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An interview with Director David Ronis

David Ronis is the director of FST’s THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, running December 4-13 in the Overture Center’s Playhouse.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Although I’m in Madison as the Interim Director of Opera at UW-Madison, I’m a bona fide New Yorker. I grew up on Long Island, did my undergraduate degree at Purchase College/SUNY, and lived in Manhattan ever since. But I love being here! I’m very impressed with so much about Madison, not in the least the sheer volume of cultural events always going on, and the engaged, enthusiastic audiences for the arts. The short version of my bio: my original training is as a classical singer. After singing for years in opera productions in the US and abroad, I got cast in the L.A. production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. That started me on the road to becoming an actor and director. Eventually, I put it all together and now direct and teach acting skills to singers. Musical theatre occupies a special place in my heart and I’m thrilled to be working on THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA with FST.

What training, teachers, or experiences helped you to develop as a director?

My background as a performer has very much influenced who I am as a director. I really get what performers go through and how they need to work. It’s a joy to be able to get in there with talented actors and singers, like those in the PIAZZA cast, and dig into good material. Of the many wonderful teachers and mentors with whom I’ve worked, the voice of Caymichael Patten, my acting teacher in New York, is one that I hear most often in my head. Cay is one of those brilliant, intuitive, compassionate souls who is very dear to me. The other voice I hear a lot is that of Edward Beck, my diction teacher at Purchase. I absolutely love languages. Edward encouraged me to develop my language skills and I’m having a blast using that knowledge with PIAZZA.

What attracted you to THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA?

I saw the original production of PIAZZA at the Beaumont Theatre in New York and was blown away—with the score, with the story, with the performances, with the production. For my money, it’s definitely one of the best, if not THE best musical theatre piece written in the last 15 years. Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas hit a home run in terms of marrying text, story, and music. Have you ever been away from home (Europe always does it for me) and felt that rush of romantic possibility? That’s exactly what they capture from the moment the first chords are sounded. We are transported to a very beautiful, sensitive, yet imperfect world and swept up into Margaret and Clara’s nuanced, moving story. It’s magic.

Can you share a story about your best moment on stage?

I have lots of stories about things that have happened on stage—many of them funny, some not quite so suitable for print (!), and all from the performer’s perspective. Once I began directing, though, my experience of opera and theatre changed significantly. Now, there’s nothing quite like the feeling I get when I’m able to sit back and watch singers and actors fully embody and own their roles, and the storytelling just rolls out. As I write this, we’re still a few weeks out from the opening of PIAZZA, but that’s already happening in rehearsal. At times, I find myself not taking notes and just being caught up in the story, and, yup—weeping.