All That Yahhs: A Crash Course in Fosse, Comedy, Dance, and Sass with Jane Lanier
Tomas here, in the middle of moving from a house I’ve lived in since I was three years old and I’m twenty-six now. I just found a letter to Santa that reads: “Dear Santa, is the Sandman real? Is he your brother? Love, Tomas.” NOWHERE on the list was there any mention of Playstations, books, clothes, or toys. All I wanted to know was if the Sandman was Santa Clauses’ brother. And I blame it on those awful Claymation Christmas specials. In addition, I got a really bad ticket for throwing out gum wrappers from my car window in my town, even though I tried explaining to the officer that right next to the gum wrapper was someone’s empty Corona bottle and spit. Lesser of the evils. I still got the ticket. Happy freakin’ New Year.
Regardless, I can’t wait to introduce you to the brilliant mind that helped me to figure out who I was as a performer in college by using her tough love, her brilliant mind, and her humor to set a shy kid free. Ladies and gents, one of Fosse’s leading ladies, Jane Lanier!
GAHHHD, I’M A DAHNCER, A DAHNCER DAHHNCES
I was not a dancer by any stretch of the imagination, the reality, the afterlife, no stretch, not even a step-touch. I had taken some dance classes and danced in shows but when they hit us with that ballet across-the-floor-combo and I had to do a chaines turn and my mind was telling me nooo, my body was also telling me no. (#bumpandgrindreference #rkelltree) However, every semester, I would audit dance classes and I would even go to morning workouts and I found myself getting better and better in dance. I began moving up to the Intermediate classes after getting under the good graces of the Dance Faculty at AMDA and by my third semester, I had made Dance Workshop. I think that was the only semester I made Dance Twerkshop.
I met Jane Lanier for the first time when she choreographed a number for Serious Money, which had like a quasi-hip-hop-stock-exchange number and a rabbit-hunting number, or pheasant hunting or something British on a horse. And we had to speak in these dialects and do this dance with this weird horse headpiece that looked like Equus had been reading some Fifty Shades of #Heyyyy!
However, Jane was amazing to work with and I got to see her “Cinderella” piece in my favorite Dance Twerkshop: Fractured Fairy Tales, where Cinderella was serving lyrical realness while everyone was doing a regal dance behind her. It was sort of brilliant. I guess that’s what’s so powerful about art: You can see the same story told in a different way and it still makes it fresh and exciting and different. It makes choosing ‘art’ worth it.
But finally, in my fifth semester, I had found mecca. Jane Lanier was going to be my teacher. Combos Class with the MB2s. Yahhs. Yahhs. Und. Yahhs.
Combos (#Combrrs #SlideToYourRight)
Combos was basically a class designed to teach the students how to sing, act, and dance as an ensemble to live music. Part of it was to learn original choreography that was still being used in original productions like A Chorus Line and West Side Story, and the other part was that the teachers got to come up with the own original choreo for group numbers. I was so excited because I hadn’t made the previous semester’s production of Jane Lanier’s Pippin. During the dance portion, I was so nervous that my pirouette involved my arms completely flat against my chest. Yes, that was my Fosse/Pippin dance class pirouette. You’re welcome.
To me, Combos was everything. It was the perfect opportunity for me to get some solos because even if dancing wasn’t my strongest suit, I knew that my singing would get me front and center. I was going to be… a… SUPAHSTARR! (Side note: For my 10th birthday, my mother made me have a birthday party at the local movie theatre. Guess what the movie was: Superstar. Totally inappropriate. Thanks, mom.)
Whenever you had a new group number, you all had to research the show and come up with facts and have a discussion about the material. Than we would do an excruciating warm-up with big theatre boxes as our barres, and I was SUHWEATING (#sweatybetty) for my life. Then, we would go across the floor and that’s when I finally learned how to do a double pirouette on my left and right, bitches! Finally, we would do a vocal warm-up, and I was at the High Cs with the ladies, just living my life as the theatre nerd I knew I was always meant to be. (#Theatregeekonfleek #theatruh)
We had two teachers in the class: Jane Lanier and Marina Benedict, who all the MBs called Marina #Benedictus after we sang Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Hosanna” from his Requiem for our Ensemble Singing class our first semester (it was #chorus #boreusmore). Marina was filming or something and it was Jane’s turn to teach a solo routine so we were given the opening number to A Chorus Line. Well, of course, people were crying, people were pounding the floor giving thanks to the Gods of Nubia, and they were going through it. We danced through the opening over and over again and I really wanted to dance it because I had been working so hard in my dance classes.
My Community Theatre Rendition of a Chorus Line – Or: How Jane Lanier Saved My Life and I Almost Gave Marina #Benedictus A Heart Attack
The story goes like this: I had seen a really bad high school production of A Chorus Line in which the curtains were closed for the opening choreo. Literally like, “bump-bump-bum-bum-bum-bum-again… step, kick kick, leap, kick, touch.” And on the word ‘touch’ from BEHIND the curtain, the actors CLAPPED (#CUHLAPPED) in unison. All the way until “God I hope I get it,” in which the curtains opened, the audience roared, and they were grapevining for Jesus.
So, randomly in the dorms, I taught my busted high school theatre rendition to a few of my friends who were in the other class and they thought it was hilarious. Then as we were rehearsing, on our breaks, it caught on with my other peers. One day, Jane walked up and asked what we were doing, and I explained her my story. She says: “Oh, that’s hilarious. I’m gonna get Marina. Tomas, what you’re gonna do is, teach that to everyone in the class and that will be the first thing we show Marina.”
We got graded on our ensembling after the number was taught and if you were split up into groups, you could perform it in front of your friends. Well, Marina hadn’t been to class in like a week and finally she was returning to check in for our grades. That morning, I had taught everyone the choreo, which included some ferocious box steps, a turning grapevine, some bad chasses with parallel feet, and the exit was “flap like a bird.” The music started, the adrenaline was pumping, and we were performing while Marina appeared to be in a state of shock.
But her smile never dropped. Her eyes were twitching. Her mouth was going. She was pissed. At the end of it, after we flew off like birds, Marina straightens her spine and says, “That was… good. That was…”
Jane raises her hands and yells, “Let’s take it again from the top. I think Marina has to see it again,” to which Marina looked like she was going to spit out that pea soup and her head was going to spin in all of the directions. That was our cue to do it the right way with the original choreography. We did all the original choreo halfway when Marina got up and screamed, “You GOT ME! YOU GOT ME!” And we all started laughing at poor Marina Benedictus. Sorry you weren’t in class.
God, Did I Get It? (#ItsMeMargaret #ItsUhMehhh #WickedReference)
That semester, I got the “Seasons of Love” soloist from Rent. I got that amazing Combos showcase, I loved my acting classes. I was living the AMDA dream. And I got to work with Jane Lanier, two-time Tony award nominee. I’m not gonna list her credits; she’s too famous for that. Google her. Youtube stalk her. She was in the movie Michael with John Travolta. She’s mad famous. She’s the head of the musical theatre department at Roosevelt University.
Jane Lanier also bought me a drink because I ran into her when I went to go see Shoshana Bean in Beaches at the Drury Lane Theatre. It was so nice to reconnect with Jane and get to laugh with her after becoming an adult in this industry.
But how about being an adult in real life? Where do I figure that out? Through trial and error. A lot of error. I’m moving out of the house that I’ve lived in for twenty-six years. I just had to pay four hundred dollars in tickets because of a Yoshi fantasy I had while driving. I’m still in mad credit card debt and I’m going through it because now I want to perform again. I guess as long as I have art in my heart, nothing else really matters. Thank you, Jane Lanier, for teaching that to me. Shoulders back, stomach in, legs out… and Fosse strut.