In The Spotlight: Amanda Wansa Morgan
How long have you been working professionally in theatre?
I’ve been working professionally since 2001, so 14 years! My first 5 years working professionally was primarily as an actor. I made my way into music directing during graduate school.
What was your favorite experience in theatre?
I did a production of Ragtime as an actor that had a profound effect on me. That show brings so many people together and tells so many epic stories. When we worked on that show, we were keenly aware of the amazing relevance and impact of the show on our audience, so everyone was incredibly invested. The material, and therefore, the process, was almost sacred. Those who create that show really create a bond. I’ve had similar experiences like that with shows like Evita, Cabaret, and Time Stands Still.
What brought you out to Post Playhouse?
I was looking for a summer contract that is true summer stock — a bunch of artists living and working together — committing all of their time to making art for a block of time against a beautiful backdrop. And I found it!
Was it a big culture shock coming out to Post?
It’s not so much a culture shock as weather shock… I’m used to humid and hot weather May through September. It snowed our first week which was amazing and strange. It is a very rural environment but I am so charmed by the beauty of the landscape and kindness of the people here.
What other jobs do you do in theatre?
During the year, I am a professor of theatre and teach acting, musical theatre performance, voice (singing and stage voice), and musical theatre history and literature. I’m a freelance music director and stage director of both musicals and non-musicals. My research is in integrative voice training and methodologies that cater to many different actor vocabularies.
Occassionally, I hop back onstage to act!
As of the past couple of years, I’ve gotten into composing for the musical theatre and have had a couple musicals that I’ve written produced professionally.
What are you passionate about, theatre or otherwise?
I’m passionate about teaching and creating new work in theatre. I’m also passionate about Theatre for Young Audiences and Theatre Education both for kids who take theatre classes but also integrating theatre games and exercises into standard curriculum.
I’m a lover of all sorts of music outside of the musical theatre realm. I listen to everything from Beyonce to Beethoven.
Where have you traveled to work in the theatre?
I’ve worked in Florida, Charleston, Mississippi, Memphis TN, The Berkshires (Massachusetts), San Diego, and and at conventions/conferences across the South as well as New York.
What are your hobbies/interests/jobs outside theatre?
Outside of theatre, I love cooking, learning new instruments, and traveling. My husband and I love road trips! I also love animals and children — specifically my animals and my nieces and nephews! I also have a strange affinity for organizing things.
What does someone in your position do?
The Music Director is involved in the production process from start to finish and has many duties that also depend on that Theatre’s process. At the start, the music director gets the score and helps the director and designers make decisions about the production based on instrumentation, arrangement of the music (what “version” of the show being one). Often, a music director hires or helps hire musicians and can also be involved in the casting process by watching and/or accompanying auditions. The music director may have to re-arrange some of the music based on the needs of that production and that can sometimes be a process that consumes many hours. The music director teaches actors their music and helps mold the sound of the show by providing instruction on dynamics of the music as well as providing help to actors who are struggling with material. Finally, the music director runs band rehearsal.
Sometimes a music director accompanies rehearsals and performances by “piano/conducting” — this means playing the piano and cuing actors and musicians when to sing or play with his/her head or a free hand. That is something we do here at Post Playhouse.
When you are involved in a show, do you typically music direct?
Yes! I music direct both professionally and at the University I teach at — so, the aforementioned duties often change based on where I am. Sometimes, those duties are taken care of by someone else on the team.
What drew you to music directing?
After years of acting as well as playing piano and working in choirs and ensembles whilst studying music in college, I found that could communicate with actors from a dramatic perspective as well as musical. I became fascinated with how the voice worked and became a voice teacher first. Once my musicianship skills developed, I found that I felt completely fulfilled in having come in and molded the sound of a show to a professional standard and fell in love with that process.
What are the challenges and benefits of music directing at Post Playhouse?
A huge challenge will be to prepare and mount 5 shows in such a short time. I think my fingers and back will be tired, but my heart and mind happy!
A huge benefit will be to be in an environment where I’m simply focusing on shows. During the year, my focus is split into so many areas. This is like summer camp with hard work!