Friday, July 5, 2013

Q and A with guest choregrapher Michelle Elkin

Patel Conservatory guest instructor Michelle Elkin is choreographing the Patel Conservatory Theater production of Little Shop of Horrors, which will be July 19 and 20 in the TECO Theater. We caught up with her to find out more about her experiences and what the cast of Little Shop of Horrors will experience working with her!

You live in Los Angeles now, correct? Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Rowland Heights, Calif., and have lived in Los Angeles for the past 17 years.

How did you get into show business?
I was dancing at a studio in Rowland Heights, Calif., when an open casting call came up for the feature film Annie. With no expectation or understanding of what that entailed, I ended up being hired at age 8, as a dancing orphan. At that time, there were many opportunities for young dancers with TV variety shows. I had very supportive parents who saw my passion and talent and were willing to help nurture this opportunity for me. We were given information about the best training in Los Angeles and so began my venture into show business. 

Tell us a more about your dance experience and how you got into choreography.
I was working in television and film starting as a young child. I would always dance around my living room and make up my own dances. In school, at a very young age, as a class assignment, I wrote that I wanted to be a choreographer when I grow up. Throughout my training I was fortunate to be coming up at a time when the top working choreographers were teaching and I knew without a doubt by their example, that dance was what I eventually wanted to do. I had two specific mentors, Marguerite Derricks and Joseph Malone, who took me under their wing training me as a dancer, and then as an assistant choreographer at a very young age. They gave me opportunities to learn along the way how to create for both stage and camera. Their training, along with other dance teachers and choreographers I have worked with, has continued to be invaluable to me.

Tell us about your work on Bunheads. What's it like to be part of a hit national television show?
I was the assistant choreographer to Marguerite Derricks on Bunheads. With clever writing that depicted dance truthfully, an amazing cast and crew, and a constant change of styles of music and dance disciplines, it was a playground to work on every day. Through my time working on the show, I was also able to choreograph the tap sequences on the show. On the season one finale, the creator of the show cast me in an acting part playing a dance captain. I am proud of the work that was done on that show.

Tell us about the new show that you are choreographing, Baby Daddy.
Baby Daddy is a half hour series on ABC Family about a 20-year-old who becomes a daddy when his ex-girlfriend leaves a baby on his doorstep. He then decides to raise the child with his mom played by Melissa Peterson. 
I can't give anything away yet because the episodes I choreographed won't air until the winter, but I had a blast working with Chelsea Kane and all of the cast on the show. It is a group of actors and crew who love every second of working together and immediately embraced me on day one, as if I had been with their show from the beginning.

Tell us more about your experience with the show Wonderland, which was produced here at the Straz Center?
I had experience working in musicals but Wonderland was the first Broadway show that I was a part of. Being the associate choreographer to Marguerite Derricks on the show, it was a completely different experience being on the creative team side and experiencing how a brand new show gets made from the beginning.

The accomplishment involved in creating a new show, the excitement of all of the opening nights, in Tampa, Houston and New York on Broadway, and most importantly the long term friendships I made throughout the journey, made Wonderland a great memory that I will hold forever.

Have you taught elsewhere, or is Little Shop of Horrors your first classroom experience?
I found a love for teaching very early on. I currently teach jazz and tap in Los Angeles at The Performing Arts Center, where I teach adults and kids. I am a co- director of the jazz program for ages 8-18 as well as an artistic director for a teen company. I also teach around the country at dance conventions or do in-house workshops at different studios. I am determined to share as much of my professional experiences with as many younger dancers as I can to continue the legacy of my teachers.

What can the performers of Little Shop of Horrors look forward to as part of their performing arts training?
My hope is that when these young artists are finished with this experience, they will have taken a new step on their journey in the arts and learned something about themselves. I feel like every show is like a Broadway show. We will play with characters, musicality and storytelling through dance. I believe we will all learn something new along the way.

For tickets to Little Shop of Horrors, click here.

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