BWW Interview: Mark Esposito Choreographing A Great TIME in RAG
Following in the hallowed footsteps of the choreographic greats that he's worked with, the ever busy choreographer Mark Esposito has added his choreographic Midas touch to the cast of twenty performers of RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL, just opening yesterday at The Pasadena Playhouse.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Mark!
What previous productions of RAGTIME have you seen?
I was thrilled to have seen the Broadway production after it opened, and was so blown away with the craftsmanship of it all. Was very powerful to me.
Before working together with David Lee in 2016 at The Pasadena Playhouse in CASA VALENTINA, you also collaborated on Reprise!'s APPLAUSE in 2005. Do you two now have a short hand in combining your creative energies?
David and I are strong believers in storytelling in our productions that we have collaborated on together. We sit and discuss the project, what point of view we are trying to tell and get across. We also did CAMELOT at Pasadena Playhouse and Two River Theater in New Jersey as well. This is the production that David wrote for seven actors telling the story of King Arthur and his Camelot.
Do you find it easier or harder to choreograph within stylistic parameters (as in a period piece, such that RAGTIME is, or in a specific synchronized execution like The Rockettes in their Radio City Christmas Hall Spectaculars) than with a piece where you have freer rein?
I try to find what is different vocally for the movements in the shows I have done. I listen to the music and let it lead me. I research the period of time I am working with through pictures, videos, etc. to get a feel and understanding of the styles needed. In this production, I have tried to come up with different styles of movement for the three very different groups we are telling the story about: the New Rochelle people (White People), the Harlem People (Black People) and the immigrants (Jewish, Italian and Haitians).
Your list of choreographic credits includes productions spanning across the United States. Do you have a favorite city to work in? Or do you just like to continuously work?
I have very different experiences working in different parts of the country - none of them ever bad, they just all have their different challenges - and trying to find what works and how to work through those challenges is the exciting part! But as one is going through it, of course, you are always concerned about whether you are able to make it work - but with good collaboration and listening skills, it always does.
What advice would you give budding auditionees who come to try out for one of your shows?
Be committed to the process. Listen to what the direction is and what the choreographer is trying to make happen in the movement. They are giving you that information. In musical theater, we are always trying to tell a story and sometimes that is through dance. So being a good actor and listener is a strong part of that as well. Of course, having strong dance technique helps as well. So go to class - different classes, explore different styles of dance so you are at least familiar with various styles. Singers should take movement classes so they are comfortable in their bodies when asked to dance or move as this applies to actors as well.
What's an immediate turn-off for you in an audition situation (chewing gum? cellphones ringing? being unprepared?)
All of the above, and performers who are not willing to listen or take direction. You always want someone in your rehearsal process who you can trust to listen and hopefully take direction and create with you through finding the piece you are working on. Be pliable, willing to accept change and apply it. Explore with the creative team. Always be present in the room even by just listening. That is what you are there for.
You've worked with and/or assisted some of the choreographic greats. Let me list some of them and you share a short sentence of two about each, OK?
Jerome Robbins: Always approached his dancers as actors. Jerry always choreographed from an actor's point of view. He would hire dancers who knew how to dance and had great technique, but they also had to be actors as well. Task master of genius.
Agnes De Mille: Keep the storytelling flowing - do not interrupt the ideas you are trying to get across with overdoing movement. Always looking for strong down-to-earth dancers, not showgirls - people of the earth.
Bob Fosse: About isolation and finding the best economy of movement possible to get your idea or point of view across. Creating an image for yourself while you are doing the movement he was asking you do. To me, anything he did came from a sexy, provocative approach. Really cared about the individuals who were in the room - working with their strengths.
Michael Bennett: Michael was really a conceptualist. He always worked with the concept first, then the movement. Again, it is always about storytelling.
Jerry Zaks: Jerry has a odd sense of humor to me - you had to really find what he was trying to go for. He trusted you, but he was also very concerned about doing it the way he wanted you to do it. Which was always a bit tough because you sometimes felt you were not bringing your thoughts to it. He always had a clear vision of how things should be said and what movement or gesture you should do.
What classic musical theatre piece would you still like to tackle choreographically?
To be honest, I have done all the war horse musicals, as I call them, several times, from THE MUSIC MAN, WEST SIDE STORY, OKLAHOMA, CAROUSEL to BRIGADOON, GUYS AND DOLLS, CABARET, SHE LOVES ME. I am thrilled to add RAGTIME to that list, as I think it is a very important and powerful musical. But I think I would like to do SWEET CHARITY and CHICAGO, for sure!
Any future projects for Mark Esposito you can share with us?
I will be doing OKLAHOMA at Pittsburgh CLO, and also WEST SIDE STORY this summer at Lexington Theater company. Both shows I have done several times before.
Thank you again, Mark! I look forward to seeing your choreographic artistry in RAGTIME.
For RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL ticket availability and show schedule through March 3, 2019; log onto www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org