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.
Thank you for spending some time with the readers of Maestro
Arts & Reviews. You were recently in the Welk Resort
Theaterís production of
What role did you play, and did you enjoy the part? Why?
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.
Of all the parts that you have played, which one is your
favorite, and why?
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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?
Well, my best advice would be to audition, audition,
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.
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.
Who are the other members of the band, and how did they
come to be involved?
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.
How is the band doing?
Do you have any concerts coming up in the Los Angeles
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.
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
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.
Do you find that being involved in so many different styles of
music has enhanced your ability to express yourself?
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.
What does music (or the arts in general) mean to you
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.
Is there any event or aspect from personal life that has really
defined you as a person?
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
Is there a performer (either currently living or not)
that you have always admired? And why?
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.)
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?
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
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:
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.
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?)
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.
Is there anything else you would like the readers to know about
you, or anything you would like to say?
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
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.
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