How My Childhood Passion Turned Me Into A Producer

***This post first appeared as part of a Fundraising Campaign for Combustion Collective’s 2019 production of The Floorshow. Enjoy!***

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve mentioned how the idea for The Floorshow came to me in the summer of 2016, while I was performing in the chorus of the musical I’ll Say She Is. And while it’s true that that’s where the first plot elements of The Floorshow started appearing to me, my desire to create and produce a full-length original property dates back much farther.

We all have pivotal moments in our lives, events that we know changed the course of our entire future. For me, one of those events occurred 20 some-odd years ago, watching the movie Easter Parade for the first time. I became deeply obsessed with movie musicals, especially ones with tap dancing. I loved everything about them—the joy, the rhythmic synchronicity, and the intense detail and artistry that went into making those production numbers.

I consumed as much movie musical media as I could at the time, which wasn’t exactly easy in a pre-internet, pre-youtube world. I was obsessed with special ordering VHS tapes out of old movie magazines and begging my bemused parents to drive me to Blockbuster Videos (RIP) all over South Florida. It also involved reading whatever old Hollywood books and memoirs I could get my hands on. So, imagine how thrilled I was when, perusing the shelves at Borders (RIP), I discovered a brand new book: M-G-M’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit by Hugh Fortin.

In that book, Mr. Fordin went into painstaking behind the scenes detail on every movie Arthur Freed ever produced. Aurthur Freed rose to stardom as a producer working on The Wizard of Oz. And honestly, how could he have not? Even today, when you go back and watch “Oz,” it’s insane to look at the level of production design and detail that went into that film. He then went on to create many of the most enduring and iconic movie musicals, like Singing in The RainThe BandwagonMeet Me in St. Louis, and my all-time favorite, Easter Parade.

It’s very funny how gender and representation subconsciously influence the career and lifestyle choices we make over the course of our lives. No one ever told me that I couldn’t do certain things because I was female. And, I certainly was incredibly compelled by the work Mr. Freed accomplished as a creative producer. But, as a young girl, I couldn’t see myself in that businessman. So instead I focused my energies on what seemed to me the more natural and obvious route—becoming a great tap dancer like Ann Miller.

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to live out some of my wildest movie musical fantasies. I managed to perform in old shows that are never done, like No No Nanette and On Your Toes. I played Anytime Annie in 42nd Street, impersonated Ethel Merman, and I even got to pretend to be Ms. Miller herself, tap dancing all over the country in A Christmas Story. I also studied with some of the most generous and gifted teachers, including Mr. Ray Hesselink and Mr. Randy Skinner, and worked tirelessly to become a skilled director and choreographer in my own right. But, as I started to listen to my subconscious, bits of that old Aurthur Freed book always crept back in, and I realized there was even more I wanted to do.

In this book, there’s a story I’ve never forgotten. While I wish I could quote the story verbatim, I don’t have the book in my possession at the moment, so the following story is paraphrased. Mr. Freed sits around a table with some of the visionaries of his film production unit, including Vincent Minelli, Kay Thompson, and several other luminary movie musical creatives. They’re all talking about what they do, and then Mr. Freed asks, “Well, what do I contribute?”. And someone else says, “Don’t be silly. You’re the one who brought us all here.”

It was in no small part because of that story that I was compelled to create The Choreography Lab, which is now in its 6th season at New York Theatre Barn. I wanted other people like me to have the opportunity to create new dance for new musicals- to be inspired by the movie musicals of the past, or whatever made them tick, and create something new for today. And from producing the lab, and producing Ephemera, the dance-theatre piece I created with Alden Terry from 2014-2016, I realized I can do this. I can develop a brand new show. Just like Aurthur Freed.

I wanted to create something that paid homage to my great love of movie musical tap dancing, but that would also resonate with today’s audiences. And I believe The Floorshow does just that. This piece has been 20+ years in the making, and is a culmination of so much that I love. In this series of behind the scenes posts, I can’t wait to share more with all of you- about how I came up with the story for The Floorshow in particular, how my directing and choreographic career has influenced the development of this work, and how I’ve collaborated with my husband, Dann Berg, to make the show.

To be continued,

Avi

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