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  • From “Carousel” to China: The World of NYFA Musical Theatre Alumna Ilda Mason

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    NYFA Musical Theatre alumna Ilda Mason is no stranger to the hustle and bustle of life as a working actress in New York City. Since graduating from NYFA, she has performed in not one but two professional productions of “West Side Story” and toured the country with “Cinderella.”

    Now, as she gears up for her next adventure — performing as Pilar in a tour of “Legally Blonde” in China! — Ilda took some time to catch up with the NYFA community to share her thoughts on success after school and believing in yourself, no matter what.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to NYFA?   

    IM: I was born and raised in Panamá City, Panamá. I studied ballet on and off for many years because I always found myself coming back to it despite of all my other extracurricular activities I did in school, like musical theatre.

    I auditioned for my first professional musical in 2008. It was “Beauty and the Beast,” and we performed in the biggest theatre in the country. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life, but as a plan B, I studied Structural Architecture. So I have a degree in Architecture!

    I knew I wanted to come to the United States to study Musical Theatre and it seemed like fate when I saw NYFA at a student’s stand in the very same building where that huge, first musical took place. I knew instantly that NYFA was it because it mixed Musical Theatre and Acting for Film.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?      

    IM: I loved my first NYFA Musical, “Spring Awakening.” Such an incredible show to be part of! It was my first audition process in New York, and to be cast in it was out of this world. Everything about it was exciting, new and powerful. And my favorite class project was the Final for Performance Lab, in which we had full creative freedom to do whatever we wanted and create a medley of songs and musicals to tell a new story. It was my favorite because I had the opportunity to see how my classmates shined so bright.

    The team I was a part of was amazing! Terra made the most incredible medley of rock songs and musical theatre hits that told the story of a rock band going to space, and I got the role of the astronaut! We used Christmas lights against the dance classroom’s mirror to create the illusion of being in space and … it was just perfect. To this day, my favorite class assignment.

    NYFA: Why musical theatre? What inspires you about this kind of storytelling?            

    IM: Musical Theatre brings together my love for acting, singing, and dancing. There is something magical about being on stage, telling a story with so many challenging elements. It’s live, always. You have to be on your A game all the time, whether it is trying to get the job or then keeping your mind, body and soul to 100 percent because your body is your instrument and you need to be ready to do a show eight times a week. It’s inspiring to me because it is special, it is demanding and it is rewarding. To dance my heart out every night, to sing a gorgeous score and to tell a beautiful story for a living must be the best job in the universe. I stare in awe whenever I see a Broadway show, or incredible acting on film. I want to do that, I want to be there. That’s why I moved countries.

    NYFA: While at NYFA, you choreographed the Musical Theatre Department’s production of “Carousel.” Can you tell us about that experience, and how it has shaped what you do today?     

    IM: I was chosen by Chad Austin to be his associate choreographer for this show, and it was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had. To see a show from concept to end required a lot of hard work and we were a team that was committed. Getting to work so close to Chad as director/choreographer, gave me a look into all it takes to create something special. Being able to help choreograph and teach to our cast made me grow so much. I taught me about leadership, ownership and commitment. I needed to know every single move, step and position because the cast was counting on me. I think this was the biggest preparation to be a dance captain on Broadway one day soon.

    NYFA: You performed in two separate professional productions of “West Side Story.” What was it like to approach the same show in two different iterations?     

    IM: My first “West Side Story” will always hold a dear place in my heart. That production in Signature Theatre was flawless in every single way. It was so special to do such an iconic show that tells the story of Latino immigrants just like me, surrounded by such inspiring actors. We did a very immersive, intimate production in which only 300 people were all around us while the Jets and Sharks ran amongst them during the prologue.

    The second time I was part of the cast in Paper Mill Playhouse and that on its own was already mind-blowing. We rehearsed at the New 42nd St. Studios, and I was once again surrounded by massive Broadway stars, but the story was the same. Same beautiful message, stunning score and the best dancing there can be. The best part was seeing how different directors and choreographers bring the same show to life.

    NYFA: You recently performed in the national tour of “Cinderella.” For our students, how did you adjust and sustain your work for the tour conditions and schedule? Was there anything that surprised you or challenged you along the way?         

    IM: Being on tour is incredibly challenging and demanding. I learned and grew exponentially during those 10 months on the road. I learned that you must go in being 100 percent in every possible way, because the nature of touring will take a toll on you. I learned about making a lot of money and saving a lot of money for my future; I learned about the importance of rest. My body needed rest because we never truly had a day off while on tour since our “off” days where travel days. I learned about not falling into the claws of drama. Drama is meant to happen when you live in such a small bubble, and it will drain you mentally and spiritually.

    I learned how to be more like my dad and stay calm, collected and in a way diplomatic because these people become your family. You don’t want to fight on the road. I learned about the importance of keeping myself healthy and injury-free. So many people had to leave the tour because they got hurt and couldn’t perform anymore. I learned how to cook on the road! By the end of tour, I had a mini kitchen with me, equipped with a mini electric skillet, mini rice cooker, cutting board, spices, cutlery — you name it. It gave me the comfort of eating the food that I loved and missed and the peace of mind that I always had something to eat even when we were in the middle of nowhere, and saved so much money because of it.

    It’s challenging to be away from your loved ones, to miss out on things, to be surrounded by the same people every single day, but that was also something beautiful because you appreciate your long distance relationships with friends and loved ones; because you appreciate your alone time, and sharing time; because touring is a whole new ball game and doing a show about kindness and dancing a beautiful Ball every night is pretty spectacular.

    Processed with Snapseed.

    NYFA: What is next for you? Can you tell us about any upcoming projects that excite you, or any new avenues you hope to explore soon?       

    IM: I’m so excited because next month I will be going to China to perform as Pilar in “Legally Blonde: the Musical”! We will be doing a short tour through Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Beijing, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about this Chinese adventure!

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing for what you are doing today?         

    IM: Absolutely. I was so prepared for that first audition season. I was my strongest in every way and ready to tackle any dance call, had a full repertoire of songs and enough confidence in who I am that I was ready to start the job of auditioning and having a day job at the same time. With time I grew to learn more about what was my style, what songs show me best at the actual audition time and what to wear to show who I really am and who I can be. I had incredible teachers at NYFA and I’m thankful for all the pieces of gold they gave me as guidance for this difficult journey though the musical theatre/film industry.

    NYFA: Any parting thoughts for our readers?       

    IM: Musical Theatre is hard work and perseverance to its core. It’s about not giving up and showing up to those auditions even though you are tired, haven’t been seen for Equity calls or even if you are scared. I learned a huge lesson from a close friend of mine. My tour roommate, an immigrant from Malaysia who was on an O-1 visa just like me and was also non-Equity, booked the Broadway revival of “Miss Saigon” and made her dreams come true.

    After that I realized that there is no audition too big. You want to be on Broadway, right? So you have to go to that Broadway call! She unknowingly taught me that you never know if you never try, and that if you feel you are right for something you have to go for it.

    Funny story, that’s how I landed this “Legally Blonde” tour! I applied to get an appointment and didn’t get one. The day of the audition I looked in Audition Update and found the location of the singers call. I marched there determined to be seen and, because they were running ahead of schedule, they were so nice to let me sing for them.

    Long story short: I crashed the audition and got the role. We need to believe in ourselves first and always.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Ilda Mason for sharing a part of her story with our community.

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  • Meet the Director and Choreographers Behind NYFA’s ‘Carousel’

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    carousel

    Chad Austin and Ilda Mason are the creative force behind the NYFA Musical Theatre Program’s production of the great Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel. Musical Theatre Program Chair, Mark Olsen, stopped Chad in the midst of his busy schedule to ask a few questions about their collaborative process.

    Chad, when did you and Ilda Mason begin working on Carousel?

    Ilda began working with me early in the summer to develop the vocabulary of dance for our production of Carousel. We spent about two months in the studio developing the steps that would later become major production numbers.

    You two have teamed up before. How did the collaboration begin?

    Ilda’s dancing in my class and in all of her dance classes was very strong and she seemed to have a natural sensitivity to choreography. Our collaboration began when I brought her on to be my dance captain for the NYFA productions of Spring Awakening and The Wedding Singer.

    And it was in the next production that the two of you more fully teamed up to create choreography?

    Yes, I was asked to choreograph NYFA’s third musical, Chessand she served with great enthusiasm and success as my Associate Choreographer. When the time came for me to gather my team, it was a no-brainer to have her once again as my Associate Choreographer.

    It must be nice to have an associate who understands your process.

    Working with someone over a period of time you begin to speak the same language. I’m happy to say that by this fourth show together, Ilda was basically finishing my sentences.

    I understand that Ilda is now moving forward into the profession?

    Yes! Ilda, like many of our students, needed to be sponsored in order to stay in the country. I was thrilled to offer my name as a professional to be her Artist Sponsor. Halfway through the rehearsal process of Carousel, she got the call that she would be staying in the country where she can follow her dreams. She left us a week before opening to start rehearsal for Washington DC’s Signature Theaters Production of West Side Story. This is one of the most reputable regional theaters in the country and I’m truly thrilled to have any part of the amazing journey she has ahead of her!

    I know you are proud of her as are we all!

    Ilda is a true product of all the amazing faculty members who work so hard every day to inspire and train the young artists that come to our program.

    Be sure to check out one of our performances of Carousel this upcoming Friday, November 20th through Sunday, November 22nd at the American Theater of Actors in Manhattan. For tickets, please CLICK HERE.

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    November 11, 2015 • Musical Theatre, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 5490

  • NYFA Musical Theatre to Perform ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel’

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    carouselContinuing on the success of its last three musical productions, the New York Film Academy Musical Theatre Program is gearing up for its for fourth stage performance, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, which will take place from November 20-22nd at the American Theatre of Actors in New York City. Based on Ferenc Molnar’s play Liliom, as adapted by Benjamin F. Glazerthe play centers on a Maine coastal village toward the end of the 19th century. The lead male is a swaggering, carefree carnival barker, Billy Bigelow, who captivates and marries the naive millworker, Julie Jordan. Billy loses his job just as he learns that Julie is pregnant and, desperately intent upon providing a decent life for his family, he is coerced into being an accomplice to a robbery. Caught in the act and facing the certainty of prison, he takes his own life and is sent ‘up there.’ Billy is allowed to return to earth for one day fifteen years later, and he encounters the daughter he never knew. She is a lonely, friendless teenager, her father’s reputation as a thief and bully having haunted her throughout her young life. How Billy instills in both the child and her mother a sense of hope and dignity is a dramatic testimony to the power of love. It’s easy to understand why, of all the shows they created, Carousel was Rodgers & Hammerstein’s personal favorite.

    “Carousel has always played a part in my life as a performer,” said director and choreographer, Chad Austin, who is an instructor at the New York Film Academy. “I have danced the role of ‘carnival boy’ in multiple productions. I knew we had the talent to tackle this massive musical, and I felt it was a great time to produce a Golden Age Musical!”

    Chad Austin with NYFA's Carousel cast

    Chad Austin with NYFA’s Carousel cast

    The NYFA cast has worked diligently these past few months going through the rehearsal process because for most of them this show is a huge stretch, both as dancers and actors. Some consider Carousel one of the best books of a musical—that alone tells you how much they have been digging into the character work in order to tell the story.

    Taking on both director and choreographer was a thrill and challenge,” added Austin. “Luckily, I was able to create most of the choreography months before with my amazing associate choreographer, Ilda Mason [NYFA Musical Theatre alumna]. While creating the concept of the show I had the freedom to make choices that might otherwise not have happened if I wasn’t wearing both hats. I think by opening night the audience will be blown away by the level of talent we have at NYFA.”

    Austin believes the performance will not only introduce a classic to our students, but also provide a story that will resonate with today’s modern audience.

    “The struggle with Carousel and other musicals from its era is that audiences sometimes feel disconnected from the material. When you strip down the themes of Carousel and tell the story it is simple and touches people of all ages. I hoped to turn an epic musical into a intimate one.”

    NYFA students, employees, and alumni may purchase up to two $10 tickets with Jordan Dragutsky in room 420 at NYFA Battery Place.

    All other general admission tickets are available at NYFACarousel.brownpapertickets.com.

    CAROUSEL
    Music by Richard Rodgers
    Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
    Based on Ferenc Molnar’s play “Liliom”
    As Adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer
    Original Dances by Agnes de Mille
    Directed & Choreographed by Chad Austin
    Music Direction by Joshua Zecher-Ross and Anna Ebbesen
    Production Stage Manager: Jhanae Bonnick
    Associate Choreographer: Ilda Mason
    Associate Director: Beatriz Cavalieri
    Produced by Kristy Cates, Mark Olsen, and Jordan Neil Dragutsky
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