August 25th, 2010
I had the chance to sit down with Katie Spelman, the talented choreographer and expert dance captain for Theories of the Sun. She’s been rocking our world in rehearsals, and I wanted to share her with you as well, readers.
Without further ado, say hi to Katie!
Katie, you dance and stuff, right?
Well, that’s a dumb question to start with. Duh. Yes.
Right. Good. Just you know, breaking the ice. Now let’s get real. What got you into dancing in the first place?
I was in a community theater production of Wizard of Oz. And I was always on the wrong foot, messing up the dances. The choreographer went up to my mom one day and said ‘you need to get that girl in a dance class, she’s in severe need of coordination.’ Inspirational, right? There was no presence of natural talent. But my parents threw me in a ballet class and I’ve been dancing ever since.
That must have done wonders for your self esteem. But you are not just a dancer now, but also a choreographer! What made you want become a choreographer? What is it about telling stories through dance that appeals to you?
I’ve always liked dance. And I’ve always liked theater. About 4 years ago I saw The Sparrow at the House Theatre, and I was completely floored by the way Tommy Rapley had used dance to tell a story – making it theater. It sounds silly, because the combination should be so obvious to someone with a foot in both worlds, but mind was totally blown. He is an exquisite craftsman of movement and it made me realize 1) what storytelling meant 2) how to do it well and 3) why it was important, because I left the theater feeling things. I think we forget to feel things sometimes. It’s inconvenient for us – we’re trying to find the nearest pizza place without interrupting the pandora stream on our iphone. Telling stories through dance appeals to me because the most important moments in life, I think, are when words fail us. Or when something else replaces words. And no matter WHO YOU ARE or how you grew up, everyone moves through space. So when there is a way to connect acting/storytelling with a movement that expresses one of those unspoken, important moments, I think that is the pinnacle of the theatrical experience. Dance in theater is like the impressionist movement in painting. I think.
So let’s dig a bit into Theories. In Theories you are working with actors, not dancers. What do you do to help them get their bodies moving?
It’s still a transition I struggle with. But I do have a process. We stretch, warm up, all that jazz. I tend to find that the best thing to do to get actors into movement is to connect it to what they do – acting. The word ‘choreography’ can strike fear in the heart of a trained actor. But I try to emphasize that I’m not looking for perfection. Cause perfection isn’t interesting to me, and it’s rarely interesting to the directors I work with. Yes, please, do the movement on the right count. But when I do it, I look like a dancer. That’s only interesting if the piece is a dance piece, and there’s a vocabulary that’s been set up. I want you to look like a person doing a movement for a reason; a movement that is slightly exaggerated and unrealistic, because THAT is integral to the communication of the thought. Sometimes words just don’t cut it. That’s why we punch, kick, scream, have sex, cry…right? Dance is just an hyperbolized organization of those thoughts.
Any of the Theories actors knocking your socks off, or giving you some unexpected awesome dance moves?
They all are. I am fascinated – FASCINATED – by the way people move. Hence the job. I like to dance other people’s choreography. And I like to choreograph. But I hate to dance my own stuff. Because the way someone else interprets it is so much more interesting. Everyone in Theories is taking the movement and owning it in their own quirky, unique way. I’m obsessed.
Alright let’s get personal. If you could dance and eat at the same time, what food would you dance/eat with?
This question cracks me up cause Navid says my tribal rehearsal name is “dances-with-food” because I’m always eating my dinner at rehearsal while I choreograph .
And it would be nestle tollhouse semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Excellent choice. If you could dance with anyone in the world, who would it be?
I would dance with Donald O’Connor. That’s the guy who plays Gene Kelly’s best friend in Singin’ in the Rain. Gene’s great and all that. But Donald is my guy.
One cannot deny that Donald is a sexy beast. Now, if you could choreograph any show in the world, what would it be?
I would choreograph Sweet Charity, maybe. Or A Chorus Line (I’d keep the opening and closing Benet choreography, and do everything in between). To be honest – shhhh, don’t tell – I rarely pine to choreograph shows. I get inspired by other people. So I often dread choosing shows. I prefer to be given a challenge, as opposed to ask to create my own. I’m sure there’s a fabulous psychoanalysis of that and I don’t want to know what it is. There are shows that excite me – On The Town, Wonderful Town, Chicago, Oklahoma, Damn Yankees, etc. I’ll DO anything. I’m less excited by the intangible. I’m more excited by “hey, what about this? with these people in this space?” I’m WAY excited about things that don’t exist. Movement that can grow WITH a show, instead of fit into one.
I also want to choreograph everything I ever choreographed again. The little things I’ve learned since the last time I touched something is always what I want to do – to fix those moments in Carousel I thought of after the fact, that number in Cabaret, that idea for Tommy, etc. So I either need to get a time machine or get people to do those shows again. I’m on both missions.
Final question. What’s the dream, Katie? Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?
Oh, gosh. I don’t even know where I’ll be in 5, 10 minutes half the time. I guess the ultimate goal is to choreograph and direct. So hopefully I’ll be sitting on my front porch with a very attractive man and a weimaraner, drawing up my lesson plans (I want to teach choreography and directing) and getting ready to direct and choreograph a production of Cabaret or Violet or Midsummer Night’s Dream or Dancing and Lughnasa or Translations or something. And it’ll be fall. I like the fall. I want an MFA, I want to study in Ireland, and I want to translate people’s thoughts into movement; I want to teach, and I want to do the thing that is important – get theater to the youth, and get the youth involved in theater. It’s important. I believe that.
There you have it. Driven, focused, and loves her chocolate chips. No wonder we’re having so much fun with her in rehearsals!
Catch Katie’s awesome choreography in Theories of the Sun starting with previews September 5th! Tickets on sale now!
Until next time, stay cool, Chicago.