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Daisy Prince: Loving the Music


Editors Note:

I am very excited to introduce my first interview series guest, the incredible Daisy Prince. I was extremely fortunate to have Daisy as my professor in New York City at the Tepper Program with Syracuse University. Her credits include performing in Pal Joey (1995), The Petrified Prince (1994) and Follies (1985) Off Broadway and Merrily We Roll Along (1981) on Broadway. Her director credits include The Last Five Years (2002) and Songs for a New World (1995). It is extremely exciting for me to share Daisy's wisdom in music with you today. Enjoy!

When did you decide you wanted to perform and direct? 

I come from generations of professional Musicians, Directors, and Writers. Doing something in the performing arts seemed inevitable. On my mother's side, my grandfather was an Arranger and Composer for MGM and Columbia during the golden age of movie musicals. He then became an executive producer for movies including The Sound of Music and West Side Story. My mother's mother was a musician and a screenwriter. Her stepfather was a stage and film actor and then a television director. My mother was a ballerina and pianist. My father is a Producer and Director. So, you could say I am continuing in the family business. I was first drawn to performing because I love music, and singing has always been a great pleasure for me. Also, having a wildly accomplished and celebrated director as a father made the idea of choosing to pursue the same career seem more than foolish. Accusations of nepotism were sure to follow and I felt the best I could do was choose a different path and hope that small distance would grant me some measure of generosity. That said, I went to Brown University and met the brilliant playwright Paula Vogel, and everything changed for me. Paula made me feel as if I had something to contribute, something of value to say and is entirely responsible for my evolution from performer to director.



How did you start teaching at the Tepper program with Syracuse? You are obviously a busy person with your work, with your family, and yet you still have time to teach.


The Tepper program started as a two-week program before it was a semester. Participation was a no-brainer. It began as an audition class and rather soon it evolved into something much larger for me. I wanted to communicate to the students my unbridled love of musical theater and musical theater songs. I also felt a bit of an obligation to my family to make sure the great American songbook was included in the teaching of musical theater artists. I love songs. Truly. There is nothing better than a well-crafted song. Also, I have had the greatest class collaborators. The musicians behind the piano make coming to class every year a complete privilege. Sitting in a room helping students recognize their potential, introducing them to new material, giving them permission to perform the material they feel passionate about, watching them discover how much great material does for them-- what could be better than that? I bring in phenomenal substitute teachers when I have to take off for work or go on vacation with my kids, as you know Adam Guettel covered for me last year, but other than that I try to make certain I am there all the time-- as much for me as for the students.



Your perspective on performing a musical theatre piece is, in my opinion, heightened by your personal relationship to some of the most talented composers. How important is it for actors to research a composers' intent before performing a piece or is it not always necessary?


I think any time you access information about the material you are performing your performance will be richer for it. That said, auditioning is a slightly different animal. There are songs that function well out of context and some that really don't. Re-contextualizing songs can be diminishing instead of elevating. It is important to know the difference. Stating the obvious, the more you know about the art form you are pursuing the better. It isn't just about application, it is about enrichment. Enrichment is no longer valued in the same way. I get it. In the end, if you are passionate about something shouldn't you want to know as much as you possibly can? I never understand being passionate about performing without being passionate about the art form. I find it baffling. So, an answer for you, why would you not want to know the original intention of the author even if your interpretation is a departure from that intention? 


Choosing music for an audition book can be extremely daunting if you didn't have a repertoire class or guidance on how to choose music for yourself. Where should actors start when they are selecting pieces to perform? 


Listen to songs. I mean all songs. Understand that the better the material you choose the better your performance will be. A perfect rhyme matters. How a composer sets a lyric matters. As a performer, I felt connected to material that expressed something that I wanted to say. I also felt drawn to certain chord progressions, melodic lines, well-crafted melodies. That is what made me want to sing. What do you need to express? What music makes you feel most able to express yourself? I think too many students are looking for a shortcut and, as a result, are shortchanging themselves without knowing it. The investment you make in the breadth of your knowledge of the art form is one of the most important investments you can make. Stay up at night after work and familiarize yourself with musicals and the composers. Watch YouTube. Also, go to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and do some poking around. Read interviews with composers you admire and see who influenced them and listen. Be smart. If you are auditioning for something specific, know as much about the project as you can. Understand the musical language of the piece you are auditioning for. Worry less about the relatively mundane stuff and more about understanding what you have to contribute. 


In the age of the internet some actors fail in getting the correct music through free apps or cheap websites. How important is it to get the right accompaniment?


It is vital. Your collaborator is the person playing the piano. When it all works well, you are making something together. So, don't mess around. Also, pay for the music you perform. Saying it again, pay for the music you perform. This is a big part of how the artists you admire make a living. 



You really hate when actors constrict themselves to type when it comes to choosing a music for our book. When is type holding an actor back and when is it helpful?


Most of the time when actors come in to meet with me they are very young and tell me that they have been assigned a type, or believe that they have been assigned a type, by their professors and some professionals. On more than one occasion, I have come to find out that is not so. It isn't that I want 20 year old students to come in and sing I'm Still Here. I want students to feel at liberty to define themselves. Academic theater demands that some young women by nature of their height or relative maturity play roles for much older women. These are specific demands of academic theater. It is understandable but not helpful when, after graduation, age makeup is rendered unnecessary. Also, people disagree about type all the time. Especially now that prejudicial boundaries of race, gender identity, and physical ability are starting to be examined and challenged. If theater, in general, is exploring and expanding how a character is defined, it only makes sense that individual performers would follow suit. 


While you were my professor, some of the best tips you gave me were very simple adjustments that transformed my singing in a big way. What are the most common adjustments you tend to give actors nowadays?


Choose great material and believe that you are enough. That you don't have to "DO" something. Trust the writers enough to stop over-interpreting their songs.  Stop playing to an imaginary balcony. Make music! It isn't all about "acting." Music is maybe the most important expressive tool. It isn't about over-singing and singing over the piano, it is about collaborating with the accompaniment. Work on your voice but know that having a healthy expressive instrument is most important. Do not make a generic thing of your unique sound. Understand that your voice will grow and change and know that it is your job to understand your voice and grow with it. Study as often as you can. Breathe, and once you find your placement, hang on!


We all hate 16 bars. We hate 8 bars even more. How do we as actors handle that stressful necessity and make an audition as smooth as possible?


This is my least favorite subject. I wish I had a good answer. Do your best to find something that addresses the basic needs of the people you are auditioning for. Understand that the people behind the table know you hate it, so make everyone feel better by attempting to access some pleasure in those 8 bars. Don't assume that yelling is always the best idea. Be smart. Try to amuse yourself with this task. You might find something that fits the requirements and shows auditioners a bit more about who you are. Hard work in all things tends to pay off. Keep listening to and looking for material that you find engaging. 


This industry can make a person bitter and quite negative as we have seen with people we know. But as I have personally had the chance to work with you I see that you are very positive about this industry. You are very hopeful and encouraging of my generation (millennials) as actors, when many view us negatively. How do you stay so hopeful and positive in this industry?

 

I love musical theater. I love people who work in the theater. Pretty simple stuff. I must acknowledge I have led a very privileged life. I have been exposed to great art my entire life. I have tried to listen and absorb all I can. I try to take nothing for granted. I also have been given a giant dose of perspective. I have two children. My older daughter Lucy has Autism and would be considered "low functioning." Although I hate that term, I think it serves to orient people. Lucy is non-verbal. She takes in the world in a very different way. She listens. She lives in the moment. She has taught me a lot-- about letting go of expectation, about hard work, about appreciating the present, about noticing small acts of kindness and simple things of beauty. Lucy is 19. When I first started teaching my students were much older than my children. Now, you are not. I see passion, wonder, commitment, vulnerability, struggle, bravery, a potential in all of you. I love being around you. I hope that I can take care of you and nurture what is special in you in the same way I have watched my kids' best teachers care for them and their individual talents.



What is the best advice you could give a new, up and coming actor going into the professional world?


Never stop learning. See as much as you can. Appreciate working. There is nothing more disheartening than hearing a young performer kvetch about working. Gratitude is everything. Engage in the world around you. Literature, art, politics, culture. Feed your brain and you will be a better performer and a better person. Travel. Performing might be your first love, you might find that life takes you in a different direction. Don't be afraid to follow a new path. You might be richer for it. 

Comments

  1. This comment applies to every person everywhere: "Worry less about the relatively mundane stuff and more about understanding what you have to contribute." Or, as it says in Philippians 2: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Thanks for this great interview, Victoria!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your response! YES her quote is so true to everyone especially those in the performing arts! We all have value! By the way I love that verse!

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