Katherine Carter is nominated (alongside Music Director Andrew Altenbach) for Best Director of a Musical (Opera) for her outstanding and moving production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) by the Boston Opera Collaborative. In her interview, Katherine tells us about working as a director of opera and theatre, her keen sense of her audiences’ expectations, and a quick mention of her exciting upcoming production again with the Boston Opera Collaborative!
Tell us a little bit about your history as a performer, director, and theatre artist.
Born and raised in Michigan, I found my love for the arts through musical theater and Shakespeare. I had passion for performing and spent every free moment away from school in a theatre. The progression into director was natural as I found my artistic voice. I cut my teeth on one-act festivals and assistant directing. By the time I graduated with a BFA in Acting , I was casting many of my classmates in upcoming productions. In 2010, I founded The Other Mirror, a company dedicated to creating theatrical art based on event, text, or myth to reveal unrealized perspectives. We currently have a full season of projects coming up, starting with Mirror Alchemy, a theatrical installation questioning how we are perceived as artists and making the impossible possible. This year, I co-founded The MITTEN Lab, a one-week theatre residency in northern Michigan dedicated to creating new work, opening Summer 2015. I’m currently a guest director at NYU (Atlantic and Stella Adler). I’ve directed in Italy, Boston, Kentucky, Michigan, California, and Upstate New York.
What drew you to directing opera? How do you find directing and performing opera differs from other theatrical mediums? What do you feel you can accomplish through opera that might be unavailable through a different medium?
I love capturing the moment onstage with the perfect piece of music. When working on plays, a lot of my inspiration comes from music, natural occurring sounds, bits and pieces of instrumentation. I get to work with amazing sound designers to create the soundscape of a play. In Opera, that is already created for you. The composer has given you a blueprint of what needs to happen and when. The score is as important as the words. When approaching an Opera, I need to connect to the score, that is where I am getting my dramatic information. In that way, the two mediums are very similar, except one is a “build your own” and one has a manual. They both present challenges and rewards. One thing that I truly love about Opera is the license to be big. Embrace the Drama!
Speaking of drama, tell us a funny story from a rehearsal or performance.
When I told the chorus of men that they would be the Prince’s carriage, horses, and all. There was a moment of shock and confusion before they burst into laughter. Then we blocked it and we fell in love with it. When we showed Andrew that moment of staging, his face lit up. Andrew and I joked about coming on-stage in the “man-carriage” for curtain call. Sadly, it did not happen. That horse and carriage made me laugh every time.
Why did you choose to direct La Cenerentola? What challenges did you anticipate?
Many companies choose their season before hiring directors; this was one of those circumstances. I do remember Andrew calling me and asking: “Want to come to Boston and direct Cinderella?” And I just said: “Yes!” It was a no-brainer for me. The opera is brimming with storytelling opportunities, and I knew working with BOC would be a treat. I was right on both accounts. The challenge I anticipated was clarity in story. I knew when our audience heard Cinderella, they would think: glass slipper, midnight, and Fairy Godmother. Well, Rossini’s opera is a take on a much earlier version of the story; the prince is in disguise, a fake beggar/tutor gives Cinderella the dress, there is no curfew, and Cindy gives the prince a bracelet to find her. Keeping my staging focused on the action of the story was constantly in my mind. I was always re-evaluating to make sure that each piece of moment on stage was supported by the music and communicated the story to our audience.
How did you prepare for directing this opera? What research did you do into different Cinderella stories? How did they inform your work?
I listened to several recordings on loop unendingly a few months before rehearsals to get the music into my subconscious. I went back and re-read some older versions of the story, mainly the Grimm fairy tale. On top of that, I did reading on Kate Middleton and her courtship with [Prince] William, plus a little reading about Princess Di. When I approach a show, my main focus is the text (or score in this case; from there, I draw all of my inspirations.
How do you respond to criticism of your work? Do you read reviews during the run? What has been some of the best and worst things that reviewers have said about you and your work?
I’d love to say, “I don’t read reviews,” but that would be a lie. I do read reviews and sometimes they are not in my favor. But that is the job. No artist is ever going to make everyone happy all of the time, it is not possible, nor should it be. Art should be about conversation. There were people who did not care for Cinderella, and there were people who had never seen an opera before but because of this production, they would be seeing more. That is what I love to hear, that I inspire my audience to take in more art.
Of what are you most proud? As an artist? As a professional? As a person?
Artist: The great community of artists I get to call friends and collaborators.
Personal: I ran my first half marathon last April; it was a huge moment of pride for me. I look forward to running two half-marathons in 2014!
What themes did you try to highlight in your production of La Cenerentola?
Two things were important to me in this production: it had to be funny, and it had to be magical. And I am not talking about “bippity-boopity-boo;” I am talking about that magic that exists in human nature. That spark when you lock eyes across the room with that stranger and it feels like you have known each other for years although you just met. The magic in close friendships and co-horts. The magic of putting others before your self, goodness. And, the magic of forgiveness.
Talk to us about collaborating with music directors, on top of collaborating with designers. How do you create a cohesive product? What challenges do you face? Had you worked with anyone on your team prior to this production?
We work together like any team. There is a mutual respect of ideas, craft, time, and talent. A true collaboration is one where you can say even the worst ideas and the other person truly takes a moment to consider before answering. I lucked out with this team because I had worked with almost everyone before hand; Andrew and I collaborated the summer before at the “Oberlin in Italy” Program. We have a solid foundation of trust, allowing great communication. If something isn’t working, then Andrew and I will problem solve together. Shane (set design) and I attended Directors Lab Chicago together in 2009, where I got to know him as a director. When we were looking for a set designer, I happened to see Shane’s designs on his Facebook and I was inspired by his creativity and use of space. I loved that fireplace he built with the ship on its mantel. Caitlin (My Theatre Award Nominee for Best Costume Design) is the Resident Costume Designer for my company in New York, and this was our third collaboration. We have created a theatrical shorthand throughout our relationship. This shorthand allows us to let inspiration strike and immediately communicate it. When we are creating there is a lot of photo exchange and random text messages that start with “I had this thought . . .”
Eric (My Theatre Award Nominee for Best Lighting Design) and I hadn’t worked together before, but, after our first meeting, he instantly saw the direction that I was going and then took it to a whole new level. The best designers do that, they get to know the directors’ vision and then find ways to improve/heighten it through their creations. And the best directors listen to them!
As far as challenges? Time. You always want one or two more days.
About what do you dream?
When I run, I daydream of new ideas for projects (it’s when I do my best work).
Speaking of your new ideas for projects, what are your upcoming projects?
I am pleased to say that I will be teaming-up with Andrew and BOC this summer to direct Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring at the Strand Theatre. And because the production is supported by the Free for All Concert Fund, Inc., tickets are free. One more time: FREE TICKETS! It’s a fantastic opera and, with free tickets, there is no excuse not to come check it out. You have nothing to lose except an evening of entertainment.
Where is the most exciting place that you have performed or directed?
I’ve been very lucky to work in beautiful and exciting places. That said, the first time I saw how stunning the Strand is, I was blown away. It holds a rich history that you can feel when you are there; I love it.
Do you have any advice for emerging and developing directors? Do you have any advice for artists specifically interest in opera?
Directors: Don’t be scared to ask for what you want. If you want to assist someone, then email them. If you want to get to know a company, then go see their shows, stay after, and say hello. Create your own work, don’t wait around for someone to hand you a production on a silver platter, get your hands dirty. Find a group of artists with whom you love to work with and do it often. Don’t be afraid of mediums you don’t know (2 years ago, I didn’t know opera!) and do not be afraid of failure. Make big, bold, beautiful choices that you can stand by. Have patience (this one is something I need to remind myself of). And know that this business is a rollercoaster. The highs are very high and the lows are very low; enjoy all of it. And don’t forget to support one another.
For artists interested in opera (but this applies to theatre as well): Get to know the small-mid sized companies in your area and audition for them. The more you work, the more you grow. Never stop learning, and when you are discouraged, know that it will pass.
Do you have anything you want to share with our readers that you think they should know about you?
I make fantastic gluten-free peanut butter cookies.