Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Talking With Connie de Veer About Her "Sirens" Songs

As part of my ongoing "Sirens" series, I talked to Connie de Veer, who plays Rose in the play for Heartland Theatre. Rose is celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her songwriter husband, Sam, even though Sam is increasingly distant as he yearns for his youth and a song that seems just out of reach. When they were young, Sam wrote a song for her (called "Rose Adelle") that became a huge hit. When you meet Connie de Veer, you definitely understand how someone could've written a hit song about her! Connie, who is an Associate Professor of Voice and Acting in the School of Theatre at ISU, is also an AmSAT certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. She acts, she sings, she directs, she choreographs, she coaches... And she is delightful and charming while she does it.

Connie, I seem to recall that you are originally from central Illinois and graduated from Normal U-High. Is that right?

I'm actually from Georgia originally, then my family moved to Tucson, AZ, Salt Lake City, UT, Norman, OK, and then to Bloomington-Normal when I was 9. I did graduate from U-High though. Then I went to college and grad school in Texas, lived in New York City after I graduated.

How long have you been back in this area and what brought you back to Bloomington-Normal?

I came back here to accept a position at ISU, after my parents had passed away. I didn't really feel that I belonged here when I was a kid, but now I really love being here. It's a great place to raise a family.

I remember your performance in “The Trip to Bountiful” at Heartland, which I liked very much at the time. Can you tell us what is different about working at Heartland from your other theatrical experiences?

Well, the first thing I think of are the wonderful people at Heartland and in the Blo-No community. HTC is an artistic home of sorts, to many of us. Many of the other spaces I've acted in have been bigger spaces. The intimacy of Heartland provides a lot of connection with the audience. You can really feel them listening and living your character's journey with you....since they're only a few feet away!

I have also seen your work as a director, most recently on a very fine production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Do you prefer life as a director, as an actress, or as a vocal coach, which you also often do?

Thanks very much! We had a lot of fun on “How To Succeed.” That's a tough question. I think I love whatever hat I'm wearing at the time. I love working in the theatre because regardless of your job, it's really about people – the people we collaborate with and the stories of people that we tell. And I love people, so it's all good! But I guess I feel that acting is my real identity – it’s the perspective I take into directing and coaching.

“How to Succeed” is a musical, obviously. And I understand you will be directing the opera “La Boheme” for ISU next semester. “Sirens” has some musical elements in the plot (and you even get to sing a little). What is your favorite musical role? And your favorite dramatic role?

My favorite musical role would be Madame Matroppo in “Very Good Eddie,” a seldom done but delightful early 20th century musical. And Amanda from “The Glass Menagerie” is by far my favorite dramatic role. I played her when I was 4 months pregnant with Gwen!

What do you think are the biggest themes in “Sirens”? What about Rose Adelle, the character you’re playing, resonates for you?

Certainly the themes of mid-life and marital crises are central. Also, the road not taken... Both Rose and Sam are at a stage in life when they're wondering about that other person they could have spent their lives with. Did they make the wrong choice? How would they be different? Is it too late? I can certainly relate to the theme of coming to terms with one's place in Time. We all must accept at some point, what will never be again – no more youth, no more babies, no more short skirts, no more full head of hair!!

Although you are not playing mother and daughter, it’s still cool that in “Sirens,” you are playing opposite your real-life daughter, Gwen. Is this the first time the two of you have acted together?

It is the first time we've acted together and we're both thrilled and having a blast! We're big buddies, and it's really fun to share this experience. We've actually worked together in similar capacities – I choreographed a couple of musicals Gwen was in in high school, for example, so we're very comfortable working together.

Anything else you would like to tell potential audience members about “Sirens” or why they should come see it?

It's just such an enjoyable, lovely play! It's very well written, with nothing extraneous. It's both funny and poignant, dealing with quite profound life experiences in a highly inventive, playful way. And the whole company and production/design team are exceptional. It's just been a terrific process.

Connie de Veer (at left) tries to pull her husband (Todd Wineburner) away from the
lure of a Siren (Gwen de Veer) in "Sirens" at Heartland Theatre Company.

Thanks, Connie de Veer!

"Sirens" opens tomorrow night, November 3, with a special "Pay What You Can" preview, followed by performances November 4-6, 10-13 and 17-20. For more information, click here or go straight here for reservations.

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