Sunday, October 14, 2012

Patti Cohenour

Photo by Thomas Bliss
When you look in the mirror, always like what you see. Be principled in everything you do.
-Patti Cohenour's Father

The above quote from Patti’s father is pretty much the personal philosophy that Patti lives by and as you will see in this blog, she certainly succeeds.
She has taken great care to preserve her spiritual side. To remain balanced, she has run away from the big cities. Her home is just outside of Seattle. She is very happy there. She has been there almost twenty years.
I asked Patti who she considers to be the most important person to revolutionize Broadway.
Patti Cohenour, Nikki Tomlinson, Luke Eberl

The name that comes to mind, for her, is Joseph Papp. He was one of the true impresarios. He was so kind to original theater, so kind to actors, very hands on. He always took great interest in all of his artists. Patti misses that on many levels. He was a wonderful man and was very good to her.

When Patti turned thirty, she was back in LA again. She met her husband in LA, it has been many years since she had been here in New York. She had many great memories there but she realized, she had to move to New York. Making that decision in the early eighties was a major turning point for Patti. It is a big decision for any actor to decide which of the two coasts that they are going to focus on.
That is where they must try and make a career. You have to go where your heart is telling you to go. You have to listen to that and it is always a conflict, especially when there are many issues and everything else. It turned out, luckily for all of us, to be the right decision.

Patti as Christine: Phantom of the Opera in New York City.
National Tour, Canada
Toronto, Canada
What would the perfect day for Patti be like? In Seattle, where Patti lives, it almost always rains. Anyone who visits Seattle knows that a perfect day is a day with no humidity. That ideal of a perfect day is also true for Patti. She is not a fan of humidity!
The perfect day would be between seventy-five to eighty degrees with perfect blue skies. She is mowing her lawn and working in the garden and planting.

How did Patti get to where she is? She started out as a singer singing in smoky bars. This was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she was born and raised. That took her to Nashville where she became a back-up singer. That took her to LA.

Patti in Phantom of the Opera
She worked there as a back-up singer for a couple of years. During that time, she got really devoted to acting. She got cast in Pirates of Penzance at a cattle call in LA which took her to New York. She then made her Broadway debut in a show that was a flop. She then went into La bohème produced by Joe Papp. Patti alternated with Linda Ronstadt and got great reviews. She got cast in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Big River on the same day in New York. It was kinda like BOOM! She now doesn’t get to New York as often as she used to, but when she does, it’s very special.
When it comes to her talent, she doesn’t feel that it is not hers not to use. She has a deep love for theater and the joy she gets when she is on stage with other actors and telling a story that reaches people’s hearts. It’s always a very special connection.
The advice that she would give to anyone hoping to embark on this career path is to NOT look at the odds. Stay true to yourself. Don’t give up your principles. Live by your heart and mind and trust in your intuition. In the dark days, always remember there is light coming afterward.
Cohenour as Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir. Photo courtesy of the Seattle ACT Theatre

Patti and I spoke at 4:30 EST on Friday afternoon, which was 1:30 her time. I asked what work she had done that day on her craft and/or career. She had spent most of the day working on a marketing list for an upcoming project she is directing that she co-wrote with two wonderful women in her life that they are going to present in workshops in Los Angeles in January. The show is called I Will Wait For You.

She is deeply busy with that. She is surrounded by wonderful artists and she loves that tremendously. It is a one woman musical that she can’t wait to do. It is about a young girl of the supper club era in World War II. They are going to do two workshops performances at the end of January, January 28th and 29th,  at the El Portal Theater’s Forum Theater in North Hollywood. They did a one hour preview outside of Seattle and the audiences really loved it, so Patti completed writing it with her co-writers and getting it on its feet to see what they have and hopefully move forward with that. After that, it is Grey Gardens, a collaboration between Seattle’s 5th Avenue and ACT Theater’s. Kurt Beattie, Artistic Director, got her involved and he is very good. She is also looking forward to that.   

She has a true extravaganza coming up on October 27th called Loving the Silent Tears that is going to be amazing. Directed by Tony-nominated Vincent Paterson (Michael Jackson, Madonna's world tours), with choreography by Emmy winner Bonnie Story (High School Musical), set design by Emmy winner John Iacovelli, costumes by award-winning Sharell Martin and book by Frank Evans and Cynthia Ferrell. She describes it as a concert magical mystery tour as Vincent Paterson wants to call it.
Phantom
He is a wonderful director, by the way, and Patti is loving working with him tremendously.  He has a very calm demeanor.
It is a one night performance from 4 to 7:30 at The Shrine Auditorium.  This is created by 2-time Oscar-winning composer Al Kasha (The Poseidon Adventure), tells a story about humanity's search for inner peace. It is full of amazing dancers and remarkable singers, including Liz Callaway and Debbie Gravitte, both of whom she adores.
Madonna During Blond Ambition Tour
It is also starring Grammy winners Jon Secada and Jody Watley, Tony winner Kiril Kulish, plus international talents. Patti gets to tell the story that connects all of the poetry of Supreme Master Ching Hai, world-renowned spiritual teacher, humanitarian, poet and artist. Patti calls it a concert play. There will be seventy people on this stage ultimately for a one time only special event. You can imagine the logistics. Vincent has done this type of event before having directed Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour.

When Patti auditioned for this, she auditioned via Skype. Vincent was in Montreal and she was in her home in Seattle and she had a wonderful visit with him, a rare treat. She is enjoying it. 
As an entertainer, the work that Patti is most proud of is La bohème. It was amazing to do this opera in a very small  intimate space with remarkable singers. It really gave an emotional punch. When she did a production of Chicago at the MUNY at the end of June earlier this year, she got the opportunity to spend time with John Kander. She had not seen him in years. He told her that seeing her play Mimi in La bohème was one of his most remarkable emotional experiences in the theater. He saw David Carroll play opposite her as Rodolfo. That has always held a very special place in her heart and probably always will. 

This next question comes from actress/singer Linda Purl. Who does Patti pray to when she is in trouble? Both of Patti’s parents have passed on.
She says they have the best seats in heaven. They were both incredibly supportive of her. She lost them way too early and she prays to them and, of course, God. She is really believes there is a “huge enlightened One” that shows you the way.

The biggest change she would love to see in today’s industry is for prices to come down. She wants it to be more accessible to the “common man.” It has gotten so expensive and virtually out of reach for those who need to be entertained and taken care of. We need more student rush tickets to fill those houses to help a show gain momentum and take away the greed and everybody take some cuts so more people can get to the theater. 

In today’s frenzied world, Patti is utilizing her website to get the word out to her audiences and fans. She has recently been in the process of upgrading her templates and revamping the site. She has had it for a long time now. Her husband builds sites and has taught her how the basics. Because of her busy schedule, she has not devoted that much time to it, but now she is upgrading.
She is also building a website for the new piece she is directing in January. That is another thing she would be working on later in the day on the day of our interview! She thinks the internet is really important and it is now the only way to reach the most people. She wants everyone to know that she really loves them but she doesn’t keep up like she should.
For my singer friends who read my blog, Patti offers the following advice: When you get sick, you get sick. When it lands on your vocal chords, it’s done. You better have an understudy. Patti believes the most important thing is that if it hurts, don’t sing.
Patti Cohenour and Vincent Paterson

People are now pushing on through, especially with the musicals that are now being written, and you have to do it all, and, sometimes with vocal strain. It is a sensitive gift that you have to take care of. When she is behind the eight ball vocally, she tries to drink warm water. Sometimes she drops original Ricola in it. In fact she does that a lot, actually. Keep it to warm temperature, almost hot, but not scalding. It seems to soothe her.
She loves Ricola, but only the original flavor works for her. She kind of lives on that when she is on eight shows a week process. She is getting ready to do Grey Gardens in Seattle in March. That will be a big show and she will be swearing by that formula. She doesn’t talk during the day when she is in show mode. It is also very important to get enough sleep. She rests and keeps quiet when she can.
When she is working on a project, she sometimes goes to other art forms for inspiration. When she was working on Sunday in the Park with George, how could she not go and study Georges Seurat’s paintings? It is very good to go back to the very basic material when you are working on something that is from another source like Edwin Drood or Dracula or Phantom of the Opera. She goes back and reads the original novels first. When she did Souvenir, she had a lot of fun and agony going back to and listening to Florence Foster Jenkins. It was like a train wreck. You couldn’t not listen. That was a remarkable experience to try and get that in her bones.
 Patti’s process when she is working on a musical project is to get the music down as soon as possible to get her muscle memory in very good shape. When she is learning a libretto or a play, she usually starts at the beginning and works from beginning to end and she does over and over again so she can get in touch with the journey of the character.
To prepare for an actual performance, Patti arrives at the theater an hour to ninety minutes before curtain. She cannot handle coming in last minute. She also has to have quiet. She does pray. She has prayers and mantras. She goes through her first few lines. She says them out loud in a corner so she can get her body and brain in focus for her first scene. Once you get on the performance train and the rails, you are fine. It’s that nerves thing.
The one production that Patti wishes she had seen is the original production of Nine on Broadway with Raul Julia. She was unable to see that. Patti was not on Broadway when the original production of Nine was running, but was on the Left Coast performing in the National Tour of Pirates of Penzance.She just loved Raul Julia. What a loss so early. He was so kind and another Joseph Papp alumni. There was a tribute to Papp once that Patti was part of. She found herself backstage standing between Raul Julia and Kevin Kline. Not bad!
Patti’s fondest memory is her first performance of Phantom. It was a Thursday afternoon. The show had opened the night before and Patti was scared to death. She came out for her bow as Christine Daaé. The entire theater audience stood up at once. It was stunning. It was a major wow! She will never forget it.
The Light in The Piazza
What makes Patti the happiest? Being in her home with her cats and her wonderful husband and having a wonderful conversation with her sister who is in New Mexico and having a really great meal late in the afternoon and watching a beautiful sunset against her beautiful forestry.

What makes me happy? Meeting and getting to know Patti Cohenour!

Please visit the website for Loving The Silent Tears and if you are in the Los Angeles area on October 27th, please say hello to Patti for me!

Thank you Patti Cohenour for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,


Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!

I desire this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  
If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!

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If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com.


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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

 
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1 comment:

  1. What a great Article. Patti's Site will be down for a few days as we upgrade over the weekend. But tune in Monday (12/10) @ http://www.patticohenour.com

    ReplyDelete