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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Jenn Rapp

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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Jenn Rapp
Jenn Rapp

Today's subject Jenn Rapp is making the holiday season all the more magical as the Associate Director (AD) of the international magic extravaganza The Illusionists-Magic of the Holidays. The show begins this evening December 3rd at the National Theatre. It will play there through December 8th.

Jenn has been a part of The Illusionists since 2015 and has helped oversee many productions of the show on Broadway, touring versions, and around the world.

As a director and or choreographer her Jenn's work has been seen on Norwegian Cruise Line's production of Le Cirque Bijou. Other large scale touring productions include Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Live!, and PJ Masks Live!

As an associate director she has had the privilege of working with Tony Award nominated choreographer John Caraffa on several projects including Finding Nemo at Disney World's Animal Kingdom and The Most Beautiful Room at Long Wharf Theatre.

She was Stafford Arima's associate director on Bare, Found, and a remount of the infamous Carrie. She was also Arima's AD for the one night only concert stagings of Ragtime starring Lea Salonga, Norm Lewis, and Patina Miller & The Secret Garden starring Ben Platt.

For a little more intense magic in your holiday season check out The Illusionists-Magic of the Holidays this week at the National Theatre. After reading about Jenn Rapp and her involvement in the show you'll come to appreciate the amount of work that goes into the production all the more.

How did you come to be a part of the production team for The Illusionists?

A colleague of mine, Jim Millan, was brought on as a Creative Director the first year the show played Broadway. He brought me on as an associate that first year and I was introduced to the world of magic as we created that Broadway production at The Marquis Theatre.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Jenn Rapp
Jonathan Goodwin in The Illusionists-Magic of the Holidays. Photo courtesy of the National Theatre.

Where do you find the performers for The Illusionists? Can you take us through the audition process?

The Works has a long history with magic and magicians so prior to Broadway they already had numerous magicians on their roster. They find new ones in all kinds of ways: magic competitions, television shows like America's Got Talent and referrals from other magicians. Some of the newer magicians started in the magic world as assistants and have worked their way up the ranks. It's not so much an audition process, more just a constant look out for talent.

Can you please tell us what the job of an Associate Director is? Do you tour with The Illusionists to each city they play in?

As an Associate Director, I have worked on many different productions of The Illusionists on Broadway, U.S. tours and around the world. I do a lot of pre-production work, setting things up with the magicians, technicians and designers. I work closely with Neil Dorward, the Creative Director, to create a running order for each show, much like a rock-and-rock concert. We also collaborate on the various design elements: lighting, scenic, music, costumes and projections.

In the lead up days to opening, I am in charge of running things and getting the show up technically. I do everything from setting schedules, helping our amazing Lighting Designer, Hugo Mercier, light all of the acts, coordinating staging/dance/props and audience participation. I also work with the Illusionists in developing their acts, which are sometimes ones they have been doing for years and sometimes brand new.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Jenn Rapp
Valentin Azima in The Illusionists-Magic of the Holidays.
Photo courtesy of the National Theatre

The Illusionists has a rotating cast of magicians. Do you decide who performs at each show or does the cast work it out with each other?

The Works casts the Illusionists into all of the productions. Once I have a cast, I look at what acts each person has in their repertoire and put together the set list that is the right combinations of all their collective talents.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Jenn Rapp
Jenn Rapp with her longtime colleague Stafford Arima.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

You were the AD on the off-Broadway production of Carrie at MCC. Can you please talk about the experience of putting that show together? Was there any trepidation about going to work on a show that was considered one of the biggest disasters to ever hit Broadway?

Carrie was such an honor to work on. I got to meet Stafford Arima, the director, on that show and he is now a life-long colleague, friend and mentor to me. We had an incredible creative team and cast and we all found it thrilling to be tackling something with such a colorful history in a completely new way. It was challenging and inspiring and exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

Why do think The Illusionists is such a big hit with audiences wherever it plays?

People around the world have a fascination with magic. They love being shown something they know isn't real, an illusion, and taking joy in the 'how did they do that' and the 'wow factor'. It is a true family show and the variety of magicians in each line up means there is always something for everyone. Magic has no language barriers. It is a mainly visual art form and each production is catered to the area is it playing. I've seen the show in countries around the globe and every audience responds the same, they are all ready for a fun night of spectacle that takes them on a journey. It hits a note with families, date-night couples, magic fans and theatre fans in a way that most shows can't. It is a group event with something for everyone.

What upcoming projects do you have for 2020?

More magic is in store as we put up the US tour of Magic Of Holidays and then another new production and cast that will head out in early 2020. We also have a number of international productions lined up.

I am the choreographer for the Disney a cappella group, Dcapella and we will be touring the US and Japan in 2020, along with a variety of other performances thru the year.

My New York career started in large touring musicals of children's shows that are based on popular television shows. My latest, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Live! heads out on its fifth US tour in early 2020.

As a freelancer, my working world often switches from one genre to the next and for me that challenge and fluidity has always suited me. It's one of the reasons I have enjoyed my time with The Illusionists so much, that ever-changing world of magicians, acts, productions, languages and cultures always keeps me on my toes. This will be our fifth season on Broadway and I am forever thankful that I was introduced to this magical family.

Special thanks to the National Theatre's Diector of Marketing and Sales Ashley Birdsell for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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