Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From Leading Lady to the Director’s Chair

From Leading Lady to the Director’s Chair
5 Questions with Anna Bussing
1st Time Muni Director, All Shook Up

by Alexa Giacomini, Member – Muni Board of Managers

AG: Tell us a little about yourself…
AB: I was born and raised in Springfield and went to SHG and the University of Illinois for undergrad and grad school.  I have my doctorate in audiology and currently work at SIU Audiology with pediatrics and adults. 

AG: What's your Muni experience?
AB: My first role at The Muni was in 1995 when I was 9 years old; I played Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis. My sister and I used to practice my song “Under the Bamboo Tree” on our fireplace. We can still do it together.

Favorite shows to date include Big and Grease. I was in the chorus for both shows. Favorite roles I’ve played are Wendy and Peter Pan in Peter Pan. It's my favorite show; I think the show is just magical.  

I started working behind the scenes on staff as a choreographer in 2010 for Disney’s High School Musical. I later also choreographed Hairspray, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  

This will be my 20th season at The Muni. I've never skipped a season. It's my summer home and I can't imagine being anywhere else on summer nights. People always ask how I can dedicate so much time and effort to shows but the people there have become like family. It's the most enjoyable thing I do. I want to be there every night. 

AG: What do you think your biggest challenges will be as a first time Muni director? What is different about directing a Muni show than other productions in town?
AB: The scariest thing is that I've been given this responsibility from people who have directed me and led me since I was a kid. I respect their opinion so much and I don't want to disappoint them. I often forget that I make the final decisions now. I'm so used to asking others for their permission and opinion. I have to make the final decision now and it's nerve racking. But it's comforting knowing that I have guidance from tons of people if I need it.

The Muni is different because the shows are so gigantic. There are big sets, a big cast and so much happening in each scene. It will be a challenge being responsible for so many people. 

AG: How did you make the transition from lead actress to director? Any advice for other aspiring directors?
AB: It seemed like a natural transition. As you do more shows and gain more experience, you formulate an opinion about things that work and things that don't. The biggest thing is to make sure that you decide to be on staff for shows for which you have a true passion. Do it wholeheartedly or don't do it. I'm trying to hold myself to that for both auditioning and being on staff.

AG: Why should people come see All Shook Up?

AB: This show is pure fun and rock-n-roll.  It has energetic choreography, a simple plot, familiar Elvis songs and high energy.  It’s good old fashioned theater that is pure entertainment and takes no effort to watch. It's cliché but a simple sit back and relax kinda’ show. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Captain’s Boatswain Call

The Captain’s Boatswain Call
5 Questions with John O’Connor
Captain von Trapp, The Sound of Music
by Alexa Giacomini, Member – Muni Board of Managers
AG: Tell us a little about yourself…
JOC: I've lived in Springfield for 20 years, currently with two dogs, Shadrach and Ginger, a permanent visitor. I'm a news reporter for The Associated Press, writing about government and politics at the Capitol. 
In addition to The Sound of Music this summer, I will reprise my role as the Union Captain in the musical The Civil War outdoors at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in July, and will take on the one-man show Mr. Lincoln at New Salem's Theatre in the Park in August.
AG: What’s your Muni experience?
JOC: The Sound of Music will be my 16th Muni show. On the Muni stage, I've played both Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, and both Daddy Warbucks and Rooster in Annie. Other favorite roles are Captain Hook in Peter Pan, Adam Pontipee in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun.
AG: The Sound of Music is one of theatre's most well-known and loved shows. What do you see as the challenges in taking on the role of the Captain? What are you most looking forward to in portraying this role?
JOC: Captain von Trapp offers one of those complex characters who is both outwardly tough, disciplined and wary of showing emotions, and inwardly loving, caring and sensitive. The challenge of portraying von Trapp is to accurately portray the range of emotions and the transformational arc he must wend through from tough captain to the loving father of seven children whom Maria brings forth.
It is difficult to bring subtlety to the role, for it would be rather two-dimensional to have him go from all-tough-guy to sensitive male.  Obviously, there's a lot of nuance, and some of both sides come out at various times, so that's a challenge. 
And a character such as von Trapp must not only rely on other characters, namely Maria, to help bring that change about, but to also be aware of the role he plays in helping other characters transform throughout the story. That's the beauty of theatre, the interconnectedness – no one exists in a vacuum, just like in life.
AG: What's your personal experience with The Sound of Music?
JOC: When I was a child, and it came on network television, my sister conducted a lottery to determine who in the family would get the best seats in the den, where the television was. It was a huge event for her. I didn't know what all the fuss was about. 
As an adult, and seeing it various places such as at the Muni in 2005, I developed a deep appreciation for the story, for it's far more than just the catchy, unforgettable tunes that Julie Andrews made famous. It's not only based on the true story of Maria and the von Trapps, but occurs during a pivotal time in world history, when people really had to make political choices that could mean life or death.
AG: Why should people come see The Sound of Music?
JOC: It's a show that is not all just happy-go-lucky, boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl predictability. It has some real meat to it. Captain von Trapp is an Austrian at the time of the Nazi annexation of Austria, and this emotional story plays out in front of a hellish time in world history. There's real substance to the story. The subplot – the Nazi takeover of Austria – has to be among the more chilling in musical theatre. And it really happened.
There's also no better place to spend a warm summer evening than at The Muni.  I've participated in 16 shows out there, but have probably attended five dozen more.  I have been amazed at the talent this community produces, and have often sat under the stars and taken it in; The Muni has come to define summer for me in Springfield.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

5 Questions with Mary Harmon

Maria von Trapp, The Sound of Music


by Alexa Giacomini, Member – Muni Board of Managers


AG: Tell us a little about yourself…

MH: I grew up in Chatham and graduated from SHG in 1989. I attended Millikin University on a musical theater scholarship, but realized my true calling was education.


I have been married to my husband Dave for 11 wonderful years. His job relocated us out-of-state for about 6 years. In 2009, we were fortunate enough to move back home to Springfield with our two children, Lucy (age 10) and Peter (age 9). 


Since then, I went back to teaching at my children's school, Christ the King, where I am blessed to teach 6th grade again. In fact, two of my current students and some former students will be in the production, as well. 


AG: What’s your Muni experience?

MH: My first Muni show was back in 1988 - Annie Get Your Gun. I auditioned for years and Paul Presney, the director, gave me my first opportunity to appear in the chorus at age 16. It was an amazing experience.

I was cast in a supporting role the following year in Fiddler on the Roof. I played Hodel, one of Tevye's daughters, and shared the stage with The Sound of Music's vocal director, Elizabeth Donathan. Since then, I have been in many other Muni shows, but my favorites were playing Rose in Bye Bye Birdie (1998), a storyteller in Children of Eden (2000), and most recently, a chorus member of Les Miserables (2013). 

Moving back home has allowed me the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful Muni family again along with my daughter, Lucy, who has appeared in shows the past two summers and will be Baby Bear in Shrek this summer. 

AG: The Sound of Music is one of theatre's most well-known and loved shows. What do you see as the challenges in taking on the role of Maria? What are you most looking forward to in portraying this role?

MH: Oh my, there will be many challenges ahead of me in taking on the role of Maria! First of all, it is such an iconic musical and just about everyone imagines Julie Andrews playing Maria, as do I. She is not an easy actress to live up to, but I will do my best to bring her idea of Maria along with my own to the Muni stage.

I look forward to portraying a role that has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. The Sound of Music has always been one my favorite musicals because of the ideals and values the story brings to life. Both Maria and the Captain face difficult internal struggles that are not easy to bring to light on a stage, but it is my hope that both John and I will do them justice. 

Our director, Greg Donathan, has put together a phenomenal cast, and I am greatly anticipating working with all of them, especially my dear friend, Johna Keen, who will portray the Reverend Mother. If I can listen to her sing "Climb Every Mountain" on stage every night without crying it will be a miracle. 

AG: What's your personal experience with The Sound of Music?

MH: I remember watching The Sound of Music with my mom as a little girl and singing all the songs. Before the time of VCRs, DVDs and DVRs, we had to wait until it aired on TV, usually just once a year, to enjoy the beauty of it. 

Most little girls dream of being one of the children, usually Liesel, but not me. Julie Andrews as Maria was such an inspiration.  She was pure class, but very loveable and real. 

AG: Why should people come see The Sound of Music?

MH: Why not?  It's a lovely musical with a beautiful message of true love, sacrifice and unconditional faith. As Mother Abbess states, "You have to find the life you were born to live."  Don't miss the opportunity to enjoy a night of beautiful music under the stars at The Muni!