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Student Blog: Getting to Know Kelli O'Hara

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Interviewing a Broadway performer, watching them perform live, and attending their masterclass within 24 hours? It's more likely than you'd think!

Student Blog: Getting to Know Kelli O'Hara

One of the things I love most about studying Musical Theatre at LIU Post is when the opportunity comes to have a masterclass with a professional actor. This past weekend, we had the absolute pleasure of learning from Kelli O'Hara and getting to watch her perform at our campus' professional theater.

O'Hara is a Tony Award Winner, seven time Tony Award Nominee, two time Grammy Award Nominee, and Primetime Emmy Award Nominee. An Oklahoma born performer, she is best known for her work on Broadway, in Opera, and in television and film. Most recently, O'Hara filmed episodes for HBO's upcoming television show, The Gilded Age.

Along with being extremely talented and well accomplished, she is also a grounded and generous woman whom I had the absolute honor of interviewing. Below are some questions and answers about her career and life.

Q: What is a piece of advice would you give your younger self?

A: To enjoy the times when I could rest, between gigs. I always worried I wouldn't get another gig when one ended, so my downtime was always fraught with worry and racing. I also wish I had done less comparing myself to others. It has taken me a long time to learn the value of just being myself.

Q: Which role that you've played has had the biggest impact on you?

A: That's a great question and very hard to answer. I learned something about myself with every role. Some impacted my life more professionally and some more personally. I think "Francesca" in THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY impacted my heart the most.

Q: What are the differences you enjoy most about working in both theatre and film?

A: I LOVE live theatre! It is my true creative love. I enjoy the relationship between an audience and the performer. It is immediate and raw. Film is the opposite...but I love the quiet, stillness and nerve it takes to pull it off. The two genres call for different skills, but I love having the opportunity to use both.

Q: What have you learned from originating a role?

A: I learned the hard way that bringing my own voice to the table is necessary. Depending on others to create all the truth and humanity in a brand new character that I have to bring to life is fruitless. I must bring myself to it as well.

Q: What are some of your pre-show rituals or tips you would suggest to other performers?

A: Stillness. Openness. Warmth and space. No one can receive if they are shut off. Performing is less about giving and more about receiving at its best. Find ways to open yourself...to success, to failure, to hiccups, to fun.

Q: How do you find a balance between your artistry and your personal life?

A: It's a never-ending process. Every day I work at it. But the more I prioritize my personal life, the deeper artist I become. I think there is staying power in that Artistry is so beautiful when it is raw, and finding that is about getting open, but STAYING is about being grounded.

At a masterclass open to our entire theatre department, O'Hara worked with five students. She spent over an hour and a half giving each of them adjustments and exercises to try on their pieces. O'Hara was able to lift each of them up as performers while also giving them different tips on how to enhance their songs. One of my favorite pieces of advice she gave was, "If you mean what you say, the note will be there."

In addition to the masterclass she had with us, O'Hara had two live performances at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts' Krasnoff Theater that same day. I had the delight of watching her performance at 9:30PM, and she was incredible. She performed a range of songs she sang in shows she's been in, songs she didn't sing in those shows, and other pieces that hold a lot of meaning to her. She told such touching stories between her beautifully sung pieces, and it definitely made the audience feel as if we were in the palm of her hand.

Overall, it was such an honor to be able to ask Kelli O'Hara questions, watch her perform, and see how she worked with my peers. She is such a joy to be around, and I can't wait to see what the world has in store for her next.


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