BWW Interview: Eduardo Guzman and Cara Shanks Talk MIDTOWN: LIVE!
Pitch Me This (PMT) Productions has partnered with Juxtapose Arts Collective to bring back its third annual production of MIDTOWN: LIVE! This year's show will be performed at the MATCH, and features some of Houston's finest local talent performing engaging pop music and high energy dance and movement.
This past Sunday, I drove over to the MATCH, and got the opportunity to sit down and talk with Director Eduardo Guzman and Choreographer Cara Shanks about this year's unique production.
Cara, what is your role in this show, and how has the experience and process been?
Cara: I'm choreographer and I also perform in it. It's been awesome. Eduardo has been great to work with. I've never choreographed to live music, so at first, I used the tracks, and sometimes it's different from the arrangements that Eduardo plays. But when working together, it usually ends up ten times better. I think we've been on the same page this entire process. The dancers are professional and very easy to work with, so when there have been changes, they catch on. It's been a very forward moving process.
Eduardo: One of the vocalists described the MIDTOWN: LIVE! process as a four week jam session. They come to these rehearsals every week and we're so collaborative, creating everything together, and the same has been true with the addition of the dancers this year. We're trying to make the process really organic, putting together a structure for the music and the dancers, putting the pieces together, and letting the artists create it as we guide them.
How did you come to the decision to add dance and movement?
Eduardo: There's a few things that happened recently for PMT that were a big deal. But one of those was that we partnered with a new dance organization called Juxtapose Arts Collective. They just started this year, and they came to PMT in need of a producing organization to partner with, and that has been a huge part of PMT's mission- to seek out artists with great creative vision but may not have the administrative or financial resources to put up a show. So, for us it was what we've been looking for, and we made a commitment to Juxtapose to use dancers in our season.
Before we partnered with Juxtapose, I approached Cara and spoke to her about coming in to work on movement for MIDTOWN: LIVE!. I didn't know necessarily how that would work at that time. But I knew she had been a cheerleader for the Houston Rockets, and I loved the idea of a pop concert with this cheerleader type movement in terms of energy and style. So, we'd been talking about it before Juxtapose came along, and once they did, it kind of finalized the idea.
Cara: We are like the back up dancers in a music video. The music is beautiful, and that extra movement makes it that much more exciting, along with the lighting and other elements.
What has the rehearsal process been like in terms of space?
Eduardo: The first two weeks, the dancers and singers were rehearsing separately. We've held rehearsals at my apartment in Midtown, a studio in the Clear Lake/Bay area, for the last two weeks we've been rehearsing together in the Midtown Arts Center, and this week we're in the performance space.
What are the challenges when fusing dance into this concert style show that PMT has come to be known for?
Eduardo: There's more moving parts, more people on stage. There's four dancers and eight singers. In the past, MIDTOWN: LIVE! has been done as a cabaret style show. So, they go up, sing their song, and leave the stage in very intimate small venues. So, the biggest challenge for me has been making sure that we're intentional in keeping our vision big, but also paying homage to what MIDTOWN: LIVE! is, which is a pop music concert. The challenge has been reconciling those two things: big production numbers with dancers but staying true to what MIDTOWN: LIVE! is.
Cara: From my experience with power dancing with the Rockets, we did a lot of novelty routines. So, coming up with these story lines has been different, and it makes these songs more interesting. One of the songs we do revolves around three people from different places who come together to attend a show. We also had to keep in mind how we would use interaction with the audience throughout the process.
Eduardo: We've been intentional in having multiple moments of interaction. For example, we pull Audience members onstage at certain points, we've also talked to MATCH about bringing a bar during pre-show and intermission that sits on stage. We'd like them to get on stage, feel comfortable interacting, and be more vocal as an audience.
What can audiences expect at this year's production of MIDTOWN: LIVE!?
Eduardo: They can expect to feel like they recognize elements of MIDTOWN: LIVE!. We're still including actors' stories. Each of them auditioned with a story and a song, then we carried each actor's story and song all the way through rehearsals, into production, creating videos for them, and finally into performance. That element is still similar. MIDTOWN: LIVE! is about showing our stories, stories that are universal, our community at large. It's still MIDTOWN: LIVE!, but amped up, with bigger production value, with dancers, better costumes. For example, we're working with a rigger who will be coming in to hang two silks for us. We're working with aerial artists during the show. We're in a bigger venue with more resources that we can use, and we're taking advantage of that artistically, creatively. And the talent is just as high as it's always been.
MIDTOWN: LIVE! runs from August 19-27, 2016, at Midtown Arts & Theater Center - Houston (MATCH) in PMT's home neighborhood of Midtown Houston. General admission tickets ($25) are available for purchase now at pitchmethis.com or matchhouston.org, or by calling (713) 521-4533. The MIDTOWN: LIVE! recording concert will be held on September 2, 2016, at MATCH, with $10 general admission tickets.