Q&A@22 is an insider’s view of the work and the magic it takes to produce theater. Each show we will ask a member of the cast or crew questions about their approach to their particular theatrical craft.
Our third Q&A@22 is with Holly Jahn, Choreographer of our upcoming production of Curtains. Holly is an established teacher, choreographer, and performer. Choreography credits: Reflections Dance Company, Van Zandt/Milmore Productions, Forum Theatre, Brooks Art Center, Villagers Theatre, Newton High School, and Piscataway High School. Other choreography credits include: “Guys and Dolls,” “Urinetown! the Musical,” “A Night at the Nutcracker,” “Anything Goes,” “Crazy for You,” and many others. Performance credits: Van Zandt/Milmore Productions, Stage Door Theatre, Loretta Fois and Dancers, Shenandoah Conservatory, University of the Arts, Playhouse 22, Villagers Theatre, Circle Playhouse, Plays-in-the-Park, Dances-in-the-Park, and the Pantheon Theatre in NYC. Her teaching credits include multiple dance studios throughout NJ, Middlesex & Monmouth County Arts Middle School & High School, and the Papermill Playhouse Summer Conservatory.
What was the first show you choreographed?
Holly Jahn: The first show I choreographed was “Nunsense.”
When do you get involved in the play selection process? Do you let the theater or directors know you’re available or do people seek you out?
HJ: In my experience, most often I’ve been approached to work on a show, usually by the director but sometimes by the producer. For some shows, I have submitted myself as choreographer and have had to go through an interview process.
How much input do you have on the acting aspects of the show? Do you give performance direction to the actors or focus mainly on the dance steps? What’s the difference between “staging” a musical number and choreographing it?
HJ: I feel have a responsibility to the playwright and script to keep the integrity of the characters in musical numbers. So with that said, I keep an open communication with the director and actors to make sure we’re all on the same page as far as how a character may or may not perform in any given dance number. In my mind, “staging” a musical number includes minimal movement such as using gestures or doing toned down dance steps. “Choreographing” includes staging because there is still a plan of movement that has to be executed with the same intentions as a high energy dance number.
What’s your process for choreography? Do you study the script and listen to the music multiple times before trying to get it down? Do you refer back to the original choreography? How do you remember which moves go with which dance? Do you make notes in writing? Audio recording? Video?
HJ: My process for creating the choreography varies with each show that I do. I always ask for all materials I can get my hands on–the script, the music score, as well as audio recordings. Once the materials are in my possession, I read the script and listen to the music to see if it matches up with the score. Then once I start working on a number I usually have to listen to the song over and over and over and over….well, let’s put it this way, I listen to it until I can visualize what I want to happen, weather it’s 4 times or 100 times. Once I figure out what I want to happen, I have to actually do the movement to make sure it fits with music. In order to remember the choreography, I write everything down in a notebook. I try not to watch other people’s choreography of whatever show I’m working on so it doesn’t influence what I might create. In some instances, as in “Crazy for You” and “Pippin”, there are some moments the audience expects to see a certain way because it was such a memorable moment established on the Broadway stage…sometimes those moments should be recreated.
What’s the hardest part about choreographing for community theater?
HJ: The hardest thing about working in community theater is scheduling. The talent is out there, the desire to perform and work hard is out there, it is organizing the schedules of the production staff along with every cast member that proves the most challenging aspect by far.