When my family visited Bigfork in July, they were able to see the production, and it was so wonderful having loved ones in the audience collectively sharing in the joy of the show. Funnily enough, a visiting couple from Ohio (alumni of YSU and KSU) also attended the show that night and conversed with me pre-show about our shared Youngstown experiences and mutual Penguin pride. Although we had just met that evening, it felt like we were old friends. That evening really highlighted the importance of family for me, being surrounded by caring family members, compassionate visiting alumni, and amazing fellow artists. There really is nothing like family, and though life may seem crazy at times, we must never lose sight of their deep-rooted love.

Give. Love. Play.

The Boylans!

The Boylans!

Hello from Bigfork, everyone!

I can’t believe it’s already August — it seems that summer has just started here! We have kept up such a busy pace of rehearsals, performances, and workshops that we are just now starting to have some free days on our hands, and we are relishing every moment in this beautiful place.

After feverishly rehearsing for seven straight weeks, we successfully opened four fantastic productions that are currently playing to full houses and frequent standing-room only audiences. The reception within the community has been incredibly warm and enthusiastic, and the company has been wonderfully cohesive and supportive of one another. This tight family bond has made all four shows true ensemble pieces that are joys to perform every night.

It’s hard to recap everything that has happened thus far, so I will dedicate these first few blog posts to brief summaries of each production process and devote the next few to some highlights of Montana fun:

MAN OF LAMANCHA

Man of LaMancha

Man of LaMancha

The season kicked off strongly with the classic Man of LaMancha helmed by dynamic collaborators Matthew Wolfe and Jessica Low and meticulously music directed by the amazing Ian LeRoy. The preliminary scenework and character analysis of Mancha provided a strong foundation for our unification as an ensemble that has carried through the entire season. The same goes for the vocal groundwork established early on, which focused on finding a balance and a blend of our very different voices. My appreciation for the guidance of the Mancha creative team has continued to grow as I realize how much their initial work has served the company throughout the season and the other shows.

The staging of this particular production requires us all to be onstage for virtually the entire show, watching and engaging with the action as it unfolds in front of the audience. It is a physical and emotional marathon of a show, usually ending with a lot of tears that will be especially poignant come closing night. I begin the show as a prisoner and emerge as Don Quixote’s niece, Antonia, for a scene in each act. Antonia has been a challenging character to play, as she is often perceived as a fairly one-dimensional, self-serving individual primarily concerned for her own interests instead of her uncle’s well-being. While that is true to an extent, I have based her actions in an initial place of sincerity and genuine love for her family, but those feelings are ultimately overshadowed by her concerns about public perception and its effects upon her future. It has been a highly focused process of discerning those beats and shifts in intent throughout the story, and I continue to enjoy exploring new moments onstage with my fellow company members.

Man of LaMancha

Man of LaMancha, a sometimes forgotten classic, retains its powerful message through a hauntingly beautiful score and several gems of inspiration peppered throughout its script. In an increasingly chaotic world where events seem increasingly out of our control, and we must forge our own unique paths to achieve our definitions of personal happiness, dreaming the impossible dream has never seemed more appropriate:

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Too much sanity may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Perhaps to be practical is madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it ought to be. (Don Quixote, Man of LaMancha)

This show has reawakened my capacity to dream. And, as a certain wise person relayed to us on opening night, to give, to love, and to play. My gratitude for these heartfelt reminders is eternal, and I cherish the journey that this show has provided every night. It is a journey I feel we have only just begun, and I can’t wait to see where the future leads.

Summer Adventures 2015

Bigfork, MT

Bigfork, MT

Hello everyone!

I’m writing this post from the beautiful mountain town of Bigfork, Montana, where I will be spending the summer performing and choreographing for Bigfork Summer Playhouse. This season looks to be an exciting one, with fantastic talent throughout the company and a wonderfully supportive community. I am grateful for the opportunity to explore some new roles and learn new shows–this summer’s lineup includes Man of LaMancha (Antonia), Footloose (Vi Moore), The Addams Family (Ancestor), and Annie (Ronnie Boylan), as well as two musical revues. We are already off and running with rehearsals– I can’t wait to have all four shows running in rep within the next few weeks.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Although rehearsals leave little time for sightseeing in this picturesque locale, we arrived a few days early to explore the area. Our scenic road trip from Chicago included an amazing stop at Mount Rushmore, where I had the chance to meet one of the original workers on the sculpture and listen to his stories of summers spent carving the figures of our most beloved presidents. I still find the whole endeavor simply amazing — it is a must-see national treasure.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Over the weekend, we also ventured into Glacier National Park, another one of America’s treasures. Even though the tourist season hasn’t quite begun, we did have an amazing time observing wildlife and hiking a short distance. I am eager to return later this summer and dive into more of the park’s activities, including whitewater rafting and horseback riding. I am also very much looking forward to having family visit for a few days later this summer and showing them around town.

Until then, I’ll be quite preoccupied with rehearsals and such, so I will post updates as time allows! Stay tuned…

On the Town

Whew. New York has a way of taking a lot out of you, and at the same time, filling you with so much passion and inspiration that you feel ready to take on just about anything. Since returning to the Second City incredibly early on Monday morning, I’m trying to process all of this past weekend’s events. Although exhaustion clouds my mind a bit, I am still left with warm feelings from a great time with old (and new) friends, and deep thoughts about future dreams.

My endless gratitude goes out to my hostess, Miss Jessica Schmidt, and her fabulous entourage, who introduced me to the wonders of Brooklyn and provided a great many adventures during my stay. We traversed that borough thoroughly (bad word pairings happen when you’re tired), and I got quite familiar with the MTA (CTA still wins!). Friday also featured a fun trek through Chinatown and Little Italy, leading uptown to the heart of Broadway and Times Square (beware the furries). Since this was my fifth visit to the city, I was less preoccupied with touristy amazement and more interested in the details of less obvious New York wonders. I especially enjoyed my first visit to The Strand bookstore and chance discovery of Tatayana, a vintage boutique that looked like ModCloth had exploded inside and taken me to heaven with it. We also stumbled upon Think Coffee, a hipster haven with seriously great caffeine and cool artistic vibes.

Friday night’s focus was a visit to…The Visit. Oh my gosh. Chita. Rivera: Chills. Kander and Ebb: Magically creepy music. Graciela Danielle: Consummately stylized choreography. And those yellow shoes…Well, let’s just say I’ll never wear yellow again without thinking about this piece. It was a thrillingly freaky story with the singular presence of a theatrical superpower front and center, and I am forever grateful for the chance to watch a legend work her magic.

Our post-show Friday night was just as magical, with a visit to an East Village speakeasy and reunion with my little Scholar, Jacob, who is doing marvelous things as he breaks into the New York fashion industry. We had a great time catching up, and even got a surprise serenade by a spontaneous moonlit marching band. For a moment, it felt like we had landed in the Big Easy instead of the Big Apple.

Saturday was fully devoted to Manhattan; I returned to Broadway Dance Center and had a fantastic musical theater class in the morning, followed by a two-show afternoon: An American in Paris and On the Town. What a perfect pairing of shows, beautifully incorporating fresh musical arrangements, mesmerizing integration of projections, and dreamy balletic choreography. Simply put, I had found my heaven. And in between trips to paradise, I revisited Rockefeller Center and Macy’s in Herald Square for the Art in Bloom series (something to be seen, for sure!).

Sunday was just as wonderful: Jess and I snagged standing-room-only tickets for The Audience with Dame Helen Mirren, then had a great reunion with more Youngstown friends, Kelly and Nate. So nice to see so many familiar faces in this city! After our lunch together, wherein we plotted a Youngstown takeover of all major theater scenes, Jess and I dashed back downtown for our appointment with the Queen, and it was not one to be missed. The corgis even made an appearance and succeeded in upstaging (only momentarily) her Majesty and her entire entourage. We left the performance as pleased as any Anglophiles could possibly hope to be.

Sunday night provided a splendid cap to the weekend’s amazing escapades. We hit the streets of Williamsburg for window shopping and more speakeasy fun, concluding with a birthday bash for local friends. Even the absurdly early morning flight on Monday could not deter my spirits; this weekend was one for the books, and I am so grateful for the kindness of friends and the warmth of a city that never fails to reinvigorate my passions in life.

Until next time, New York.

Weekend Getaways

Sarasosta

I think weekend trips are the best. They allow you to escape for a few days, rediscover your sense of curiosity, and add a little wonder to your world. Just a short excursion can be amazingly stimulating and provide renewed energy and focus. This spring, I have been fortunate enough to plan weekend trips to both new and familiar places — a sort of personal reward for making it through my crazy busy start to 2015, and a wonderful way to reconnect with family and friends.

Sarasota

Two weeks ago, I experienced Sarasota, Florida, for the first time. I haven’t seen my family since Christmas, so I was thrilled to spend a weekend with my grandparents, who have spent this especially bitter winter in more comfortable climates. While a frequent visitor to the Sunshine State, this trip marked my first visit to Siesta Key, the #1 Beach in the United States (according to Trip Advisor and an adoring tourist population). Although Cocoa Beach remains my favorite for sentimental reasons, Siesta Key does not disappoint, with its powdery white sands and crystal clear waters. Warm seaside breezes also make for an amazing beach day with family.

The Ringling

In addition to scenic drives along the keys, dinners on the waterfronts, and several trips to the pool, the highlight of my trip was visiting The Ringling, an amazing treasure trove of circus lore, fine art, gardens, architecture, and entertainment history. The compound was built by John Ringling (of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus fame), and his lovely wife, Mable, in the mid-1920s when they moved the winter quarters of the circus to Sarasota. Their estate became famous for its Italian influences and rich focus on culture and philanthropy. I cannot recommend it enough. The Ringling

More of my Sarasota hit-list: Gidget’s Coastal Provisions (cute and classy souvenirs), the Unconditional Surrender statue (worth a drive-by), Marina Jacks (live music and dancing), and the BeachHouse (also live music, beachside).

This weekend will take me in a very different direction: New York City. Stay tuned for highlights of what’s sure to be a wild, action-packed adventure!