I have known Karma for almost 6 years now, and my career in DC would not be what it is without her. I have had the honor of being in many a production that she has choreographed, including Grand Hotel, 110 in the Shade, A Funny Thing...Forum, Street Scene, and Pacific Overtures.
I met her as a cast member of Gypsy at Signature Theatre, and have been friends with her since...
Karma has extensive credits including, The Graduate on Broadway with Kathleen Turner, Merrily We Roll Along at The Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration, the first national tour of big, and Never The Sinner off-Broadway (Drama Desk Award, Best New Play). Recently she worked on Shakespeare in Hollywood at Arena Stage. She is a two-time nominee of the Helen Hayes Award, one for Signature's original production of Nijinsky's Last Dance, which was remounted at The Kennedy Center in 2003. As an artistic associate of Signature she has choreographed over 15 productions, most with Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer. Additional regional theatres include, The Shakespeare Theatre, Arena Stage, Actors' Theatre of Louisville, McCarter Theatre and Tennessee Rep. Camp directed/choreographed the 1992 Inaugural Gala for Vice President Al Gore, as well as Remember the Children, featuring Kathie Lee Gifford at the Lincoln Memorial. Opera credits include, Goya with Placido Domingo, Vanessa for the Washington Opera, and Kurt Weill's Street Scene with the Wolftrap Opera Company. TV credits include, The Sounds of WWII for PBS, All My Children for ABC and over 18 international commercials. Her most recent collaboration with Eric Schaeffer was on Snow White for Disney.
Karma and I got to check in and have a chat recently, and here are the spoils...
SGS: You have a serious hit on your hands. How did you develop the style of the movement for Urinetown?
KC: Joe Calarco and I were on the Disney Magic working on a new musical for their ship when we first started talking about the show. I guess the sea air agreed with me! The Broadway show was such a success that we really wanted to have something different. Joe and I came up with a vocabulary that really worked for our production. We're fortunate to have such a great design team that helped to contribute in the design of the show. We were all on the same page! It makes a huge difference working with a team that knows each other. Plus the show almost dictates how to choreograph Urinetown. You can hear a different musical in each number and I had so much fun with that. I also had a very creative group of actors that helped to inspire everything I did. I am total believer that we all contribute to what is seen on the stage.
SGS:What shows do you parody/homage in your choreography?
KC: Lets start with the obvious ... Les Miserables, West Side Story, Ragtime, Disney's The Lion King, Alvin Ailey's Revelations, Sweeney Todd, Side Show, and some others that are mere poses from shows that I'm entertained with but a lot of people may not get. It was soooo much fun!
SGS: When doing your own special style of dance (which I have been privileged enough to be a part of), what do you draw on for inspiration in a piece?
KC: It depends on the piece, and honestly, on the group of actors that are in the numbers. I ALWAYS do research. I always try to be honest to the period, and also take liberties on mixing styles. As you know, since I have been blessed having you in my numbers, as well as my dance captain, I choreograph like a director directs scenes. I can make myself completely nuts trying to make sure that every move I do makes sense. I choreograph in "acting beats" so that there is always a story going on. I personally have to justify why I do everything. That's also why I will always listen to an actor if he has an idea, because they are ones doing it every single night. It has to look like it came out of their mind, not mine.
SGS: How do you collaborate with a director in your work?
KC: I will always ask what the director sees for a number. What they would like to see at the end of a number. I sometimes ask them to give me a few adjectives to describe what they think the number is ... that can really get me going! I believe the best work comes when an audience cannot tell where the director's work ends and the choreographers begins. It makes a seamless show. Some critics think that choreographers only choreograph dances. SO NOT TRUE. Choreographers (at least me) always have an opinion on everything with music. I have wanted a critic to do a story on choreographers for the theatre because I believe there are a lot of misconceptions about what we do. Choreographing for non dancers is much more difficult than choreographing for dancers. In the end the audience doesn't want to know that they're not dancers onstage. They only want to see a great show ... as does everyone. However, it can certainly make my job more difficult to find choreography that makes a group look great when they don't have dance training. I have been fortunate in the directors that I work with because most of them understand movement. Joe Calarco uses movement in everything he does and it is always a true collaboration. Plus he inspires me to always be my best. I adore him.
SGS: What movies have influenced your work? Name 5?
KC: Cabaret, West Side Story, White Christmas, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and anything Jack Cole choreographed.
SGS: What is your favorite piece that you have created?
KC: I'm still not there.
SGS: You were a performer of the first right...what made you want to get on the other side of the table?
KC: I'm bossy! THAT, and I was never truly happy just doing the same thing all the time. I found out that what I enjoy the most, is the process. I love rehearsing, finding new things, changing them, changing them again, and I love tech! Once the show is up is I'm ready to go onto the next thing. When I was acting on the soaps (yes, I was on two of them) even then, in which you're doing something different every day, I was never truly happy. I'm so happy and fortunate that I made the change. I can honestly say that this is where I'm meant to be.
SGS: I did Gypsy with you, the last show that you performed in...To get to the gritty important question, did you like my ass as I mooned you every night in a countdown till closing?
KC: A cute ass I might add. We redheads have to stick together! Doing Gypsy with you and my dear friend Sherri Edelen was worth the ride. Well, almost. I will say, FINAL performance indeed!
SGS: How do you find the language of movement in a character?
KC: I generally like to watch acting rehearsal before I completely choreograph for an actor. Just watching how they move in general is a huge help. I watch how they respond to questions, their body movements when they're vulnerable, when they're upset, when they're just being themselves. I have never choreographed a piece in my studio and had it turn out in it's original format. I change movement on the spot quite a bit. What looks good on me may not necessarily look good on an actor. You have to be willing to change for the good of the show. I'm fortunate to have been an actor because I use acting tools to choreograph and I think (or I hope) it helps the actors connect to the text. I also use Ann Bogart's viewpoints when it's appropriate for my choreography.
SGS: What music inspires you?
KC: I was born in the wrong era. I rarely listen to pop music unless I'm watching video. I love the music of Ella Fitzgerald, give me a Big Band sound any day of the week, soundtracks from movies ... the good ones can make you weep, Latin music, Stephen Sondheim, and I have to admit ... I'm a fan of Cher.
SGS: Who isn't, sistah? :) But what do you listen to?
KC: all of the above and many different musicals. After I'm done rehearsing for a show ... I drive home in total silence! Plus I'm a huge "talking heads" show junkie.
SGS: What makes you happy?
KC: Working. I love my job. My kids..... they are my world. Time to travel, a great book, losing weight, friends, and time to enjoy them all. Ah yes, and Peter Marks finally enjoying my work.
SGS: That's enough to make anyone happy! What is the last thing that stopped you in your tracks?
KC: Hurricane Katrina. The loss of it all, the sadness, and yet so many people reaching out to help.
KC: Amadeus, anything with Gene Kelly, I Claudius on PBS, and I absolutely sobbed and loved Big Fish.
SGS: Advice to upstarts?
KC: Just get in the door ... come in prepared, offer to assist or be a dance captain if that interests you, know your profession and always do some research before rehearsal so that you can contribute to the process.
SGS: Thanks, Karma. I hope to dance with you soon!