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The Artist’s Journey: Brandon Bieber – Week 1 - La Jolla Playhouse Blog

The Artist’s Journey: Brandon Bieber – Week 1

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Each week, The Artist’s Journey will provide an insider look at the creation of a production, from first rehearsal to opening night, through the eyes of one of the show’s key players.

Brandon Bieber is the Assistant Choreographer for Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin. His credits include Mary Poppins on Broadway, Dancing in the Dark, White Christmas and High School Musical.

Brandon Bieber

Brandon Bieber

Four months ago, choreographer Warren Carlyle took me to lunch in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and asked me about going on a “crazy California adventure” with him. He offered me the position of associate choreographer on a new, biographical Charlie Chaplin musical, Limelight, that would be trying out at La Jolla Playhouse in the fall. Apart from the movie Benny and Joon, I knew next to nothing about Chaplin, but the thought of taking a little break from my current job as an ensemble member in Mary Poppins on Broadway (and escaping New York’s suffocating August heat) appealed to me. Moreover, I was itching to stretch my choreographic muscles and to get the opportunity to work alongside Warren for the first time. So I went through the tricky, month-long process of trying to get a temporary leave from my show and it was approved with surprisingly little effort. I called Warren the minute I had my leave of absence in writing and accepted his offer.

The next three months flew by. Warren and I would meet on Sunday mornings before my matinees to get a plan ready for the show. It seemed as though he was always flying in from one of the 15 other projects he was working on, and I would be running off to one of my shows! Nevertheless, we would meet for fleeting hours in a small, cramped, Pepto Bismol-colored studio, miming cane and hat tricks and discussing the ways we would honor the movement of someone as iconic as Charlie Chaplin. We watched his movies – most of which I had never seen – and I was really shocked by how much I laughed at them. The man truly was a genius, and he changed the art of film. I knew then, in that sweaty pink studio, that we would really have to nail the choreography on this project or it would fall flat on its face (and not in the ha-ha Charlie Chaplin sort of way).

As the days grew nearer to our departure for La Jolla, Warren and I began to spend entire days in that studio (my leave of absence had begun by then). We spent long days dancing and discussing, researching other styles of dance from the period, lifting each other in the air, falling on the floor, staring at each other for long moments until new ideas came, talking over one another excitedly when the ideas came flowing, running around the room, oh, and falling on the floor… over and over again. I have the bruises to show for it.

Warren came up with the motto: “What would Charlie do?” Whenever we were at a loss or felt our work to be phony or contemporary or manipulated in any way, we would stop and ask, “What would Charlie do?” and then we’d always find ourselves with 20 new ideas. Above all else, we wanted the choreography to be specific and special for the show – in a way that Charlie Chaplin himself would have done it.

We’ve now arrived in La Jolla. The cast has met. Music is taught. Final revisions are being made to the script. Dance rehearsals are just beginning. And the three months we spent preparing for the show seem like an eternity ago. Now, a new process begins: we move past all of that research and time spent in the studio and now we focus on what’s in front of us: the actors. They are now the biggest part of the creative process because everything has to be transformed through them. The collaboration that began with just me and Warren now extends to the hands of 20 strangers. Only time can tell what comes of it…

Until next week 😉