Friday, May 23, 2014

Ann Arvia: Meg in Damn Yankees: Goodspeed Opera House

"Every master was once a beginner. Every pro was once an amateur."
~Robin Sharma

I was lucky enough to see Ann Arvia as Meg in Damn Yankees a few weeks ago at The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. Rush to see this production before it closes on June 21st.
I was even luckier enough to sit down and talk with her earlier this week about the road to Damn Yankees (and a few other things as well!). 
Her are/were the greatest "influencers" in her life as far as creativity is concerned.  
For Ann, it is constantly changing. She is inspired by great actors. She is inspired by great art. Last summer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art had this phenomenal exhibit called Spines Collect. It was all of the paintings that the Spines family collected over the years. Ann sat down and pondered how to make THIS into a show. She has not found her way in yet, but it is still there on the back burner.   
Initially, it would be her voice teacher.
She has studied with her for decades, Anne Perillo She is a phenomenal voice teacher back in Chicago. Ann studied with her at Depaul University. 
She is one of those "did it all" kinds of women. She was an opera singer. She did musical theatre. She did cabaret. She did voice over work. Ann desired to follow in those footsteps and do it all as well. She wanted to be able to explore whatever it was that she could do. 
What does Ann love the most about the theatre?
She loves what she has learned about herself through roles. She loves the diverse people that she meets whose paths she wouldn't cross otherwise. She loves reaching at audience. 
What has she learned most about herself through her current role as Meg? 
Ann has spent the last decade playing an assortment of hags, harridans and teapots. Ann has transitioned into the role of old sage character roles. 
Jerome Lucas Harmann as Coalhouse Walker Jr., Ann Arvia as Mother, and Larry Raiken as Tateh in
Maine State Music Theatre, in Brunswick, Maine
Ruth Gottschall and Ann Arvia in Mary Poppins
She spent four and a half years playing the Bird Woman in Mary Poppins. That certainly was not a glamor role. She has also planned Miss Andrew, the bad nanny in Mary Poppins, again not a glamor role, shrieking and mean harridan. Don't get her wrong. Those are great roles to play and lots of fun including Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. Ann has not played a "romantic leading lady" character role since she played Mother in Ragtime in 2002. Playing Meg has been a fascinating journey getting back in touch with that and being comfortable with that. When one reaches a certain age as a woman, there are asked to put their sexuality aside. People don't want to think about their moms having sex. Actresses go off and start doing other types of roles. They become sage women of wisdom, such as the Bird Woman or a teapot singing a lovely song. Being able to play a fully developed full fledgling three dimensional woman is fascinating to rediscover. 
Last summer, Ann appeared at Goodspeed in The Most Happy Fella. That was Ann's first time at
Ann LOVES, LOVES, LOVES it up at Goodspeed. both professionally and personally. It is such a rare experience to have a month of rehearsals in a studio and then have basically a week of tech and three weeks of previews. Nobody does that anymore! Even with a show as vast and enormous as Mary Poppins was , they were in the studio for four weeks. Those rehearsals were not about exploration. They were about, "Here are the steps.Get the shape and THEN we'll move it into the theatre and space it out." At Goodspeed, everyone has the luxury of exploration. Sometimes, they may be going down a path that is not ultimately the "right" path, or what I saw as the final product on the stage now.Those paths are important in the discovery process. The actors learn things about their characters. "No, he wouldn't do that", or things about themselves as actors. "OK, I was willing to take that risk." 

They may not have been willing to take those risks six months ago. THIS is a great process. They care very much about process at Goodspeed. The support staff is great as a theatre. Their production stage manager, Bradley G. Spachman, is quite phenomenal. Ann fell in love with the area last autumn. It was such a spectacular fall. It was like something out of a movie. Now, coming back to do Damn Yankees, Ann has gotten to experience all four seasons there. It has been beautiful.   
Autumn in Connecticut Gelston House in East Haddam, CT Side Dining room View facing the CT River and the Good Speed Opera House.
Director Daniel Goldstein brings in an incredible amount of enthusiasm and research. "That man knows his baseball!" 
Ann as Meg Boyd and James Judy plays her husband, Joe Boyd,  Photo by Diane Sobolewski
That wasn't that important to Ann because Meg is oblivious to it all but it was fascinating to watch him and telling actors, "No, that swing isn't right", or all the other little nuances of the "game" aspect of the show. 
The other thing that Ann really loved about working with Danny is that he is very game about allowing actors to take chances. There was one particular day in which Ann came into the rehearsal hall and said to him, "I have been thinking about this", and blah blah blah...He said, "OK. Let's try it." Ann sort of did a "double take" and said, "Really!?!?!". He said, "Yes. I never so 'no' to actors." 
They all learn something in the process. They may not do what happens in that process ultimately, but they all learn SOMETHING.
Damn Yankees, for Ann, was one of those rare shows that she had no frame of reference for. She, of course, knew the two big songs, Heart and Whatever Lola Wants.     
She had never seen the show. She thinks she saw the movie years ago when she was a kid. When the last two revivals were happening, Ann was in Broadway shows. She wasn't able to go see them. However, almost through Ann's entire career, people who did know the show, said to her, "When you're old enough, you're going to be a wonderful Meg." It was always kind of always there in the background as a show that she would eventually do. The fact that so many people said that to her, there was probably something to it.    
Ann knew that Goodspeed would be doing Damn Yankees this season. She closed Most Happy Fella on a Sunday. The following Tuesday, she auditioned for Damn Yankees. Meg is the complete opposite of Marie, the role Ann portrayed in Happy Fella.   
  Ann went into the audition looking as different as possible from the way that everyone had been seeing
At a table read with James Judy (Older Joe): Photo by Diane Sobolewski
her for the past three months. She went in in a beautiful dress and high high-heels and well done make-up and hair. She knew that she had to turn them around. A couple of days later, she had the job offer.
There is a lovely scene that takes place after Whatever Lola Wants that takes place on the baseball field in which Meg comes out to see the game and has an exchange with Joe. Meg loves the simplicity of that scene.
I was at the show on press night in which an interesting moment happened that set a tone for both the audience and Young Joe and Lola on stage.
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
There is a moment in which Joe lets his guard down for a nano second and he kisses Lola. A woman in the audience gasped audibly and said, "What!?!?!" Ann shared with me that that has happened on more than one occasion. It happens at least three times a week. People are so in Meg and Joe's court, they are so wrapped up that they literally will proclaim something out loud, whether it is "No!" or they gasp loudly or "Oh my God! Don't!" 
Literally, it stops the show, as it did the night I attended, because the audience starts laughing that someone is so invested, which Ann chalks up to, "Job well done!"
Daniel Goldstein shared with me that that is one moment in the show in which he does mot like. For him, it's not in Joe's "character" to kiss her.
Ann agrees with that.
She thinks it is a desperation moment of "Well, let me try this out. If I'm going to be stuck with her throughout eternity, I guess I might as well try this." He has been so stalwart throughout the entire show. Being damned to hell, maybe he throws caution to the wind!
We have touched upon what Ann loves about Goodspeed. Another thing that she loves is the intimacy of that theatre. We just referred to it here, when people proclaim aloud. The intimacy of that space creates such an energy between the actors and the audience.
The New Amsterdam Theatre Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
It is kind of an astonishing thing to experience as an actor when they really feel the audience with them. Prior to doing Most Happy Fella, she spent ten years straight in Broadway houses where sometimes she would have a sense of that, but more times than not she doesn't just because of the size of the house. Mary Poppins played The New Amsterdam Theatre which has 1702 seats. There is also an orchestra pit in front of the stage. For the actors, it almost feels as if they are doing the show "in spite of the audience." There are moments when, obviously, the actors are aware of their laughter. During the curtain calls, the lights are a little bit more up in the house and you see their reaction. The actors are always aware of people sitting "out there in the dark".
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
At Goodspeed, the actors know IMMEDIATELY if the audience is with them. If not, it may just be how the audience is experiencing the show. Sometimes, it's the actors.
One of the issues that drives ME up the wall are cell phones and texting in the theatre. I asked Ann for her take on this.
There are too many experiences for Ann to innumerate. However, she says that that is a very rare occasion at Goodspeed.
When it DOES happen, it always feels like it is during the quietest most intimate moments in the show.
There's kind of nothing to be done. If an actor can, they kind of hold for a moment. Otherwise, they just press on and try to get the audience back. A cell phone going off jars the entire audience out of the experience of a play.
I asked Ann about her thoughts on those actors that break the "fourth wall" to address it.
Ann believes it is a very slippery slope. It absolutely depends on the piece and where the actor is in the piece. If an actor is doing a play like Hello, Dolly!, and the actor is playing Dolly Levi and the concept of the show is that the fourth wall is
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
constantly being broken down and the character is constantly talking to the audience, then MAYBE it can be addressed. For most other shows, it becomes dangerous because, particularly if it is late in the show, the audience is not seeing the actor as who they really are, but rather as the character they are portraying. For the actor to "suddenly" break the forth wall, it couldn't be done as the character, because it just wouldn't happen.
It becomes confusing for the audience. Maybe if one is a big star like Patti LuPone, they can "get away with it". People certainly don't allow their cell phones to go off "on purpose". It happens mostly after intermission when they have forgotten to turn their cell phones back off.
with Cass Morgan
They have gone out and checked their emails, made a few phone calls, called the baby sitter, they come back in and they forget to turn it back off.
Returning back to Damn Yankees, Ann has such love for the score especially since she kind of "discovered it" while rehearsing for the show.
It is so "of a time". Some of these songs are such little jewels. She believes, as do I, that their orchestrator Dan DeLangue did a phenomenal job, both creating the right sound to support what it is that the actors are doing as well as invoking the period and what the original orchestrations are. He "marries" all of those factors really brilliantly.
Ann Arvia, the actor, has a really difficult time in Near to You when the bongos come in, trying not to burst into a big smile. It reminds her of when she was a kid and those fabulous albums from the light fifties that her parents would put on the gigantic stereo in the living room in which was a stereo/TV console would be wafting through the house.
From left, David Beach (Applegate), Stephen Mark Lukas (Young Joe) and Angel Reda (Lola):
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
That one moment in the show gives her great memories.
When it comes to BOTH of her Joes, she feels she is the luckiest woman in show business. Meg's whole show is with those two men. She has a few moments with Doris and Sister, but basically, her entire show is with the Joes. She is so lucky that both James Judy and Stephen Mark Lucas are incredibly talented lovely human beings that they are.
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
They are each "so present". Ann doesn't feel she has ever been on stage with anyone more present as these men are and so in the moment. No matter what happens from moment to moment, they ALL shift together.Theatre is a living breathing thing and each night, sometimes it's a little different. Both of those gentlemen go with whatever happens. They are great "ballplayers" in their own right, they hit the ball out at the audience performance after performance and it is a joy for Ann to share the stage with them.
If Ann could sell her soul to the devil for one change in today's entertainment world, what would that change be?
There are so many, but if she had to distill it to one, it would be that producers would not be so afraid to
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
produce new material. There is such a love affair now with putting movies, TV series', and revivals on the boards, not that revivals don't have a place, they do. Ann would love some of that to fall by the wayside and that producers start supporting new creative endeavors. It is thrilling when it happens and so rare an occurrence now.
Ann always did musical theatre, even through high school and college. She studied opera in college, because that was in the day when musical theatre degrees did not exist. One either had to be a theatre major a music major. Ann was a theatre major with a music minor at DePaul University. Ann toyed briefly with the idea of going into the world of opera because she loves the music.
Angel Reda (Lola):
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
It feeds her soul. She knew very quickly that those people were not "her people". She started out primarily as a singer. Her evolution as an artist has been marrying the acting with the singing. It was very different back when she started out thirty-eight years ago. The acting/singer was not really what it is today. Over the years, Ann has embraced the combination. It is really gratifying for her on this show as well as Most Happy Fella that so many of the lovely reviews that she has gotten have commented more on her acting than her singing. She feels, as a well rounded actor, it is very freeing to not be worried about her voice every second and listening to herself. She believes that is what plagued her in the early stages of her career. ""Was that note open enough" and judging her performance by each note she sang. Now, she is less concerned about that. At the end of the night, people aren't really going to focus on whether or not she cracked on a note if she was invested in the moment.
Lora Lee Gayer and cast perform "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO" from "Damn Yankees." Diane Sobolewski
People aren't going to walk out and say, "Oh wow, it was really lovely but I wish Ann hadn't cracked on that one note at the end of that song." That's just not reality. It is so much lovelier as an artist to go out there and not be constantly monitoring herself. It gives her a freedom
Ann Arvia in rehearsal as Marie at Goodspeed. (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)
now that she never had when she was younger.
Ann shared a very interesting anecdote with me. When she was doing Beauty and the Beast, she had an "intermission talk show."
It was not unlike James Lipton's Inside the Actor's Studio. She would go through people in the cast and interview them. There was no greenroom at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre due ti its small size. The cast would congregate in "Belle's" dressing room and it was a way to get to know each other. She started developing her own five questions a la James Lipton's closer. Her favorite question was "If you couldn't do this, and if failure wasn't an option, what would you do?" I asked Ann what her answer would be. She would be a professional poker
The Goodspeed Opera House from the Connecticut River
That's very much like being in the theatre. Every day is a gamble.
It gives Ann such incredible joy to see people turn out and support LIVE theatre the way they do at Goodspeed. The theatre would not exist without these audiences. So many of these theatres are dying around the country.
Go support your local regional theatres. Go even if it is once a month or every couple of months. There is no other experience like theatre anymore. Even movie going has changed. A lot of people no longer do "collective" experiences the way we used to.
Kristine Zbornik and Allyce Beasley (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)
Theatre and movies are kind of all that we have left of that. Movies are dying because everyone is watching them on Netflix. Even going into a movie nowadays, it wears Ann out!
People are talking at the screen and other assundry things. It is difficult to watch in spite of the people around you.
In the theatre, it is one of the last places we all go and experience something together and walk out in a different state from when we walked in.
Go see a LIVE SHOW! You have until June 21st to see Damn Yankees. Click HERE for more info.

Words and Music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross | Book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop | Based on the novel by Douglass Wallop The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant  | Book Adaptation for the Red
Ron Wisniski and cast (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)
Sox Version by Joe DiPietro | Scenic Design by Adrian W. Jones | Costume Design by David C. Woolard | Lighting Design by Brian Tovar | Sound Design by Jay Hilton | Music Direction by Michael O'Flaherty | Choreographed by Kelli Barclay

To learn more, go to Goodspeed Opera House's website for more info and to order tickets.

Keep checking their website for updates.
Read more about Damn Yankees.

Review: “Damn Yankees” Opens Goodspeed Musicals Season
By Westfield NewsRoom on May 5, 2014

Lora Lee Gayer and cast in "Damn Yankees." Credit Diane Sobolewski

Thank you ALL of the artists mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

 With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the FIRST Fifty years of  Hello, Dolly!

I desire this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  If any of you reading this have appeared
Members of the 1994 tour and Broadway revival of Dolly celebrating at Sardi's January 19th, 2014
in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!

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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!          

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!
With grateful XOXOXs for your support!
Richard Skipper

I hope you can join us June 1st in Nyack for Treason! Would LOVE to see you! Bring friends! It’s going to be star-studded party!

Keeping Entertainment LIVE!
Richard Skipper Celebrates

Damn Yankees (1955 Original Broadway Cast)


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