Sydney Kate Watson, Campus Carrier arts & living editor
Berry’s Artist in Residence, Indra Thomas, appeared in “Intimate Apparel” at the Lincoln Center in New York City from opening night on Monday January 31 through Sunday March 6.
The performance was an opera in a Broadway setting and was perhaps the first Opera Broadway. Besides breaking boundaries by combining the two forms of musical presentation, “Intimate Apparel” gave Thomas the opportunity to be imaginative.
“It was nice to be a part of something new, something that can be created from my imagination, as opposed to a Mozart or Verdi or Puccini opera that’s already been done 1000 million times,” Thomas said.
Even though there was flexibility and creativity within the performance, Thomas was worried that the Broadway schedule would strain her voice.
“I thought [it] was going to be daunting at first, because opera singers, we don’t do eight performances a week like Broadway because our singing is a little bit more pressurized than Broadway singing,” Thomas said.
After performing, she noted that the nearly two-hour show with intermission was not as taxing as she had originally thought. According to Thomas, the show’s 60 total performances were a good run, and part of “Intimate Apparel’s” success was the intimate setting, no pun intended, with only 250 seats in comparison to traditional opera houses with thousands of seats.
“It was a very powerful storyline, and I think it penetrated the audience is the reason why we’re so successful,” Thomas said.
Thomas’s performance not only ushered in a new type of show, but also, for her, it was a new experience in the world she has long been a part of. There is a new energy and advocacy present within the performing world, according to Thomas.
“[It was] so fresh to go back to the city I love with a new perspective,” Thomas said. “The world [of performing] has changed a little bit, it’s a little bit kinder, younger, it’s filled with possibilities now because the old gatekeepers are not there anymore. All of the opera companies are really trying to have diversity, equity and inclusion, which we didn’t have that when I was coming along.”
The current status of inclusion is one that was not felt in the pre-COVID-19-world of opera, according to Thomas.
“Now our voices, we, can be heard and seen, we as in blacks, and any other color, can be heard and seen and included,” Thomas said. “So, let’s see if it sticks. I don’t know, but right now it’s really nice to be in a world where I feel seen. I feel heard and, most importantly, I feel respected.”
Not only did Thomas feel respected, but also, according to her, the experience was a great learning opportunity to better prepare her students with interest in Broadway.
“I teach a lot of musical theater kids, but I’ve never sung on Broadway before, so this was very nice to learn how Broadway operates,” Thomas said. “It was even better to be in eight shows a week, so I can talk to my students about the exhaustion and how you got to take care of yourself.”
Associate Professor of Music Paul Neal said that Thomas’s Broadway performance brings inspiration to her students.
“Seeing her going into New York and continuing to perform at that level really does show [students] that she is an expert in her field and that she can really teach them,” Neal said.
Thomas taught Berry students during her time on Broadway, scheduling her one-on-one lessons on Mondays, her day off, as well as Wednesdays. Neal said that due to the technical delays in video conferences, teaching music is not always easy over Zoom, but assured that Thomas did a fantastic job working with her students.
“If you’re trying to teach someone how to sing or how to play an instrument [over zoom], it often is difficult,” Neal said. “I know Ms. Thomas had really great microphones both in her office and at her apartment in New York, so she was able to do really great remote work with those students.”
According to Neal, Thomas has been playing a key role in her students’ lives since she began her position at Berry.
“She’s been impacting students from the moment she started this year,” Neal said. “Her energy and her experience and her love of teaching has just been very well received by our students and our faculty.”
Sophomore Kayla Allison said that many people who go on to change the world have had impactful teachers, and she believes Thomas to be one of those mentors as she has grown from Thomas’s guidance.
“It’s been really rewarding to work with her [Thomas], and I feel like I’ve definitely grown as a better vocalist and as a person,” Allison said.
During Thomas’s Broadway experience, she had a significant amount of self-growth and truly realized her worth. She wants her students to understand that they can accomplish their goals.
“This is what you’re training for, you can do this and you’re built for this,” Thomas said. “Go do it and be kind to yourself.”
Neal emphasized that Berry students and faculty will grow from her incredible skills and experiences.
“She brings an incredible level of professionalism and insight into the operatic world that we at Berry are going to treasure for years to come,” Neal said.