Wednesday, August 20, 2014

James Zager

An Interview with James Zager!          
[ Co-director of Master Class ] 

James Zager
What kind of research did you do to prepare for MASTER CLASS?

Since MASTER CLASS is based on a real event but is not an actual recounting of the event I spent a great deal of time looking at how Terrance McNally combined multiple students, 30 or so, into the three distinct characters we meet on stage.

You are co-directing the show with Jill Anna Ponasik. Please share a bit about the process and how it worked.

This is our 10th creative collaboration and each one has a slightly different configuration. We both have our strengths and we share a strong artistic sensibility so the real challenge is not talking at the same time or finishing each other’s sentences. For MASTER CLASS we started with Jill Anna focusing on the music and the classroom, with me on the text and technical elements, but once we got rolling we really shaped the show together.

MASTER CLASS is also in collaboration with Carroll University - where you are a professor. Could you share some details about that collaboration?

There are two main contributions; The projection surface, which is comprised of acoustic panels that came directly from our concert hall,and two fantastic student interns working as assistants to the stage manager and directors. This is a great experience for them to get a change to work at the professional level.

Although this is your MCT debut – you and your family have a long history with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre! Could you share that story and tell readers what it is like to now be working at MCT?

My parents have been involved with MCT since the very beginning and have been major supporters with both their time and money for 40 years. It is very possible that they will be serving a sundown supper between shows on a Saturday to this cast during the run. Besides getting to see so many of the early productions I myself participated in a number of 5 hour mailing prep sessions when I was home from college and licked more stamps for MCT than I care to remember! I sometimes wonder what they would have thought if their brash young son had said, between stuffing envelopes, that someday he would be directing at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

What aspects of the show are you most excited for patrons to see? What do you hope audiences take away from MASTER CLASS?

A look behind the curtain into a world that as preforming artists we are intimately familiar with but as audiences we never really get to see.

Melissa Cardamone

An Interview with Melissa Cardamone!    

                      [Sophie in Master Class]

Melissa Cardamone
Tell us a bit about your character, Sophie.

Sophie is a good, but not great singer. She is well-prepared, at least on the surface. She's an excellent student - her professors all enjoy her and she knows how to succeed in academia. Sophie has never really been challenged to dig deep and pour out her emotions. She wants to please Maria, but feels confused by all the stops and starts, and by the different filters through which Maria approaches the music, and she realizes she has so much more to learn than she has done so far. She goes through an emotional roller coaster, sinks into weeping despair, but eventually has an inkling as to what Callas wants from her. 

What did you do to prepare for this role? Any special studying or Maria Callas research?

I learned the entire aria my character presents, even though in the show I only get through a couple of phrases. :) Of course I read the script, learned my lines. We watched quite a few videos of Maria Callas to get a flavor of the real woman. My favorite was probably a snippet of the actual master classes she gave.

Is there anything fun or interesting about rehearsals and tech process that you would like to share with readers?

It is difficult as a singer to prepare an aria, then sing it not quite correctly so there are elements for Maria to shape and enhance. Especially difficult for me was to have poor diction. It is so ingrained in us singers to pronounce and project, to do the opposite is tricky! And since these students WERE chosen for the master class, it can't be TOO bad, or else it wouldn't make sense that they were selected to perform. 
Melissa Cardamone, Brian Myers & Angela Iannone

It was also interesting to participate in a show where the leading lady has done the role so many times and knows the show so completely and intimately.  The rest of us met the week prior to rehearsing with Angela in order to flesh out our characters on our own. That was valuable time spent. 

I also found it fascinating how much the show evolved in the transition from rehearsal room to the theater. The larger space rounded out the broader, more passionate emotions and I found them easier to digest as an audience member.  The lighting as well as the projections behind Maria give a glimpse into her memories and set the atmosphere for her flashbacks effectively. It was neat to see that transformation.

What aspects of the show are you most excited for patrons to see? What do you hope audiences take away from MASTER CLASS?

I think Angela Iannone is a force of nature. She is strong, frightening, vulnerable, funny and completely captivating. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission. She has done a ton of research into the woman who was Maria Callas. It's a little unsettling to be onstage with her -  that's how complete her embodiment of "La Divina" is. That being said, the entire ensemble has impressed me. I'm looking forward to sharing this story with an audience. There are so many insightful and acute observations in this show regarding singing and music, but also art in general. Hopefully audiences will be able to see what Maria expected out of students, and how much work and close attention the art of singing requires. As much as she expected out of her students, Maria expected even more out of herself.   

Alicia Berneche

An Interview with Alicia Berneche       
[ Sharon in Master Class

Alicia Berneche
Tell us a bit about your character, Sharon.

Sharon is the sleeper Maria Callas. She is a nice person, had a lovely childhood, and has had a fine life so far. None of this has given her grit, the grit one needs to survive a career in opera, especially the top eschelons of the art form. She has a ton of talent, but it is the drive, the guts she needs to succeed. 

What did you do to prepare for the role? Any special study or research of Maria Callas?

I had already studied Maria Callas as a student, reading handfuls of biographies to learn about this amazing and singular singer. She could do more standing still and emoting than anyone. I brushed up a bit, but I needed to come at this as someone who doesn't know her end, only the story to 1971. I also own the actual master classes on CD, so I re-listened to a few of the sessions again. But, as this is the fictionalized version of them, I needed to divorce myself from the real to what McNally dramatized. I also have been singing the Macbeth aria for months to get it in my voice. It is not an aria I would EVER sing in real life (it is for a MUCH heavier voice than mine), so I had to learn a healthy way of singing it in my voice but still sing it in the style and force of someone who would sing it without any doubt, and multiple times a week, no less!

Is there anything fun or interesting about the rehearsals and tech process that you would like to share with readers?
Alicia as Sharon in

It has been really interesting coming from an opera background into a straight theatre. There are slightly different conventions and language that we singers needed to learn, but it is heartening to know that we are all essentially the same in process and frustrations!   

What aspects of the show are you most excited for patrons to see?  What do you hope audiences take away from MASTER CLASS?

McNally has structured such a beautiful show. There are so many perfectly placed musical moments that echo what we are seeing and what we are about to see, so much mirroring of Callas' real life in her advice to the singers. It really explains the life of a singer and how truly singular Callas was to the art form. There are very few people who would truly give everything--their energy, time, money, love, EVERYTHING, for their art. Callas did that. It elevated her, but left her bereft and alone, and killed her in the end.