Thursday, May 10, 2012

Merete Muenter!



"A gentleman is a man who can describe a beautiful woman without taking his hands out of his pockets." 

Happy Thursday!

Listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrrong and anticipating a day of celebrating the arts. Last night, I went to the Encores opening night production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Megan Hilty and Rachel York. GO GO GO see this production. I am praying that they move this to Broadway AND record it! 
Everything about this production is glorious and I highly recommend it. I happen to know a thing or two about this show! 

Tonight, I'm seeing David Sabella-Mills in Jules at The Laurie Beechman. I'll let you know my thoughts tomorrow.

Today, I'm celebrating a woman of my past. We worked together in summer stock years ago. 

We remained in touch for a few years and then our lives drifted apart. We became Facebook friends sometime ago but truly haven't remained that in touch. Last Saturday, my blog feature was on Quinn Lemley in anticipation of her upcoming extravaganza in Brooklyn.
Merete is the choreographer of “Burlesque to Broadway” at the Millenium Theater in Brooklyn, New York, May 18th and 19th, 2012! 
Click HERE to read the blog on Quinn. Now, this falls into the small world category.Quinn suggested that I do a blog feature on her...so, here she is! Ladies and gentlemen, Merete Muenter!  

I began my interview by asking Merete who the most iconic person she has ever met and if that person lived up to her expectations. 
 
Merete has been fortunate to work with two iconic women in theater, who are very dear to her.  One is Baayork Lee, who was Michael Bennett's assistant for many years, including the show "A Chorus Line". She has been Merete's mentor since 2003.  She was the person who told Merete she should start directing, because she saw leadership qualities in Merete that she didn’t realize were there.  She took Merete overseas with her as her assistant director
Baayork Lee
for the European tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, and she taught Merete firsthand how to put a musical together. She educated Merete on how to cast the show, in what order to rehearse and set the dance numbers and block the scene work, how to discuss character choices with the cast and discover the meaning of each character, how to dress the stage with the actors and alter the show to suit the different venues they performed in on tour, how to use movement as well as stillness with the actors and dancers in the action on stage, what to look for in the lighting and sound, how to tech the show, etc...  When rehearsals were over and she had to return to the states, she left Merete in charge of the tour. It was a huge responsibility and she completely trusted Merete to keep the integrity of her work with the show intact. At the time, Merete told me she really needed that faith coming from someone like her in order to realize that she is capable of being in charge of a full production like that one.   

Quinn Lemley, Burlesque to Broadway
At that point, Merete had already become a choreographer, but directing had never crossed her mind. She always thought she would be a dancer in the chorus, and then transition into choreography since she always loved putting dances together. Baayork felt Merete had more to offer than that, even though she didn't see it myself. Merete owes what she is doing in theater today to her and her influence on Merete's work.  She pushes her to see the details in a production that the untrained eye may miss, but it is those details that raise the quality of a show from good to great.  Everything Merete learned from Baayork, she uses today when she is working with Quinn Lemley and the cast of “Burlesque to Broadway”, and she finds herself utilizing that training for every show she does.

Before Baayork left their European tour to head back to the states, she said only one thing to Merete: “Make the show better, Merete.” She has never forgotten that.  She trusted Merete to follow her instincts and observe Baayork's work and make improvements in her absence during the tour.  Baayork taught Merete that even if the show looks great, there is always something that needs more attention. Never be satisfied.  Despite her crazy schedule, Baayork still tries to attend a rehearsal or a show that Merete is doing whenever she can so she can note her progress and give her constructive feedback.  She is not only an invaluable teacher, she has become Merete's best friend.

Donna McKechnie
The second woman Merete mentions is Donna McKechnie. Merete had the pleasure of producing Donna's one-woman show called "My Musical Comedy Life".   
Merete tells me it was so rewarding working with someone like Donna, who has accomplished so much in her life, yet she remains so incredibly modest and disciplined.  Just because she has a Tony Award on her shelf doesn’t mean she sits back and takes it easy.   Merete could see the love and the attention to detail she put into telling her story, making sure that every glance she made and every note she sang had a purpose.  Observing Donna's work taught Merete so much about being a director and a choreographer, because Donna stays true to who she is and she isn't afraid to reveal her vulnerability.  Everything Donna did and said in her show had a reason behind it, and now as a director/choreographer, Merete is very conscious of making sure that every character choice and dance step being done in her productions has the right motivation to make it believable to the audience.  She also mentions how closely Donna listens to her director and paid such respect to Merete and the crew she had hired.  Donna is a lovely woman, a class act, and a wonderful friend.
Baayork and Donna both taught Merete how theater is not about achieving fame, fortune or Tony Awards.  Theater is all about the work and how to make the work better.  It is about putting the best show possible up on that stage so the audience leaves feeling as if they just experienced something extraordinary, and maybe even life-changing.  

Photo: Merete Muenter
Merete also mentions one other "iconic" person in her life, although she isn't famous, she is someone incredibly special and influencial. That woman is her mother, who has supported her and encouraged her to followher dream, even if she felt it was totally impractical.   It doesn't seem fair to Merete that she got to perform and direct/choreograph shows around the country and in beautiful countries in Europe, Africa, etc... and her mother wasn't there with her, when she really is the one who made so many efforts on Merete's behalf to begin with.  She sewed her dance recital costumes, she drove her to and from all of those dance classes and rehearsals, and she was always the one to take me shopping for leotards, tights and dance shoes as she was growing up.  If it wasn't for her and her support, Merete wouldn't be interviewing with me for this blog today.
 
Have you ever lost your concentration on stage? What caused it and how did you get back on track?
I honestly can't say I remember losing concentration on stage.  If I lost a dance step or a line, I was always able to improvise for a few seconds until I could get myself back on track.  I really don't think I have ever gotten completely thrown out of a scene or a dance.  I guess I have always been one to prepare myself to the point that I can do the job blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back.

What have you learned about making your relationships in the industry more solid and resourceful?
Networking is the key. It isn't necessarily what you know but who you know who can help you to get work. Also, keeping a good reputation and being a positive person to work with is very valuable.  You want to be known as a team player. You have to be able to take constructive criticism as a positive thing and not a personal thing.  Constructive criticism is only given so your work can improve, and not because someone wants to insult your work. There is a big difference.  Also, don't burn bridges. Those burnt bridges will come back to haunt you, especially now since social media makes communication so easy and immediate.  If you push people over on your way up, they won’t be there to help you if you fall later on. 
A little stamina, determination, ambition, and a strong belief in yourself doesn’t hurt, either!

Merete's thoughts on Arts in Education
The Arts in Education is so important to carry on the traditions and culture of theater in our children. It influenced me so much as a child to see musicals, plays, ballets, movies, etc…Some of my fondest memories from high school are from when I was in the annual
Joe Langworth, Merete Muenter, Jim Jones
school musical every year. I can’t imagine how dull my life would have been growing up without the arts, and it breaks my heart when I hear about children in schools receiving no music, dance or theater education.  Inspiring freedom of expression and creativity in the young is what shapes our future and furthers our progress. 
 
There are so many positions out there that require artistry and creativity, such as marketing and advertising, graphic design, and even teaching and public speaking.  The Arts influences so many things that we do on a daily basis that robbing children of those influences could result in their not getting their dream profession in the future, or they may not even know these professions exist. 
 
The Arts represents our culture.  They can be used to communicate health, political and social issues, as well as to carry on the classics in theater, literature and history to our future generations.  It pushes the boundaries of expression and helps children to say something in song, dance, poetry, music, literature and art, that they may have trouble saying otherwise.  They not only need the Arts as an outlet for creativity, but also as a way of communication.

What one role would you like to play that you would never be cast in and why?
 Bernardo in “West Side Story”.  Clearly, I am not male or Puerto Rican! But I love this role because of the ambition and passion within Bernardo to succeed and live a happy life in what is his new country, and the love and protection he displays for his family, Anita, and his fellow Sharks.  Not to mention, he also gets to dance some of the best choreography ever created for stage and film!
 
What life lessons did you learn from your parents?
They taught me to be independent and to rely on myself more than others to take care of things in my life.  They also stressed the importance of remembering to say thank you to people who have been generous and have helped me along the way. 

I’m campaigning for Carol Channing to receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor in 2012. If you agree that she should receive this honor, can you say why you think this should happen
Hasn’t she won this honor already?!! What is taking so long?! Absolutely Carol Channing should receive the Kennedy Center Honor in 2012!  She has been graciously entertaining audiences for decades with her talent, humor and the obvious love she has for her work.
She is a living legend, and a living example of what a performer and a professional should be.
 
How do you chose what roles you desire to do?
 I think it is important to choose a role that will challenge you and help you to grow as a performer.  
 
What is your biggest success in Show Business?
Being the choreographer for “Burlesque to Broadway” with Quinn Lemley!

What would you tell your 25 year old self?
When making important decisions, remember to follow your heart and not your head. 

What one change would you like to  see in today’s industry?
Speaking as a choreographer, one thing I have noticed in recent years with dancers is the evidence of the lack of basic ballet training. 
  It surprises me how many dancers call themselves dancers, when they can’t do a simple double pirouette or understand basic arm and leg placements.  When I was studying dance, I took ballet before I would take any other class, because I knew that would build a strong foundation for me to do other types of dance.  But now it seems to me that so many dancers just skip the basics and go right to hip hop, modern or jazz classes without having any ballet training to back it up.
 It is obvious when you work with a dancer and they don’t understand general body placement, and how they should hold their arms, head and hands. I’m not saying this about all the dancers I have worked with who are from a younger generation.  I am just seeing this lack of basics more often now than when I was studying dance consistently.
 
I wish the importance of learning the basics was stressed more to those who want to pursue dance as a career.

Do you consider what you wear on stage for your show a costume? Or is it just clothing to you?
I would like to say both.  First, I would say costume, because somebody in the costume department took great care to create that costume for you, and it should be treated with respect and care when you are wearing it and also when you aren’t. I have been horrified in the past seeing how some actors treat their costumes, leaving them lying around in a heap in the dressing room or kicking them into a corner. I can only imagine how the wardrobe person feels when they come into the dressing rooms and they have to pick up wrinkled costumes from the floor, knowing that they toiled over these costumes to make them beautiful for the actor who is wearing them. That to me is so disrespectful.
Additionally, a costume can really help you to become the character you are portraying when you are wearing the clothing of that character. 
I also consider it clothing, because if you are immersed in the character you are playing, what you are wearing should just feel like a natural part of you and your personality, and not like something you have just put on to wear on stage for a couple of hours. 

Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
Yes!
 
What makes you unhappy?
When I have worked very hard on a project, it is very disappointing when I am overlooked and other people get the credit for my efforts, especially after I have put my heart and soul into something. But that’s life and that is going to happen.  However, I have come to realize that something good always seems to come out of something bad, and there are lessons to be learned.  I have gotten a much thicker skin because of the disappointments I have had, and perhaps it is that thick skin that has allowed me to stick with theater this long.
 
How has the industry changed since you made your debut?
Musical Theater and theater audiences have evolved and changed, and therefore tastes have changed in terms of what kinds of singers and dancers today’s directors and choreographers are looking for, and what kinds of singing and dancing skills are necessary in order for performers to get the job.  I also find that performers, directors and choreographers have to learn now more than ever how be good business people.  Representation can be hard to come by in an industry that is so competitive, and you have to really know what your strengths are and how to promote yourself in order to get a job.
 
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to create your own work, so I see a lot of performers creating their own shows and producing them on their own instead of auditioning and waiting for someone else to cast them in something. 
 
Technology has also made the industry much more immediate. People use websites now, as well as Youtube, Facebook, etc…in order to get exposure to get work.  It used to be that if you weren’t in town for an audition, then you were out of luck.  Now, I notice actors are often submitting video auditions so they can still be considered for work across the country.  To me it isn’t quite the same as a live audition, but a video audition can still get someone a callback for an opportunity they may have lost out on otherwise. 
 
With Knud Muenter, Eirin Muenter and Cecilia Muenter Cox.
When I first moved to New York, everyone had black and white headshots.  If you see a black and white headshot now, you would think that person lives in the Stone Age.  It is imperative to have color photos today, otherwise you will make yourself look out of date and obsolete.  I have even heard that casting offices throw out black and white headshots that are mailed to their offices, because they don’t want to be bothered with performers who don’t appear to be taking care of their careers and keeping up with the times. 
 
How on earth do you reach theatregoers now that newspapers are obsolete and there are so many channels on TV you can’t pick the right ones to advertise on and with the web being so hit and miss.
I think you have to really know your target audience for your show, so you know where to focus your advertising and what publications and TV stations would have the greatest interest in what you are doing.I find Facebook is a big help in terms of reaching a large number of people.  Everyone seems to check Facebook, and it is used so widely for marketing nowadays. 
 When I am out at a social event and someone is plugging their show to me, they are always saying “Check out our Facebook page”. 
  I also still go for the old-fashioned word of mouth advertising, and the passing out of postcards promoting your show which lists all the specifics about the dates, times, and location of the production.
I always have cards on me for the project I am currently working on, just in case an opportunity arises where I am talking with someone about it and they want to have the information handy. 

A genie pops out of the lamp, he grants you three wishes. What are those wishes?
1. To be happy.
2.  To be surrounded by friends and family I love.
3. To feel fulfilled by the choices I made in my life.

Thoughts about where you are RIGHT NOW in your career
I feel like I am headed in the right direction, and I am totally enjoying this journey I am taking.  As hokey as it sounds, I just want to keep learning and growing as an artist and as a person. 

Is your priority in your career doing the work or being famous
DOING THE WORK!

What do you do to prepare for your performances?
Choreograph, train, and rehearse, in no particular order!
 
You do an iconic role. Do you think you should on to an iconic costume piece as a memento OR donate it to a museum for others to enjoy?
I hope to do an iconic role or an iconic show someday!  I guess when and if that happens, I can decide then how I feel about keeping mementos or donating them.

Have you shared any love today? (From Myles Savage)
Yes!

What is your fondest Memory?
Watching my parents dance together. 

Thank you Jennie and David for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world! Much success at The Triad next Wednesday night!





Your devoted fan,



NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!

May 11
7-9pm
BARNES AND NOBLE UPPER EAST SIDE, 150 East 86th Street

RICHARD SKIPPER CELEBRATES PEGGY POPE!
In her new acting memoir, "Atta Girl: Tales from a Life in the Trenches of Show Business", the Obie-winning actress Peggy Pope (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peggy_Pope) details an eventful life in the theater, film and television spanning over five decades. But unlike most celebrity tell-alls, this thoughtful and deeply personal account brings to light the trials and experiences of the vast majority of actors, those who either flirt with stardom or play supporting roles throughout their careers. Richard Skipper and Peggy Pope are sitting down for an exploration of Peggy's incredible career in show business. Email me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com for more info.


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
                 
Tomorrow's blog will be..Liberace!


Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!



  
Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!







TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

This Blog is dedicated to Harlan Boll and Al Koenig! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!




2 comments:

  1. This was a fantastic post, Richard! The line that really resonated with me was when Ms. Muenter spoke about how Donna McKechnie likes to work, when she said that "Everything Donna did and said in her show had a reason behind it. . . ." It is a helpful tip for all cabaret entertainers to remember!

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  2. She sounds like a wonderful person. Not only well grounded but loves and lives life to the fullest.
    Cheers,
    Stephan

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