Recently an opportunity presented itself at the Artists Talk Series produced by Steps Beyond. I found myself in the midst of a gathering of artists sharing stories about what it was like to work with a choreographer who has helped define and shape musical theater. Many can only dream about working with such an artist, but hearing the stories of those who did adds more meaning, depth, and understanding to who he was as a person and an artist, his creative projects, and how his contributions continue to influence and inspire those currently focusing on careers in the performing arts. Bob Fosse is the name one heard echoed throughout Loft III at Steps on Broadway on October 5th, and the stories told were those of faculty members Diana Laurenson and Dana Moore, and guest faculty member Mimi Quillin.
These three extraordinary women had very unique and personal experiences on what it was like to work with Mr. Fosse directly, but some of what they felt and experienced created strong bonds to which they all could relate. Those in attendance listened to their stories with open ears, and with great enthusiasm to learn more about why he holds a special place in the hearts of so many. The sounds of laughter and good cheer filled the entire studio, and the positive energy filling the space burst forth, fulfilling the audience as they listened in awe throughout the evening.
Diana, Dana, and Mimi all have the show Sweet Charity in common, but each got their start working for Mr. Fosse in different ways. Dana went to many auditions for him and was about to give up. Chet Walker and Bill Hastings encouraged her to go to one more where Mr. Fosse paced back and forth in front of the stage as she sang and danced. She was hired and became the ponytail girl in “The Rich Man’s Frug”, in addition to being cast in many other productions. Diana came to NYC to be a journalist, and without a headshot, resume, or song, auditioned for Mr. Fosse wearing clothes given to her by her roommates. After being told several days into the audition to let her hair down, and sing Happy Birthday (as she did not have another song), she was offered her first show – Dancin’, which was a stepping stone in her career, and the first of many productions of Dancin’ and Sweet Charity that she would work on. Gwen Verdon saw Mimi dancing in an American Dance Machine performance and told her to audition for Bob immediately and to dress for it the way I tell you. She was the only woman at the men’s call. She had a second audition (chorus call) and Bob followed her across the room as she danced by herself. She was hired to dance, be the dance captain, and as an assistant to Bob and Gwen for Sweet Charity.
Dana, Diana, and Mimi were all in agreement that working with Mr. Fosse was a unique experience. They said that “you had to have something going on, and every move had a reason”. Sometimes they were specifically told what was going on, and sometimes he would walk around whispering things in their ears as they went through the dance. Mr. Fosse referred to them all as his actors – NOT dancers. They were told to have someone in mind when they performed, and think of them sitting in the twelfth row of the theater. He told them to be honest and truthful in how they approached each moment – -“Listen and answer”.
They all felt a special draw to what it was like to be a Fosse dancer. Never were they asked to be cookie cutters of the people who were in the roles before them, but rather he would draw on each dancer’s strength. All three women reiterated throughout the evening that, “if he made you look good, he looked good”. One dancer may have a strength in one area, and if someone else took over that role, he would cater to their strengths. He knew there was so much there and trusted his work, trusted his actors/dancers, and trusted what it would become. If something did not look right, he would tweak it until it became what he wanted.
They also loved working with Mr. Fosse because it was so personal. He knew how to put people at ease, and took the time to get to know them, and to let them open up. They loved him, and he loved them. They all agreed that his steps were the best, and that he was a master. Much of his work was a reflection of the political or social issues of the day, and he would use what was going on in his choreography.
The three lovely ladies of Fosse who shared their stories with the audience of enthralled listeners left us with so much more than what we walked in the room knowing, and with more inspiration, motivation, and overall knowledge of what it was like to be a Fosse dancer. They have many stories and memories of working with him, and we were given a small taste of what it was like to be there. Many thanks to Diana, Dana, and Mimi for sharing such personal stories, and for inspiring us to keep going after our own goals and dreams as we spend our time taking in the arts.
– Anne-Allegra Bennett
Theater Dance Student & Administrative Assistant
**Also in attendance: Alice Evans- An original “Big Spender” girl in Sweet Charity; Frances Koll- in Redhead with Gwen Verdon; and Jeff Shade who danced on Broadway in Chicago & Sweet Charity – and with the women on the Fosse panel
photo: Jocelyn Montoya