Rare and valuable are the projects, where, in their midst, one is aware of how much they are learning and growing. My recent experience as the choreographer on the FSU Opera CANDIDE has been one such project. I became involved with the Opera through a classic case of “you know a guy who knows a guy”. From my first listen through the various cast albums, I knew Bernstein’s rollicking score held the potential for some fun dance elements. My first meeting with the director was tentative, both of us trying to figure one another out, and me desperately trying to sound competent even though I have never worked in opera before and the last time I did musical theater, I was 10 and was Dwarf #3 in Into the Woods Junior.
But, as you might guess, things moved forward, and I soon became deeply embroiled in the wacky world of Candide. It’s probably the ego speaking, but I feel like I was the perfect person to have worked on this project. I’ve never been so grateful for the sometimes grueling hours spent fumbling through learning how to teach beginning ballroom. By now I understand the learning curve of dance newbies well enough not to panic when things are total chaos for the first few rehearsals. I have infinite patience for questions, especially when students are clearly invested and interested in getting it right. And of course I owe a great debt to my high school flute teacher Berta Frank, for introducing me to opera and giving me the vocabulary to communicate with musicians. I’m a little rusty, but thank goodness I can read music well enough to follow Bernstein’s changeable, quixotic score.
There is something especially exciting about not being an insider on a project. I gave myself permission to ask all of the questions, not to feel as though I have to meet some kind of standard. And, though it feels like blasphemy, I enjoyed not feeling beholden to the ballroom syllabi, able to adapt steps to fit my inexperienced but theatrical students. Obviously in hindsight there are things I’d like to tweak, but the show isn’t mine, anymore. As many mentors and teachers have said of shows past, it belongs to the performers now. And I have the alternately stressful and magical experience of watching the show from the house, white-knuckling the armrests and tearing up with joy.
I am mourning the end of this project. Not because I want it to go on forever, nor because I am not happy with the final product, but because I don’t yet have another project like this in the pipeline. I loved working with performers who had a different background and skill set from my own, as I got to watch and enjoy their strengths. I also realized I know a heck of a lot about physical acting and comic timing. I want to do more theater. I want to make cool things with cool people.
There’s a million things I haven’t done. But just you wait.
Come see the show! Ticket info here: