BWW Interviews: Lara Teeter Talks SHOW BOAT, Cap'n Andy, His Career and About Teaching
In the crisp, morning hours on December 27, 2012 I got the chance to speak with Lara Teeter, who will be playing Cap'n Andy in the upcoming production of SHOW BOAT at Houston Grand Opera. The celebrated actor had a plethora of interesting and scholarly items to discuss about SHOW BOAT, and the character of Cap'n Andy. We also had a good time discussing his career as an actor, director, choreographer, and teacher.
Me: How did you first get involved in theatre?
Lara Teeter: Wow! We're just going to start right off. This is my second cup of coffee. Well, I created a pantomime for my seventh grade speech class. The teacher told us to do something funny or sad, and I created a pantomime of somebody making and then eating a peanut butter sandwich, with the final beat being the peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of my mouth. From there, I just had a series of teachers. There was an eighth grade speech class that was actually [taught by] a different teacher. Then, in the ninth grade, there was no speech class, and the teacher had a few of us that were still very interested in speech and doing excercises in theatre. We hadn't really done any plays at this point, and she created an advanced ninth grade speech class. Out of that class, we cast and performed on stage THE WIZARD OF OZ, and I played the Scarecrow. And since that time I think I've played the role maybe eight times. That's really the beginning. This was all in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Me: You made your Broadway debut in THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS. What was that experience like?
Lara Teeter: I was the first replacement for that show after it had been running Off-Broadway and on Broadway for about a year and a half. Folks around these parts will of course know the Texas Aggies, and they'll know that show. I guess the show started here in Houston. Tommy Tune was the choreographer, and I guess he found a way for it to have its start here, and then [he] transferred it to New York. The original cast stayed together for quite a long time, and I was the first Aggie Football replacement.
You know, [Pauses] that's a very interesting question of what was it like. [Pauses] You know, it was a dream come true. There you are in a 46th Street theatre, and when I first moved to New York, it was very fascinating to me that the theatre seats and the theatres themselves are a lot smaller than some of the theaters back in my home state of Oklahoma. And so there you are in this cramped, little, old, stinky theatre in the middle of the universe-the very center of the universe-in terms of I guess "making it" because the audience members are from all over the world. And yet it was amazing, there you were opening on Broadway, and at the same time it felt very much like all the other shows I had done in my school. It was just something I loved to do. And I guess the big realization I had that night was that you have all this anticipated sense of what it's going to feel like, and really it felt like opening a show at OCU in some way. Oklahoma City Univeristy is where I went to school. And then on the other end of it, it felt like you'd won the winning ticket. So, it was interesting. It was an interesting slice of observation for me.
Me: You struck gold in the 1983 Broadway revival of ON YOUR TOES. What was it like being nominated for a Tony Award for your portrayal of Junior?
Lara Teeter: Well, I was actually doing my laundry when I got the phone call that I had been nominated for a Tony Award. And, it was [Pauses] a wonderful feeling. It was...[Pauses]...I look back at it now, and I actually teach the history of musical theatre now at Webster Conservatory in St. Louis, and whenever we get to the 1930s, ON YOUR TOES by Rogers & Hart debuted in 1936 with Ray Bolger in the lead, and I'm always a little bit taken aback when I get to that part of the history. I am able to share the fact that I did the show with the same director that directed Ray Bolger in 1936. That was George Abbott, who was known as Mr. Broadway in his life. He lived until he was about 107. I guess by the time he passed away he had written, produced, performed in, or directed over 120 shows on Broadway. And that's just unheard of now.
Then, ON YOUR TOES also was phenomenal because last night, for instance, the Kennedy Awards celebrated the life of Natalia Makarova, the Russian ballerina that opened the show. And ON YOUR TOES is a show you won't see done very often, and the reason being is because the ensemble is both the Broadway Hoofer type and also they have to be ballet dancers because a big theme of the show is that the Russian Ballet comes to New York City, and so people don't do this show because it takes two types of really incredible dancers to pull the show off. So, there I am, you know, never having partnered [with] one of the great Russian ballerina dancers of the time, and she had never done a Broadway show ever before. So, we kind of had everything and nothing on each other. We kind of had a special bond that way.
So, the whole nomination-I'm sorry I'm going on about this-you know, being nominated for that show, looking back years ago, there was just so many things involved in that one little moment in time, it is hard just to say something like "Oh, it was great. Wow, it felt wonderful." It just goes beyond that. Now, where I am in my life and in my career, as I still perform and I direct and choreograph, I [also] teach musical theatre, and knowing a lot more now about the history of musical theatre than I certainly did at that time in my career, it was just a very special thing to become part of that very small, elite group of people. I mean, it was luck. I will be the first to say that luck was there for me. Luck is when preparedness and opportunity meet one another. And, I must have been prepared when the opportunity came. It could have been someone sitting to my right or on my left, but on that particular day, on that particular audition, I was able to be the right person they were looking for.
The other part of the show that was phenomenal was George Balanchine, the great and wonderful Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet for many, many years, and someone who had again choreographed the show originally in 1936 sat in the audience on my final audition. I think I auditioned something like five or six times, and he was actually present for my final audition, which was on a stage reading with [Natalia] Makarova. I had a chance to just touch briefly with him. He ended up not choreographing the show, but his protégé, Peter Martins, who then took over for him for New York City ballet when he passed away, did stage all of the original George Balanchine work for the show. Donald Saddler was the other choreographer, who was also a Broadway born Hoofer and dancer. So I got the chance to work with two phenomenal Broadway choreographers. One was born in the cloth of having all kinds of eccentric and tapping dance and then George Balanchine's choreography, which was, of course, ballet. And the "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" ballet, which was termed as the "jazz ballet," was something to be a part of. That was a long-winded answer. I apologize for that.
Me: That's fine because, on a side note, ON YOUR TOES has been an interest of mine since I was in high school. In marching band, we played "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" as part of our 9-11 tribute show.
Lara Teeter: That's awesome. It's a very haunting piece, isn't it?
Me: Yeah, it really is. [Pauses] Ok, your Broadway and other theatre credits include many notable shows. What has been your favorite role so far?
Lara Teeter: Well, that's a question that I've been asked before and it's a little bit like Apples and Oranges. There are certain roles you cannot compare, but I will have to say that ON YOUR TOES stands alone. Like I said earlier, that experience was, when I think of ON YOUR TOES I don't so much think of the role, I think of the experience of it all. The experience of that was phenomenal.
But, my actual favorite roles; there's three of them. And it's the Scarecrow in THE WIZARD OF OZ, Don Lockwood, the Gene Kelly role in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, and also Will Parker in OKLAHOMA. Over the course of my singing and dancing career, those three roles were the ones that were kind of my go to roles. Those were the highlight roles of my career. On from there, there are many other roles on the side that offered a lot of challenges and fun. I actually had the opportunity to play Henry Higgins in MY FAIR LADY, and I was a little bit shocked when the director friend of mine called me to audition for it because that would not be a role that if you looked at my resume, whether you knew me or not, it would not necessarily be a role you might consider me for. But I knew this fella, and he was also kind of a song and dance man and he had this idea and called me in and I ended up doing the part. Playing that role at the North Shore Music Theatre was kind of a stand-alone. But, I would say, if I had to choose one, it was probably the Scarecrow in THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Me: Most recently, you have been teaching at The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University in Saint Louis, Missouri. While not your first collegiate teaching experience, what are your favorite aspects of this chapter in your life?
Lara Teeter: The mentoring. The fact that I can sit down and talk to the students about perspective and their lives. I practice Yoga. Yoga can be misconstrued. It is quite simple really. It's just about being in the moment. It's about breathing. It's about being aware. So, the center of my teaching, whether it's a dance that you're learning, a song you're working on, or a particular role that you're working on in a show, anything my students are involved with I try to bring them to a sense of awareness and breath. Being aware of their breath and being aware of what they're feeling and what they're sensing. Awareness is a way of looking at things without any judgment, and so I try to help them find a place in themselves that's not judgmental.
You know, the most important thing I think that any teacher can do, as they're sharing their knowledge with any student, is passion for the subject, a sense of wellbeing in a person's life. I've got four children, and so my teaching and parenting kind of walk hand in hand because you're trying to not just tell your children what to do, you're trying to demonstrate what it means to be a balanced person, what it means to be a happy person, or what it means to love what you do.
Some of the best moments I have in teaching at the conservatory is when a student walks in and says, "You know, I think I'd rather go to med school," and they leave the conservatory. I feel like that's a huge accomplishment. If the work in the conservatory can open them up to the point that they really realize that it's possible that they're trying to live someone else's dream and not really living their own dream. On the reverse side, it's exciting to have someone come in with all kinds of talent, but they lack the discipline. At some point they realize that the key to their being an artist really lies in their daily discipline, and you see a student finding the joy of a daily discipline whether it be dance, singing, or acting. Then, you feel like they're going to be success no matter where they end up. No matter what show they end up doing, no matter where they are, whether they become a teacher or go to New York and have a hugely successful Broadway career, or a film career, or if they just go off and decide to start their own business and have a family, you get a sense that they're going to be just fine. That's my favorite aspect of teaching.
Me: Is Houston Grand Opera's production of SHOW BOAT your first time to perform in Houston, Texas?
Lara Teeter: It is not my first time to perform in Houston. I was involved in a production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE at TUTS many years ago. And I don't know if I could tell you the year, but I want to say it was late 80s/early 90s that Theatre Under the Stars did PIRATES OF PENZANCE. [A quick Google search places this production in November of 1987.] It was one of the shows I did in New York-the Broadway revival that had Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith, George Rose and all those people. I was the dance captain for that show. And that show actually launched my directing credit because people wanted to do this version of PIRATES. So, I did one of the cops-I think it's Sir Edward. He's the main cop that appears in the second act. This version was a silent film version of it. So, the character was very physical and sort of based on a Charlie Chaplin-esque or Buster Keaton type role.
Me: Tommy Tune was originally slated to play Cap'n Andy, but was placed on vocal rest. Is there a story behind how you got involved in the production?
Lara Teeter: [Laughs] Yeah, it happened yesterday! We were in our final week at the Conservatory, and I got a rather emergency, red-flagged, desperate e-mail from Mark Lear here at Houston Grand Opera, basically just saying, "Here's the deal: Tommy Tune has had to back out of our production. Here are the dates. We need you quickly to come to us and play Cap'n Andy, if there's any way possible. We'll do whatever we can to get you here." I mean, it really just came completely out of the blue. I actually told Diane Zola, the gal at Houston Grand Opera, I told them that in 48 hours I can't remember the last time I shot out and received so many e-mails, texts, and phone calls, because what it meant was I had to get the chair of my department and the dean involved. Of course, it's the very end of school; they are incredibly busy with all the things that they're doing in wrapping up the semester. The Houston Grand Opera needed to know immediately, and I basically told them there is no way I can tell you right now because this involves me missing the first three to four weeks of classes in the Spring semester.
We open at the end of the first week of classes. The first time we are on stage in January 14th and that's our first day of classes. Then we run though February 9th. So, I had to hustle to get all kinds of approval. I had to get my classes covered. And here I am doing the finals. As I told Houston Grand Opera, this is tricky because I have 48 hours, not only is my chair and my dean busy, but these are the busiest times of my semester. I have vocal juries in the morning, we have showings all afternoon, and then at night I have my senior cabaret. So, I had literally like ten-minute slots throughout the day that I could talk to somebody. Yeah, it's like, "Ok. If it could have been last week, you know, it would have been different."
But, anyway, when I did contact my chair, I was able to get a meeting with her. I walked into the meeting and somehow she had wrangled the dean to be sitting there. Which I still don't know to this day how that's possible because you have to understand that our dean-you just never can get him-he's so busy. And there he was sitting in the meeting, so I was able to get approval from both ends. Of course, before I go in to meet with them I had to contact all kinds of people saying, "Can you do this? Can you do this?" And, yeah, so we ended up making it happen, and so here I am.
Me: SHOW BOAT's original running length was four-and-a-half hours. It was trimmed to just over three hours for its Broadway premiere. Since then various productions have cut it down more or reinstated previously cut material. What can audiences expect from this production?
Lara Teeter: Well, again, I teach the history of musical theater, so SHOW BOAT is one of my favorite shows to talk about on many, many levels. In 1927, this show truly changed the shape of musical theatre on Broadway and in America. Interestingly enough, it wasn't until really 20 years later-not 20, 15 years later-in 1943 when Oklahoma opened that the ball got picked up. SHOW BOAT happened. It was way before its time, and then another 15 years goes by before OKLAHOMA kind of picks up where it left off.
What can the audience expect form this SHOW BOAT? Well, we've been in rehearsal for four days and the director and the choreographer have made a huge success with this show at Chicago Lyric Opera, and then they are going to go on to DC and, I guess, San Francisco Opera with this production. And Francesca Zambello, she is one of the top directors in the world today when it comes to opera, so I was very excited to get a chance to be in the room with her and to see how she works, and, you know, she has a very, very-I'm not answering your question.
The audience can expect [Pauses] an authentic, true to life version of SHOW BOAT. Meaning that the director has chosen a particular ending to the show, that's one of the things that has changed the most-there are many different versions to SHOW BOAT in terms of how the show ends and how the characters finish the plot-and Francesca [Zambello] has made a very, very specific choice because she has very specific take on Edna Feber's novel. And being in the room, for me, watching an opera or seeing the singers or sitting out in the audience and watching Houston Ballet's version of THE NUTCRACKER, where you are witnessing a premiere company at work, that's one thing. But, to be in a rehearsal room where there's just a piano, a conductor, and these phenomenal voices is really beyond thrilling because you have these classically trained, world renown vocalists who are signing this classic Kern and Hammerstein score, and it is beyond thrilling to hear this piece done.
SHOW BOAT is one of those crossover pieces, meaning that a theatre company like Theatre Under the Stars could do this production. They could do SHOW BOAT. But then also Houston Grand Opera can turn around and do it as well because, the way the score is written, the classically trained voices have to be there whether you do it at Theatre Under the Stars or you do it at Houston Grand Opera. And the fact that they [Houston Grand Opera] have these phenomenal opera singers who also can act is kind of beyond inspiring. So, the audience is going to have an incredible experience with the show. The messages this show has to offer are timeless. It's one of the reasons why this show is a classic. It was the first time that a black cast and a white cast shared the stage together. It was really the first time that interracial marriage was discussed on stage. It's the first time that a force of nature was an actual character in the play, which is of course the river. There are just so many things about this show that make it the classic that it is. So, the audience will get a first class entertainment.
Me: Since its opening, people have taken issue with SHOW BOAT for being prejudiced or not politically correct enough. What are your feelings on the touchy subject of race in SHOW BOAT?
Lara Teeter: Okay, now you think I've talked a lot. [We both Laugh] I get very emotional when I talk about SHOW BOAT in my class because Florenz Ziegfeld decided to take this project up and produce it at his New Amsterdam Theatre in 1927. Here is a man who is all about glitz and glamour, and, as history tells us, is all about glorifying the American girl. In other words, he basically developed commercialism. Whether you like it or not, he basically said to be an acceptable woman in society you have to look a certain way; your figure has to be this and you have to have this look. He really kind of established that with his show. He was quite a ladies man. And some of the things he did might be looked at as being very chauvinistic and the like. But then he allowed Bert Williams, one of the great Black comedians of all time to share the stage with his White company. They actually threatened to quit. And his response to that was, "You go ahead and quit if you want to because I can replace all of you with the exception of the person you want me to fire." So, here, he stood up to all of these White stars of the time by saying this man is a brilliant artist, and I'm going to keep him.
When he decided to produce SHOW BOAT he-of course, it was the first time that a Black cast and a White cast was on stage together-he, well, the reason I get very emotional about this is because at all points in history it's the artists of our society that really are at the forefront of our civil rights. And it started with Florenz Ziegfeld. He was a man ahead of his time. Even today when you talk about political correctness or you talk about certain issues in our society, whether it be race or political or gay or straight, you know, entertainment has always kind of lead the way in terms of raising the social awareness. In terms of SHOW BOAT, I'm going to go back to your question. Can you ask the question again?
Me: Not a problem. Since its opening, people have taken issue with SHOW BOAT for being prejudiced or not politically correct enough. What are your feelings on the touchy subject of race in SHOW BOAT?
Lara Teeter: Well, my particular feeling in terms of race is that we are all one. I really believe that. I mean, I believe that we are all on this planet, we all have the pursuit of happiness, and where it gets really rough is on either side of the fence when a person feels their way is right and feels like they are bound and determined to prove what they think and how they fell about any particular subject is the only way and the right way to feel. That's when wars are fought. That's when people end up getting hurt. So, that's just my personal feeling.
SHOW BOAT, I think, is incredibly right on the money in terms of how Edna Feber chose to describe a family. She chose to describe a way of thinking. To think that miscegenation, there when the Show Boat docks in that particular part of the country, it's against the law to have a person a White person be married to a Black person because that is mixing blood is incredible to realize. And this is why the show is so timely. You have to understand that there are people who still feel that way-who still feel that this is wrong. And I'm going to jump to SOUTH PACIFIC for a minute. SOUTH PACIFIC won the Pulitzer Prize for, I believe it was 1949, for drama. When the show toured in, I think, 1953, it came through Atlanta, Georgia, and there were two men in the Senate that stood up on the Senate floor and tired to ban the show from being played there. They felt that it was a dishonorable to talk about a White person mixing blood with an Asian person. They stood on the Senate floor and talked about there being true blood, their blood is true, and that any other blood would be tainted-it would taint the true blue blood of a white person. And that wasn't that long ago that you realize that happened.
So, I think it is important and that it will always be important for shows like SOUTH PACIFIC and shows like SHOW BOAT to hold up a mirror to our society and say take a close look at what you're saying, what you're thinking, and what you're believing and hopefully shed some important light on the fact that a person on this planet has the right to feel, think, do, celebrate and love the way they feel; the way they are called to do. And to tell someone that they cannot love a person because of race or to tell someone that they can only be "saved" by having, by accepting, a particular religious belief is wrong. It is something to consider, I should say.
If that's how you're going to live your life, you're missing the greater opportunity of what it means to be a human being by feeling so self-centered and self-delusional. At any point, if any one feels that that we have a right to say that what we believe and that we think is the only way to be right, the only way to be a "good" human being, goes back to what I try to tell my students about breath and awareness. I mean, if you are aware that you feel a certain way or that someone else [feels a certain way]. If I state an awareness that someone feels a certain way, it's a less judgmental thing. I'm aware that they feel this way. I am aware that this person is reacting to this particular situation, and then it doesn't carry a lot of judgment to it. And I feel like there is so much judgment in our society. Of course, it's no great surprise in our political climate right now that there is a complete divide in our country or in the world, but particularly in America. Right now, there is a complete divide over things like guns, taxes, the economy, and large business versus small business. And I don't know. I wish I had the answer. I'm not someone who talks very much about this actually just because I'm not the type of person who thinks a lot or spends a lot of time worrying about it. I know what I believe, and I try to demonstrate that in my everyday life. That's the best I feel like I can do.
That's a long-winded answer, but I just think that SHOW BOAT is a very valuable piece of work in our society right now because I think that these are subject matters that still live with us today. They don't harken back to the turn of the century. It's a hundred years later and its still happening in our world today, and I think that as artists-whether directors, choreographers, performers, conductors, people who play in the orchestra, costume people, wig people, props, stage management, all of us who are involved, the small army that it takes to put on a show at Houston Grand Opera. I mean, it's a village over there. You walk into those offices and there are six people in one department who are handling one aspect of what it takes to put up one show and the audience never sees that, of course, they just see the final product-I think all of us involved in the theatre, and of course, being a person who educates and teaches in the fine arts, I tell my students on the first day of classes that we have a responsibility to our local regional, national, and world communities to really reflect and show what our society thinks and feels about all subjects. I think SHOW BOAT does that.
Me: Has preparing to play Cap'n Andy presented any unique challenges for you?
Lara Teeter: Well, every role has a lot of challenges. You know, any role that you play comes with a particular preconceived notion of what the role should or should not do. You know, any actor is presented with the challenge of taking the words that are on the page and perhaps other versions of that role that they've seen played either in a movie or on stage by a particular actor, and you have to bring yourself to those words on the page.
Every actor can tell you stories about their particular process. I approach a lot of my work very physically, so I'm someone who works from the outside in. I sort of get a sense of the character, the way they move and the way they fill a space in terms of their movement, and then I kind of go inside it.
In a show like this, there is a Southern dialect involved. And so there are certain technical aspects that you go with. And then for this particular production there is a great need for us to articulate the words, to enunciate the words a particular way, particularly the end of words because it is such a huge stage, and we have to make sure that people understand. So, you've got the dialect, you've got the enunciation, you've got the physicality, and then you have to start thinking about the arc of the character. What's the beginning, middle, and end, and how does the character fit into the show?
So, Cap'n Andy, for me, is not a lot unlike any other role I will ever play or that I have ever played. You start by reading the story and you go into rehearsals. Actually, we had a week or so of rehearsals before the Christmas holiday, and I think everybody was agreeing that first week we were kind of just throwing ourselves to the wolves. You know, just kind of, you know, [Laughs] "Here's what I got today, what do you think?" And Francesca [Zambello], the director, is there to say, "That's great, but let's change that" or "That's not working. Let's see what we can do to make this work better." So, it becomes a true collaboration between the director and the actor. That's the process that makes being an actor on stage so rewarding. It would be kind of boring wouldn't it if you just kind of walked into it. And even if you've played the role before, you're going to come in and it's a different set of circumstances because it's a different cast member you're playing opposite of. So, even that has its wonderful challenges to keep it fresh and to make changes according to the person that's now standing next to you. And we have people in this cast that, I think, have played their roles before. But then there are many people in the cast who, like me, never played the role in SHOW BOAT before. And that's always exciting when you have a whole group of actors that are new to the piece.
Cap'n Andy, you know, is a lot like me. We've made a decision that he-there's a character in the show, Frank, who is sort of second banana. He's kind of the song and dance man of the show. You know Magnolia and Ravenal are the romantic leads of the show, and then Frank and Ellie are kind of the second bananas, and the director, the choreographer, Michelle Lynch, and I all realized at a certain point in the rehearsal, maybe the second or third day, that this Cap'n Andy, in his former life, was really Frank. He was really the song and dance guy, and then he ended up taking over the show boat. But he really is an older song and dance person, which is, of course, me. So, we started layering in Cap'n Andy in some of the dances because that's kind of what I do. That's not so typical, but they're willing to make some adjustments to make this Cap'n Andy fit me and make my version of it fit the show. It's been very, very rewarding and very exciting so far to find those kinds of little nuggets of information that we can use for this particular show.
Me: Awesome. And you're Frank is, I think, one of the better performers we have in the Houston area. Tye Blue is fantastic.
Lara Teeter: TYE! Tye! What a sweetheart! And I know that about him. When I got the part, [Laughs] it all happened so fast. Finally, when the contract was done, I said, "Oh yeah, who's playing Frank?" [Laughs] And, you know, he [Tye Blue] was basically described to me as being a Houston favorite and being a great performer. He's been so, so kind and sweet, and he's going to be wonderful in the part. So, that's going to be very exciting.
Me: What is a dream role that you have yet to play?
Lara Teeter: Well, there is a role that I've always dreamed of playing which is Bert in MARY POPPINS. Elizabeth, my eleven-year-old daughter, is currently playing Jane Banks on Broadway in MARY POPPINS. We know Bert from Dick Van Dyke in the movie. And, now, on Broadway for the last eight or ten years this guy from England, Gavin Lee, has been playing the role of Bert all this time. He is incredibly...[Pauses] He is just phenomenal, and I have become a huge fan of his. And it's amazing. I've seen the show about four times, and every time I see it, I keep looking for any traces of him marking or being board. And you just don't see it. He's really an amazing performer, and Bert is a song and dance role. So, I would have to say Bert in MARY POPPINS.
I would love to do Henry Higgins again at some point; come back to that role. And is there any other role that I would like to do? I'm sure there are, but I can't think of them right now. I'm really starting to direct and choreograph more in my career, and I enjoy that quite a lot.
Me: As an artist, what inspires you?
Lara Teeter: I'm going to have to say my wife and children inspire me the most, without a doubt, and then also my students because of their willingness and courage to learn and grow. Webster Conservatory is a very intense place because we have very high standards for our students. We are very, I would say more so than not, we are very old school in our training. It's a lot like a four-year boot camp. And with the things we demand of our students it is quite inspiring to see them rise to the occasion day after day. And of course the boundless creativity of my children and all four of them are different. It's inspiring. And then my wife is at the top of the list simply because the way she parents our kids. She's our Cap'n Andy. She keeps our boat floating in the Teeter household. She is an artist and a scientist. And she's just able to be a very, very, very creative person, but at the same time she has the ability to organize and to keep us moving in a positive way. I think, in the back of my mind, every morning when I wake up, I try to think about what Kristen would do in a particular situation at some point in the day. You know, she's just my inspiration. So, that's what inspires me-my family and my students.
Me: Thinking back on the beginnings of your career, what is one piece of advice you wish you had been given as a young artist?
Lara Teeter: To...[Pauses]...I would say to take time every day to breathe and to meditate and to...[Pauses]...and to...[Pauses]...stay focused on what's really important. Yes. You know, to stay focused on what's really important, and those things that might seem important but aren't really important, to be able to develop earlier on the ability to recognize that.
Of course, you know what I'm saying right now. That hindsight is 20/20 they say. If I could go back to when I was 18 and have the wisdom and know the things that I know now, I would have invested in Microsoft. [We Both Laugh]
You know, I wouldn't trade this for anything because of all of the turns twists that occurred in my life that lead me to this thing, and that lead me to that thing, and that ultimately lead me into teaching high education. I believe a lot in the Eastern philosophies in terms of spirituality and one of the things I believe in is that, you can call it what you want, but we all come into this life with a certain set of karma. Another way to say it is that when we were born we were sort of handed all these gifts, but along with that we were handed the challenges that, in our lifetime, we were going to have to work out. Some of us have challenges physically that we to have to live with and work with. Some of us have challenges financially. Some of us we have the challenge of throughout our life dabbling in many different things and never really settling into one thing that we really want to do with our life. Some of us are challenged with being able to offer ourselves to the service of man kind to be able to serve the community. Scrooge, for instance, that's his challenge. He is very self-deluded and self-centered, and he ultimately comes around to meeting that part of his life challenge. So, I do realize that as the person I am standing here today that I was given a set of challenges, and I meet them and greet them everyday. And one of the reasons I ended up being a teacher, I realized that everyday is a chance to learn. I think that its no great surprise that if you talk to any teacher one of the reasons they are teachers is because they are a student [Laughs], and they're always trying to learn something, always trying to read something, always trying to find out more about something.
I think ultimately, as a performer, I felt like it was kind of a dead end street for me. I felt like I was doing really well and my career was really going great, but then there was just something that was missing. Then I got offered a chance to direct and choreograph a production of WEST SIDE STORY for a college, and none of the guys I was working with could dance, so I had to keep simplifying the movement and approach it from an acting standpoint. By the time the show opened those guys were flying across the stage and there was just something about that that triggered in me the need to teach, and so now I have my cake and eat it too. I'm a very lucky man because I have my stable job with benefits and all of that, and I am able to then go off and do projects like this and work with people like Francesca [Zambello], Michelle Lynch, and the artists I am sharing the stage with.
And I've already learned something just from being in rehearsal with this cast. I have already learned something about myself and about the way this director works, which is something I'm putting in my back pocket to use when I'm directing next time. So it's just a constant source of learning and inspiration. To look back at when I was 18 years old. Gosh! Boy would I do that differently now. [Laughs] But that's not the point. I wouldn't be standing here talking to you had it not been for who I was then and had to work things out. If I was this person when I was 18, then there would be a whole other set of things I would have to work out.
Photo courtesy of Insight Theatre Company's website.