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BILL DYSZEL - THE INTERNET ATE MY BRAIN at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre March 31st

COMING UP: Bill Dyszel brings his award-winning show THE INTERNET ATE MY BRAIN to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights on Saturday, March 31, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, visit: bit.ly/BillDyszel or call: 847.577.2121

Read more about the show in our Q & A feature originally published May 4, 2017 in advance of Dyszel's appearance at Davenport's in Chicago. 

BILL DYSZEL - THE INTERNET ATE MY BRAIN

Ever feel like you want to throw your cell phone away, but then realize you need to call someone to tell them where you are? Was the last time you ended an argument with a Google search around lunchtime today? How many pairs of shoes did Amazon send to you before you actually wore them? More...

If you are a keen social observer like Bill Dyszel, there is a good chance that you already know how amazingly dependent we are on the internet, that highway of information and practical applications that make life so easy we often forget to actually live it in real time. Dyszel, an accomplished opera singer who has written and is performing The Internet Ate My Brain at Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret on May 14th, is an expert on the topic. He is the author of a growing list of 20 books that includes Microsoft Outlook for Dummies, the popular series of self-help manuals that age like a fine wine with every new version. As we found out in our Q & A this week, in between the finer points of making our lives more efficient in his real job, Dyszel has developed his own special brand of musical commentary about the way we live our lives in the social media age.

We also found out that Bill Dyszel's manic, fresh and inventive style is perfectly suited for the intimate stage at Davenport's. The multimedia show, with musical director Beckie Menzie, is loaded with masterful parodies on a range of comic viewpoints about Amazon, Google, WebMD and a particularly hilarious take on selfies. Dyszel's New York performance was named a Top Ten show by Theater Pizzazz and won a coveted nomination for the Broadway World NY Cabaret Award for Best Musical Comedy.

We caught up with Bill Dyszel to pose a few questions in advance of the Davenport's appearance.

Q & A with Bill Dyszel

ET:
Is it safe to say that you straddle two very different worlds: by day, the mild-mannered reporter who dissects complex software upgrades so the rest of us don’t have to, and, by night, a kinetic, hilarious, dialed-up and tuned-in cabaret performer whose laser-sharp musical parodies and original material hit at the heart of our Internet-based world? Or, is there another Bill Dyszel that we do not see as often?
BD: There’s also the content marketing guy who creates lots of business communications material that sells stuff to big companies. It’s not as funny, but it pays better. Now and again there’s also an opera singer, a task that is much less serious than it often looks.

ET: How did the book writing project begin?
BD: I wrote for lots of computer magazines in the heyday of titles like PC Magazine and Computer Shopper, mostly doing product reviews, etc. I reviewed Microsoft Outlook in its first release, and kept covering it ever since.

ET: How much of a program like Outlook does an average person use? There are some obvious priorities, but talk about a couple of features that you were surprised more people don’t use.
BD: I doubt that most people use more than 10 percent of what’s in there. Part of that is because Microsoft used to add flashy new features every 2 to 3 years as a competitive practice. Some of those features stayed in the product, no matter whether they were widely adopted. Most people don’t use the task list much, but it’s a great way to stay on top of all the little chores we all need to do every day. I like the Notes feature, which is where you can keep random scribblings of things you’d like to remember. Microsoft wants people to use One Note for that, but I think the Outlook version is more helpful because it’s right there with your email.

ET: There does not appear to be a lot of IT in the opera world. How has your opera career influenced your musical interests now and what prompted the transition to the very unique and original style you have developed?
BD: It’s hard to say what influences what—do I prefer “legit” sounding music because I did opera, or the other way around? Hard to say. I do prefer performing music that incorporates good vocalism. I’ve also always enjoyed classical music comedians like Victor Borge and PDQ Bach, but I like extending that kind of humor to non-musical topics.

ET: You have performed TIAMB multiple times in New York and Skokie. How has the show been adapted to fit in the smaller and more intimate backroom at Davenport’s on May 14th?
BD: The approach is substantially similar, except that in smaller rooms like Davenport’s in Chicago or Don’t Tell Mama in New York, I have to rig my own tech and run my own cues. The show has some lecture/demo qualities, anyway, so it isn’t a problem. The smaller room also makes audience interaction easier, because audience members aren’t so far from the stage.

ET: Do you consider TIAMB a comedy show with music or a cabaret show with comedy?
BD: It’s comedy with music, the comedy comes first.

ET: Why?
BD: The show only achieves its goals if the comedic parts land right. The comedic material conveys the meaning of the show.

Bill Dyszel brings his award-winning show THE INTERNET ATE MY BRAIN to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights on March 31, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, visit: bit.ly/BillDyszel or call: 847.577.2121

ET: There is an interactive element to the show. Can you give us an idea about what is in store?
BD: One goal of the show is to provide an experience that couldn’t be duplicated online. Much of that revolves around allowing audience members to interact with each other, face-to-face, in a way that they can’t online. I don’t want a performance that could be replaced by an online video. There are billions of those. This is about the unique value of live performance and live events involving live, in-person interaction.

ET: Conservatively, you have written over 100 songs and song parodies. What are two or three elements of a good parody?
BD: In my view, a good parody adds a new layer of meaning of the original material while also exposing an unexpected resemblance with the topic of the parody. I like to retain as much of the language and structure of the original material as I can, while creating a new meaning with the result. There is a tendency for people to write parodies so that they don’t have to write music. Sometimes that works, but I prefer parodies that honor the original material in some way. Those yield a much richer and compelling result.

ET: When you are doing your show, what are the three most important rules to follow?
BD:
1.       Relax—if the performer is having fun, the audience will, too.
2.       Respect the audience—The interactive segments allow audience members to express their opinions, and they should feel safe and respected in doing so.
3.       Check your fly.

ET: Any other careers we have failed to mention?
BD: I’ve done enough odd little things than I can’t remember them all—radio announcer, improv actor, Navy officer, filmmaker…That should probably be another show sometime.

ET: Thank you for your service. What’s up next?
BD: I don’t think this piece is completely mature yet, it’s always growing. I may push more on developing the blog at TheIntenetAteMyBrain.com and expand that to see where it goes. With any luck, the blog and the show could feed into each other.

RICH DANIELS: MAKING MAGIC – ELLA & LENA: The Ladies and Their Music

Rich Daniels and The City Lights Orchestra return to the Auditorium Theatre on November 17th for ELLA & LENA: The Ladies and Their Music, a centennial concert celebration of Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne.

Chicago vocalist and producer Joan Curto will be joined by many of Chicago’s top artists including E. Faye Butler, Beckie Menzie, Tammy McCann, Paul Marinaro, Tom Michael and Sophie Grimm with a 17-piece orchestra featuring songs from the Great American Songbook.

For over 4 decades, Daniels and his orchestra have been featured together with a long and distinguished list of music greats including Ray Charles, Mel Torme, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, Frankie Laine and many more. Daniels has been touring recently with the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration and has been engaged with the hit TV series “Empire” for the past four years.

Rich Daniels joined us for a spirited conversation on November 2nd to talk about the early days, his first big band at Brother Rice High School, the upcoming Auditorium show and developing opportunities for the next generation of musicians.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST      RICH DANIELS WEBSITE      RESERVE TICKETS

The profound musical influence of Jim Moore … “Beyond the family, my parents who were amazing, and friends, there was a man named Jim Moore. He was a trumpet player and he never made his living as a musician… He was in the clothing industry, an executive at Hart Schaffner Marx and other organizations like that. … Jim was a wonderful, giving man who played in an Army Air Force jazz band in the 1950’s. … He saved all of his arrangements and he carried them forward. … He reminded me of Cary Grant, the way he dressed, the way he held himself … a tall man who spoke beautifully and eloquently. I met him when I was 14 because his son, Michael Moore (‘the writer, not the filmmaker’) became one of my dearest friends. Jim would spend weekends and weeknights rehearsing with the band. I have a stack of letters that I keep to this day where he would encourage, support and take me to task if he saw that things were not going as they should. He was a tremendous influence on myself and many, many there young people of that time.”

On inherent ability … “It is a blend. Hard work is something you cannot take away from any artist, or someone who pursues the arts. It is required. But, there has to be an inherent ability, at some level, that is worth nurturing. There are certain things in music, and I assume in other disciplines, too, that you cannot teach people. They either have an understanding, they have that quality, that talent, you can nurture along, or they don’t.

Developing talent … One of the thrills for me on the television show “Empire” is that I am allowed to hire the young talent that we are going to put on camera and we have put over 300 young people on camera over four seasons. It is an amazing opportunity for them … film and television are a new commodity to Chicago. They have been here forever – films being made, television – but nothing to the extent currently. The movie studio Cinespace, 51 acres of movie studios, 30 sound stages, “Empire” is 9 of the 30 stages … the largest show on television now for 20th Century Fox. The opportunity for young people has been amazing on this show. Really rewarding for them and for us to bring them forward and let them shine. …musicians, composers, singers, and a wide range of disciplines that these young people bring forward aside from their musical skills. They are all quick to want to tell us what they are doing, how they can help. … It is great to see this huge appetite for opportunity … great for Chicago to have an infrastructure to support that. Cinespace has been marvelous. There are eight shows shooting there right now and it is only going to grow."

Advice to artists about the risks of overexposure on the internet … “The internet is here to stay. We all know that. It is not going anywhere. The thing I caution about is giving too much away on the internet, so that it no longer becomes a salable commodity … some day you may want to have a family, some day you may want to do something that will support yourself with your art and if you give it all away and you continue that pattern, it is going to be hard to monetize it and make a living at it. I hate to sound like the guy who is jaded around the edges, because I am not, but I want them to have a realistic picture of what their art means and how they should view it. Giving it away is not the best thing all of the time … there are certain opportunities … the internet is rampant with music and film and clips, so it’s important to do that, but you need to think about the future and how you are going to move forward. They are going to move forward in ways that you and I do not even know because they are going to outlive us and the community of how music is disseminated and programmed is going to go well beyond our imagination. So, they have to do it with caution."

ELLA & LENA at the Auditorium Theatre on Friday, November 17th… “Joan Curto is to be given a lot of credit for what she has created at the Auditorium. These annual concerts have great value … This is the centennial of Ella and Lena; they would have both turned 100 years old this year. Joan came up with the notion that we would celebrate Ela Fitzgerald and Lena Horne. The show is going to have seven wonderful singers – Joan Curto, E. Faye Butler, Beckie Menzie, Tammy McCann, Paul Marinaro, Tom Michael and Sophie Grimm – a big band … a traditional jazz ensemble of 17 musicians in the style of Goodman, Basie, Miller, Dorsey, Ellington … the theatre is magnificent. The Auditorium is one of the great palaces in the world acoustically, visually, take your pick. I like the fact that we do the entire show in front of the proscenium … we set the orchestra and the singers up in front so that we’re even closer to the audience because a lot of music can be very intimate. … Last year was very well received. … Hat’s off to Joan and Beckie Menzie(music director) for all the hard work, time and energy they have put into creating the program with the arranger, Bobby Ojeda. … It is going to be a really memorable evening. The music is going to be tremendous. The audience is going to love the selections. The artists are all geared up for it. It is a wonderful opportunity for people, especially for those who want to be exposed to this music for the first time in a live setting. Live music is something that in many ways is not as popular as it used to be. When people get a chance to experience it, they should and they can and they do find it very special. Very magical.

The orchestral arrangements … “Bobby (Ojeda) had years on the road with the Count Basie Orchestra. He is well-known and beloved in the Chicagoland area … a mature gentleman, lots of skills, a trumpet player. Once the singers and Joan decide on the selections, then they get together with Beckie to work out the song, the keys, all the things that are necessary, then they send that information to Bobby and he creates the orchestrations for the instrumentation we have agreed upon.”

The secret of success – work hard; arrive early … “Years ago, I would only look for the best possible players who were acknowledged in the community to be part of a program because everyone said, “These are the guys. These are the ladies. These are the people you want to use because they are the best.’ Well, ‘the best’ do not always represent the ‘best person’ for the job, and there are other attributes I look for in individuals when we bring them in on a show or any opportunity. Some of it is their ability to be on time, the ability to communicate, play well with others, their ability to be part of a cohesive unit … if you show up on time, for a gig, you are late. Showing up at 9:00 o’clock for a 9:00 o’clock gig doesn’t work. You have to be early. You have to prepare yourself … do whatever is necessary to get ready for that performance. … All those little things you begin to value more and more as you get older and realize there is so much more to a good performance than someone who can play their instrument at the highest level possible.”

The simplicity of a performance … “The goal is for the audience to have no idea how the sausage is made. We like to think that people realize that this didn’t just happen. If it looks effortless, then we have succeeded in what we are trying to do in the presentation that evening.”

PODCAST

Comments have been edited for length and clarity

ELLA & LENA: The Ladies and Their Music
The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
Friday, November 17, 2017
7:30 p.m.
Honoring the centennials of music icons Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne
Featuring: Joan Curto, E. Faye Butler, Beckie Menzie, Tammy McCann, Paul Marinaro, Tom Michael, and Sophie Grimm and Rich Daniels and the City Lights Orchestra.
For information and tickets
auditoriumtheatre.org
312.341.2300

Visit the CONVERSATIONS ARCHIVE or iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher for conversations with Joan Curto, E. Faye Butler, Tammy McCann, Paul Marinaro and more. 

2017 JEFF AWARDS - A LETTER FROM RON KEATON

 “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire

Our Conversation this week comes in the form of a letter from Ron Keaton. Ron agreed to step in when business called me out of town. It was a chance for Ron to give his unique point of view on a big night of recognition for Chicago's professional theatre community and share comments from award recipients in many of the categories. Congratulations to all of the truly exceptional performers and productions honored at the 2017 Equity Jeff Awards ceremony on November 6th at Drury Lane. And, thanks for your memories of the night, Ron!  Ed  

“To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with. – Mark Twain

Hello Ed,

As you know, when you asked me to fill in and report on the 2017 Jeff Awards while you were out of town, I said “Sure. Happy to do it.”  I attended in a totally different role. For the moment, I was a unique part of the Fourth Estate. An observer who helps to sum up this particular occasion for those who peek in from the outside, while, at the same time, providing a bit of insider’s perspective. 

Suddenly I was struck with a bit of fear. Me?  ME?  Who in the world would care what I had to say?  I went straight to that place that worries about what others had to say about what I had to say.  It took a little time to remind myself that it was never about me, but about others in the room, and what they share – what we all share – in the theatre.

The night was filled with terrific performances from the nominated shows. I began to realize that all the talent, all the work, the commitment, ALL of it comes from a place of cathartic love and joy. This year’s Jeff Awards had its share of emotional release and connection, leaving folks pretty high.

So, Ed, in addition to listing the recipients, allow me to highlight, in as much of their own words as possible, what I mean.

Here we go:

2017 EQUITY JEFF AWARDS     PHOTO GALLERY|BILL RICHERT

I truly enjoyed Anish Jethmalani and Mierka Gierken who were both constant, charming hosts throughout the entire evening.

NEW PLAY
Michael Cristofer - “Man in the Ring” – Court Theatre
Lauren Gunderson/Margot Melcon – “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” – Northlight Theatre
Antoinette Nwandu - “Pass Over” – Steppenwolf Theatre

ORIGINAL MUSIC
Orbert Davis – “Paradise Blue” – Timeline Theatre Company
“I was hoping someone else would speak first, so I’d know what to do! ... I’m totally out of my league here. … This is such an incredible experience.”

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Marton Csokas – “Uncle Vanya” – Goodman Theatre

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Kymberly Mellen
– “The Columnist” – American Blues Theater
“First person I need to thank is my husband; we’ll be married 22 years this month! ... There is no way I could do anything I do without that man!”

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
E. Faye Butler – “Chicago The Musical” – Drury Lane Productions

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
Jonathan Butler Duplessis – “Parade” – Writers Theatre

Oh, Ed…I have to stop here and tell you, it was like a churning machine of infectious joy. Jonathan couldn’t stop, and people didn’t want him to stop. 

He kept jumping up and down: 

“NONE of this was supposed to happen! None of it! ... I wanna thank so many people right now … I wanna thank my beautiful girlfriend right over there!  I wanna thank my grandmother, who we had to take two weeks to get her here tonight!”

And he certainly thanked all the right people profusely.  But then, and I’ve never seen anything like it, I had a special vantage point, sitting right behind Kathleen, his girlfriend, and his grandmother.  When Jonathan returned to his seat, he gave the award to his grandmother.  He got down on his knees.  He laid his head down in her lap.  And cried.  Probably five minutes, the young man cried with joy, his grandmother’s arms all around him.  I was almost embarrassed at witnessing this family exchange. But what a privilege I had, watching this utter, absolute joy.

SCENIC DESIGN – LARGE/MIDSIZE
Jeffrey D. Kmiec
– “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre (LARGE)
Joe Schermoly – “Naperville” – Theater Wit (MIDSIZE)

LIGHTING DESIGN – LARGE/MIDSIZE
Nick Belley/Jesse Klug
– “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre (LARGE)
Cat Davis – “The River Bride” – Halcyon Theatre (MIDSIZE)

Steve Scott.jpg

COSTUME DESIGN – LARGE/MIDSIZE
Theresa Ham
– “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre (LARGE)
Kristy Leigh Hall – “Pygmalion” – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company (MIDSIZE)

SOUND DESIGN – LARGE/MIDSIZE
Andre Pluess – “Man in the Ring” – Court Theatre (LARGE)

Grover Hollway – “The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz” – The House Theatre Of Chicago (MIDSIZE)

PROJECTIONS DESIGN
Mike Tutaj – “Objects in the Mirror” – Goodman Theatre

PUPPET DESIGN
Jesse Mooney-Bullock – “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre

SPECIAL JEFF AWARD – Steve Scott
A Special Jeff Award was presented on the occasion of Scott’s retirement after 37 years at the Goodman Theatre, a person we need among us at all times and one I hope to be when I grow up – a teacher who never stops learning. The award was presented by David Liesse, the Jeff Committee chair, and by Roche Schulfer and Robert Falls of the Goodman Theatre. 

Steve Scott: “We do work that is difficult and truthful and honest – and for the respect that we all deserve as artists and as citizens.” …“We can never assume viciousness in our world today, when the problem is actually ignorance.” … “We must never forget that, though our rehearsal rooms are safe spaces, our theatres by their very definition, are not … and that the most potent weapon we have in dealing with those who don’t agree with us is empathy – our ability to understand what ties us together as human beings.”

SOLO PERFORMANCE
Linda Reiter – “Rose” – The Greenhouse Theater Center in association with Forum Productions
After a joyful “whoop!” and following Steve Scott, who directed this production: “Well, I was trying to get this under a minute, but, apparently, we have a really long time now. Yay!”

ENSEMBLE (Sponsored by Actor’s Equity Association)
“East Texas Hot Links” – Writers Theatre

CHOREOGRAPHY
Matthew Crowle
– “Crazy for You” – Drury Lane Productions
“My Mom and Dad are here tonight … You never missed a dance recital. And you never missed an opening night.  And the older I get, the more I realize how rare that is … and how profoundly fortunate I am.”

MUSIC DIRECTION
Tom Vendafreddo – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre

DIRECTOR PLAY (The Michael Maggio Award)
Ron OJ Parson – “Blues for an Alabama Sky” – Court Theatre

DIRECTOR – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Jim Corti – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre

ACTOR IN A REVUE
Austin Cook – “Marry Me A Little” – Porchlight Music Theatre

ACTRESS IN A REVUE
Michelle Lauto
– “Spamilton” – Royal George Theatre
“So many times, in theatre, women are resigned to playing shallow archetypes and don’t get to show off their most bold, dynamic, fun selves. I played thirteen characters in 80 minutes, and I spent most of that time making ugly faces and doing funny voices; there was no love story and I never did a ballad about whether I was missing something. It was just bliss!”

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Angela Ingersoll
– “End of the Rainbow” – Porchlight Music Theatre
“I made a wish on a Christmas star two years ago; that was the little voice in my head that I couldn’t stop hearing.  I believe that is God’s will and believe in that, because then the dreams you dream really do come true!”

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Alex Weisman
– “Hand to God” – Victory Gardens Theater
“…this play is about an absent father and a silent mother, and I have a very present father and a very loud mother! ... and the greatest thrill of my life is getting to take you to my Broadway debut!”

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Paul Jordan-Jansen
– “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre*

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICALKathy Voytko – “The Bridges of Madison County” – Marriott Theatre
“Wow! ... Thank you, Jeff Committee … I got my Equity card here in Chicago in 1996, and for me, Chicago is home. Alex Weisman, Broadway is great, but Chicago is home!”

PRODUCTION – REVUE
“Smokey Joe’s Café” – Drury Lane Productions
Artistic Director William Osetek: “…most especially we want to thank Marcia Milgrom Dodge (the director of the production) … Marcia took a review and created character and relationship and story without adding a word of dialogue or changing anything … I know my work will be forever better by having worked with Marcia.”

PRODUCTION – MUSICAL (LARGE) – The Dr. Harlan Haimes Award
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (Large) – Paramount Theatre
Artistic Director Jim Corti: “Lord knows our world is going through hell right now. If only we could show more love out there, like the love in this room.”

PRODUCTION – MUSICAL (MIDSIZE)
“The Scottsboro Boys” (Midsize) – Porchlight Music Theatre

Assistant Director Wardell Julius Clark: “I’m standing here on behalf of Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. (the 34 year-old director of the production who passed away this past May after a 25-year battle with leukemia)…This was a labor of love from Sam; he was insistent on being a social justice activist and telling our stories our way, unapologetically.”

PRODUCTION – PLAY (LARGE/MIDSIZE)
“Blues for an Alabama Sky” – Court Theatre (LARGE)

Artistic Director Charles Newell: “…Ron OJ Parson helped us change the way we look at classics. It changed our audience…and it garnered your respect.  Thank you all!”

“Born Yesterday” – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company (MIDSIZE)
Artistic Director Nick Sandys: “We chose this play in 2015, because we thought it might have relevance in November 2016 … it had a HUGE amount of relevance!”

  RONALD KEATON won a 2015 Jeff Award for CHURCHILL in the Solo Performance category.  He will be appearing in the Mercury Theatre production of THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER November 24-December 31. More at:    www.solochicagotheatre.com

RONALD KEATON won a 2015 Jeff Award for CHURCHILL in the Solo Performance category.  He will be appearing in the Mercury Theatre production of THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER November 24-December 31. More at: www.solochicagotheatre.com

Ed, I wonder often if people really understand how the arts affect their lives.  When you’re smack in the middle of it, it becomes more than a job.  It’s a calling, one that addresses every aspect of life right down to that first cup of coffee in the morning.  I have tried to share a bit of that here with you and with my fellow artists.  I can’t remember who said it, but the saying goes:

 “The truly committed artist goes to where the work is, where the people are … and simply goes to work.”

Cheers!
Ron

Comments have been edited for length and clarity. Images courtesy of Jeff Awards/Bill Richert Photography.

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For more information about the Jeff Awards, including a complete list of nominees and recipients, visit the website at: JEFF AWARDS

You can listen to CONVERSATIONS with Steve ScottAngela Ingersoll, Matt Crowle, E. Faye Butler and more in our Archive at Conversations with Ed Tracy. Check out PicksinSix.

BRENDA DIDIER - PORCHLIGHT'S BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL

For Brenda Didier, directing Porchlight Music Theatre's production of Billy Elliot The Musical is like coming home again. The show opens the company's 23rd season in their new digs at the Ruth Page Center in Chicago a place that is very familiar to Didier. She has vivid memories as a young dance student. And perhaps most helpful, particularly to the story of Billy Elliot, is rekindling the excitement she experienced realizing her own dream that began when she was eight years old. It all started somewhat by accident, as the best stories always do, and is turning out to be the journey of a lifetime.

  Billy Elliot the musical - Lincoln Seymour and Shanésia Davis Photo: Michael Courier

Billy Elliot the musical - Lincoln Seymour and Shanésia Davis Photo: Michael Courier

Brenda and Ed.jpg
  Billy Elliot the musical - Jacob Kaiser and Shanésia DavisPhoto: Michael Courier

Billy Elliot the musical - Jacob Kaiser and Shanésia DavisPhoto: Michael Courier

That journey is a successful career as a professional dancer, choreographer, director and, along the way, owner of the Lincolnshire Academy of Dance, now in its 20th season. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards including two dozen Jeff award nominations, for which she has received an even split of six each for her choreography and directing in theaters throughout Chicago. The secret to this success, she admits freely, is that this collaborative art form is really all about communication and respect. The best idea in the room always wins she says.  And when you are working with the most creative and talented performers that Chicago has to offer, you can bet that there are lots of ideas flying around.

All of that enthusiasm, collaboration and goodwill have seeded a long-standing relationship and string of critically acclaimed projects with Porchlight Music Theatre including Ain't Misbehavin', Forum, In the Heights and the 2016 hit Dreamgirls.

On September 7th, as rehearsals were just getting underway, we spoke with Didier about the move to the Ruth Page, inspiring students to follow their passion and what it is like to work with the largest cast ever assembled in Porchlight's history.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST  LIBSYN

On the cast of Billy Elliot-The Musical… “There are 18 adults in the ensemble and 17 children and they are from all walks of life. When I look at the cast, I don’t think about actors in musical theatre, children, they look like people in a town, community, village outside of London. They look like real people, they act like real people and that’s what is going to resonate. … The talent that came out was incredible.”

  Porchlight's 23rd Season opens October 6th at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts

Porchlight's 23rd Season opens October 6th at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts

The story … “It takes place in a north England town, a small town. It is fiction, but the 1984 miner’s strike is very prevalent … so, it is a community of people, they are on strike, they are poor, they are blue collar, they go through a lot of loss as a town. Billy has lost his mother and is dealing with a grieving father and an angry older brother, a senile grandmother. He stumbles upon a ballet class by accident when he is supposed to be boxing and he finds out that he has a love of dance, by chance. There is a dance teacher and she takes an interest in him. It is about getting behind children in the arts and supporting their dreams no matter what.”

The early days … “I did gymnastics … I actually hated dance. My best friend across the street, Karen, took ballet. Mom wanted me to go with her one day. So I went. I couldn’t stand it. I felt trapped. I liked gymnastics because I could do all the tumbling … I did a lot of kick boxing … played baseball. So, I went to ballet by chance. Hated the whole year but I didn’t quit. Then the recital happened and Ms. Campbell looked at all the eight year-old girls and said ‘Who want to be up front?’ and all the other girls were afraid and I said I would. So, the recital day comes around, I put on the tutu and the curtain rolls open and all of a sudden, that was it! The applause. You couldn’t get me off stage. At that moment, it would all change. I wanted to be on stage and everything else went away.”   

On the move to Ruth Page … “It is very exciting. It is very challenging. It is a big step … to take this company to the next level and introduce a new area of Chicago to Porchlight.”

En Pointe … “there is something beautiful about just losing yourself in classical music through ballet en pointe.”

BRENDA DIDIER WEBSITE

PORCHLIGHT MUSIC THEATRE
BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL
October 6th through November 19th
The Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N Dearborn, Chicago
WEBSITE TICKETS PODCAST
773-777-9884
LINCOLNSHIRE ACADEMY OF DANCE

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