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I N T E R V I E W  -  Erika Amato  -  Actress, Singer

 
        

LOS ANGELES, CA - Singer/Actress Erika Amato recently sat down with Maestro Arts and Reviews correspondent Michael Upward for a engaging dialogue about her successful career. 

Michael: Thank you for spending some time with the readers of Maestro Arts & Reviews. You were recently in the Welk Resort Theaterís production  of 42nd Street.  What role did you play, and did you enjoy the part? Why?

Erika:  I played the Broadway diva/aging ingťnue ďDorothy Brock,Ē and I absolutely loved it!  Sheís sophisticated, wears elegant costumes, sheís funny, she gets to be bitchy to almost everyone around her, and she sings some truly great songs, like ďYouíre Getting To Be A Habit With Me,Ē ďAbout A Quarter To Nine,Ē and a wonderful torch song called, ďI Know Now.Ē  It was a blast.

Michael: Of all the parts that you have played, which one is your favorite, and why?

Erika:  Thatís a really tough question, but I think my favorite is ďMariaĒ in The Sound of Music.  When itís done well, it is such a beautiful musical, and to be able to sing all those glorious songs is just a gift, really.  And Maria goes on a wonderful journey in the piece Ė from innocent tomboy postulant to confused love-struck young woman to mature wife and motherÖ  As an actress, you can explore so much. 

Michael: Tell us how you got started in music and theater?  As a child, did you know you would be singing and acting for your career?

Erika:  Yes, I actually knew from a very young age that I wanted to do this for a living.  I started acting at around 8 years old, just doing little plays at school or at day-camp (I went to an acting day-camp when I was little), and I remember having my first singing solo in Kindergarten.  I was very lucky in that my high school - Kent Place School in Summit, NJ  - was very interested in fostering the arts, and had amazing drama and music programs.  We did plays like The Trojan Women and Agnes of God and musicals like Hair and Evita.  I had my first paid recording gig at age 12 (for the Silver/Burdett music company), and my first paid acting job at 16 (in To Gillian on her 37th Birthday).  I told everyone from about the age of 9 on that I wanted to be an actress when I grew up, but nobody took me seriously until I was about 15 (which is when I did Agnes).

Michael:  What schools did you attend , who did you study with, in what ways were you able to hone your craft? Do you or have you taken singing and acting lessons?

Erika:  Well, as I said, my high school experience really laid the foundation.  My drama teacher there Ė Robert Pridham - was just a genius.  He still teaches there, actually.  I know it sounds odd to say your high school drama program helped create your identity as an artist, but my experience was not your typical one.  Between my junior and senior years of high school I attend Yale University as part of the Gifted and Talented Program.  It was a 6-week intensive, where we lived in the dorms and studied everything from voice (not singing, per se, just supporting and diction and using your instrument on stage) to improv to movement to scene study.  Our instructors were all from the University Ė some from the undergrad program, and some from the Yale School of Drama.  I was very fortunate to have that experience, and I was the youngest student there.  (They ranged from 16 to 23 years old).  I also graduated with honors as a Drama major at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.  That was a great program.  Very intellectual, but hands-on, as well.  You had to do crew on at least two shows a year, so you usually were in a show, then crewing a show, and back and forth like that.  Vassar also had a lot of student-run theater, which I availed myself of as well.  I remember, in my sophomore year, I was in 10 different plays.  I donít know if Iíd have that much energy today!  Hehehe  Out here, Iíve studied under many different acting teachers.  Currently, Iím in the master class taught by Gordon Hunt.

Erika Amato

    

   

        

   

Erika in Fiddler on the Roof

    

   

   

   

 Erika in Paint Your Wagon

   

   

   

   

Erika Velvet Chain

    

     

    

   

   

   

 

      

As for voice, believe or not, I am mostly self-taught.  Some people have a hard time believing that, since I can sound very legit, very operatic - and I can also beltÖ Iíve had opera singers ask me where I studied.  I think itís just that Iím lucky enough to have a great ear and am a natural-born mimic.  I listened to so many different singers growing up (opera, jazz, rock), and I learned to copy their sounds.  Also, having done so much choral work (Iíve been in choirs and madrigal groups since I was 10) and playing piano taught me to read music and also the basics of support, proper breathing techniques, etc.  

Michael:  You have been working consistently as an Equity performer for quite some time, which is not always easy for many performers. Do you have any advice for aspiring young actors and singers who desire to a career in professional theater?

Erika:  Well, my best advice would be to audition, audition, audition.  Even though I have an agent who represents me, and gets me some really good appointments for high-profile projects, I always go to every open-call I think Iím right for.  Thatís how I got 42nd Street.

Michael: Aside from your career in theater, you have a successful band that you founded with your husband.  Please tell us the name of the band and what style of music you perform? (Please provide a web address if you have one)

Erika:  Weíre called Velvet Chain, and weíre probably best known from our appearances on the TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the official soundtrack album on TVT Records.  Weíve also had our music placed on Sex and the City, MTVís Road Rules, VH1ís Fashion Television, and a lot more.  You can find out all about us, hear our music, see videos, buy our CDís, etc. at http://www.velvetchain.com.

Michael:  Who are the other members of the band, and how did they come to be involved?

Erika:  Well, the band is really my husband, Jeff Stacy, and myself.  Weíre the core members.  We have two other members who currently contribute a lot:  our guitarist, Brian Reardon and our keyboard player, Marc Antonio Pritchett.  Interestingly, Brianís been playing in the union pit orchestras of various musicals lately and Marcís a chorister with Opera Pacific.  So weíre all sort of Renaissance-people.  As for how they got involved, Brian answered an ad in Music Connection and I met Marc after he came to see a production of Macbeth I was in.  

Michael:  How is the band doing?  Do you have any concerts coming up in the Los Angeles area?

Erika:  The bandís doing great, thanks.  We arenít playing live right now, since weíre concentrating on writing and recording new material. We hope to have a new EP out by Christmas.

Michael:  How do you feel when you are onstage with the band compared to performing in a musical or a play?  Do you find that you relate differently with both kinds of audiences?

Erika:  I feel much more of an immediate connection with the audience when Iím singing with the band.  I make a lot of direct eye-contact, and talk to the audience between songs.  But I feel just as comfortable in both venues.

Michael: Do you find that being involved in so many different styles of music has enhanced your ability to express yourself? 

Erika:  I think that being in the band has freed me as a performer in a lot of ways.  And singing in musicals and a capella groups has improved my musicianship in the band.  I think as a performer, that experiencing the intense give-and-take with the audience that you get when doing a live rock show is something that can only enhance what you do in other performance media.

Michael:  What does music (or the arts in general) mean to you personally?

Erika:  Lord!  I donít even know how to put it into words.  Music Ė and the arts in general, but music in particular Ė means just so much.  It was an outlet for me as a not-so-popular adolescent, a source of solace, a source of expression.  Now, as a relatively well-adjusted adult, I feel like music is the closest I can come to communing with God, or the Universe, or whatever your beliefs tell you is out there.  Itís a glorious thing, and I never feel more alive than when Iím singing or acting in a really wonderful scene.

Michael: Is there any event or aspect from personal life that has really defined you as a person?

Erika:  Well, not to get maudlin, but the one thing I think shaped me more than any other was the fact that I was not very popular in grade school and junior high.  I mean, really not popular.  I had some good friends, but I was also the butt of many jokes, and was constantly attacked for being different.  And I do mean attacked.  Like, locked-in-a-locker attacked.  And many more examples that I wonít go intoÖ  The point being, I couldíve either become insecure and retreated into myself from those experiences, or become stronger for them.  Due in large part to my amazingly supportive parents, I was able to become a strong, independent person, and now I can use those somewhat traumatic childhood experiences to draw on in my performances.

Michael:  Is there a performer (either currently living or not) that you have always admired? And why?

Erika:  There are many.  But a few of them are Ella Fitzgerald for her impeccable voice and effortless style, David Bowie for his sheer talent and magnetism, Meryl Streep for obvious reasons, and Kevin Kline for his amazing chameleon-like skills as an actor.  (I actually saw him play the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway when I was little, and even then I was just blown away.)

Michael: If you hadnít chosen a career in music and the arts what other career would you have chosen? Or is there any field you wish you could break into and try that is unrelated to the arts?

Erika:  No, there really isnít!  I mean, even when I think about possible fall-back type jobs for down the road, theyíre always in the arts.  Iíd like to teach drama, for example, or perhaps get into casting.

Michael:  Where do you see your career heading in the future?  Have you thought of a career in film?

Erika:  I have indeed.  In fact, I initially moved to LA because I wanted to pursue a career in film and television.  Iíve done a few things on TV and a few indie films, but that aspect of my career hasnít really taken off the way theatre has.  Which of course, is a bit ironic, since I probably should have stayed in the NY area if I was going to make a career in theater.  However, and this is very exciting, the most recent indie feature I shot, A Couple of Days and Nights, is going to be premiering at the Hollywood Film Festival on October 22nd at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood.  You can always check the movie website for more info: 

 http://www.acoupleofdaysandnights.com

Michael: You just finished your run in 42nd Street.  What do you have scheduled next?

Erika:  Well, Iím involved in the Actorsí Fund benefit staged reading of CASABLANCA.  Thatís on October 2nd at the Pantages and stars Christian Slater and Anne Heche as ďRickĒ and ďIlsa.Ē  Iíll just be a French bar patron at Rickís, (singing ďLa MarseillaiseĒ at the top of my lungs, no doubt) but itíll be a lot of fun.  Iím also going to be caroling again this year for one of the companies Iíve worked for in the past.  And of course, thereís my movie premiere, which is just so exciting.  After that, Iím not sure.

Michael: What would you say to those readers who really want to follow their dreams but who are afraid to ďgo for it?Ē  (Is this what you did, and do you recommend it?)

Erika:   Well, quite honestly, I would say, if you can imagine yourself doing anything else, do that.  Making a living as an actorís really hard, and rejection is a constant thing you have to deal with, no matter how often you get cast.  That being said, if you really want to act, then act.  Donít just talk about it.  Do plays, even if theyíre unpaid.  Get seen.  Yes, take class, but donít use constantly being in a class as an excuse not to actually do work.  And be careful about getting sucked in by your day-job.  I struggled for years until I finally said, ďthe hell with it,Ē and quit my day-job.  Now, Iím not suggesting everyone should do that, but for me, it was just the kick in the pants I needed to start really making things happen for myself.

Michael: Is there anything else you would like the readers to know about you, or anything you would like to say? 

Erika:  Just a little word of advice about ďmaking it.Ē  Set your own goalpost for that sort of thing, and donít let anyone else put expectations on you.  If youíre happy where you are, then youíre a success.  As for me, even when I was little, I always said that if I could one day make my living as an actor, Iíd consider myself a success.  And Iím very blessed to be able to say that thatís exactly what Iím doing.

Michael:  Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed. I admire your talents.  I am always amazed when I see you perform, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every performance of yours that I have seen.

Erika:   Well, thank you so much for the interview!  Iím very flattered, and I hope to see you at another show someday soon.    Printable View

      

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Michael Upward is a staff writer and the Chief Editor for Maestro Arts & Reviews. He is an award winning composer and musical director having worked in theaters throughout the Los Angeles area.  He currently writes and produces music for Encore Maestro Entertainment and is also working on a new musical to be premiered later this year. 
 

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