Karma Camp on ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ and Her Friend Marvin Hamlisch by Joel Markowitz

Karma Camp has choreographed so many shows at Signature Theatre that I have lost count. Each show she has worked on is filled with high-energy, elegance, and fun choreography. And in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas she puts the cast through a workout every performance and it’s exciting and joyful and toe-tappin’

Joel: Why did you want to choreograph The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?

Karma: The Aggie boys, of course! No seriously, I asked Eric [Schaeffer] to do Whorehouse because it’s a fun show that audiences always enjoy it and I could have the opportunity to do some more dancing. We also had the luxury of working with Carol Hall (composer) to help add some new dance breaks that didn’t exist before. I always like working on something that hasn’t been done – or have the chance to make it a bit different. It’s a political year and since Whorehouse has political overtones we thought it was a perfect time to do this show.

Karma and Brianne Camp. Photo courtesy of Karma Camp.

What different styles of choreography/dance did you use in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?

Obviously a lot of boot stompin’ in the Aggie number – clogging – two stepping and athletic moves.The guys do a series of jumping jacks, knee lifts, pushups, jumping pushups and there’s a round-off back handspring. The audience enjoys the athleticism of the number and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

The ladies dance “PISSANT which usually isn’t danced and “24 HOURS” are both high energy and the ladies have a very sexy style to their numbers. Their dance numbers are technical so a certain level of skill was required. I just appreciated that the entire male and female ensemble were so game to do more – they loved rehearsing the numbers.

What scene/song was the most challenging to choreograph?

The Aggie number was challenging in the fact that in addition to a very long dance break (4 ½ minutes) they are singing before, in the middle, and after this huge dance break. It’s very athletic and we rehearsed it every day so that the guys could build up their stamina. Though the audiences may not be aware, the undressing and redressing of the guys is totally choreographed. We practiced changing clothes throughout the rehearsal. The guys have 4 counts to take their football jerseys off as that’s when their microphones are turned off so that you won’t hear a horrible sound as they take them off over the mikes. It’s amazing how long it takes to undress football pads, pants, cleats, jersey’s and then redress and put on cowboy boots and hats. We certainly had some good laughs.

Your daughter Brianne is your Assistant Choreographer and she appears in the ensemble. How has she grown as a choreographer and dancer since working with you on Hairspray?

Bri (pronounced Bree) is an amazing young woman. Not just because she’s my daughter but because she is older than her years and comfortable at the helm.  Everyone adores her! She’s authoritative yet kind and is very good at breaking down steps – much better than me. I just say, “Here it is, do it” and Bri will totally break it down – and she loves doing that. We bounce ideas off of each other, we argue and we laugh. She makes me better. One thing that I continue to teach her is storytelling. To me, a number is complete when it is staged in beats (just like a scene)… she gets it – she will be a force to be reckoned with if she continues to choreograph.

You have worked with some of the cast on the stage before in other shows. Did any of them surprise you with their dancing skills?

Actually, many are new to me. For example, in my female ensemble only Bri and Jamie have danced for me before. In the male ensemble, only Stephen Gregory Smith has danced for me. Everyone else was new – made it very exciting!

However, I have worked with all the principals before. They are each talented and work so hard doing choreography – and are having a blast doing it – as you can see in the finale when everyone is onstage dancing.

The finale of ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

How did the MAX stage and space affect your choreography choices?

The stage is very long but narrow. However, that actually is helpful for lateral movement which we do a lot of in the show. I would have loved more depth, but I think we made good use of the space.

Why do you think The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is still popular?

It’s just FUN. People enjoy laughing and they can relate to some of the political material in the show. It’s different material than what we usually do at Signature and I think it’s a breath of fresh air. Shake it up a little.

You have worked on so many shows at Signature. Any idea how many shows you have worked on here, and which were your 5 favorites of all-time? 

Wow – this is hard! I’ve been so fortunate to have such a loving relationship with Signature  Eric and I share many of the same sensibilities. We can finish each other’s sentences so it makes our working relationship easy. I believe I’ve choreographed over 40 shows at Signature – I’ve been there since the garage opened with Cabaret.

My 5 favorite shows that I’ve choreographed:

Hairspray, Whorehouse, Urinetown, Nijinsky’s Last Dance, and Grand Hotel. All very different, thus adding why they’re my favorites.

Marvin Hamlisch. Photo by Shel Secunda.

We both attended Marvin Hamlisch’s memorial service/funeral in NYC.  When did you first meet Marvin Hamlisch? 

I met him many years ago during A Chorus Line rehearsal with Baayork Lee, but I really got to know and love him when we started our working relationship almost 10 years ago.

Where did you work with him and what did you like most about him? 

I helped stage concerts for Marvin. We worked several times together at the Kennedy Center with the NSO both in performance and also staging their annual Gala. I also helped stage the Gala for the New York Philharmonic with Marvin.  When I asked him to write an opening number for the Helen Hayes Awards he jumped right in. We had a great time coming up with new lyrics to “God I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line for the Awards.

As you may remember, he also was our special guest that year and played the opening and closing numbers. He thought big – like hiring 50 tap dancers and doing large production numbers. He loved having kids involved and would regularly ask me to incorporate them into numbers for concerts. He enjoyed sharing his love of music to anyone and everyone. Marvin was a gentle giant. He didn’t know how to say, no. Like me, he loved the process – loved figuring it out – and his enthusiasm was infectious.

 What moved you the most at the funeral? 

Terre (Marvin’s wife) asking me at the viewing to do a time step at Marvin’s casket. I kissed his casket and did a military time step – one of his favorites.

And then the choir that was only to be 60 friends turning into 600 friends singing, The Way We Were – and of course, as they carried Marvin’s casket down the aisle with EVERYONE singing What I Did For Love! Just so emotional.

 What are your fondest memories of Marvin?

I will list a few:

–        Being around a piano with him – figuring out dance breaks – coming up with ideas.

–        Marvin running to me backstage yelling, “They stood, they stood, they stood” after we received a standing ovation for our opening number at the NSO Gala.

–        Him proudly displaying the cuff links that I gave him as a gift.

–        Marvin calling me onstage at Lincoln Center to introduce and thank me for my work. He was generous and I loved him for that.

–        Being backstage at Wolf Trap with my mom (who recently passed away from Alzheimer’s) and Marvin making a big deal over her. When the special needs cart didn’t get there quick enough to take us back to handicap parking, he asked, “Ms. Helen (my mom) how would you like to go for a ride in my limo?” She was beyond excited. He not only drove us back to the handicap lot, but he made the limo driver take us around the parking lot three times! She was like a child with excitement and he delighted in making her day. He touched my heart that night, more than he ever realized.

What’s next for you after Whorehouse?

I’m actually choreographing Seussical at Imagination Stage. I met with Janet and thought she was super. Then Hello Dolly at Ford’s. And hopefully something new for Disney.

What recent shows in DC and NYC had choreography that you really admired and why did you like the choreography?

In NYC I loved the musical staging of War Horse. The movement was beautiful!  It’s a great use of “staging” in a play.

I thought Rob Ashford’s choreography in Evita was fresh and exciting. Though I wasn’t fond of the production as a whole, I thought his work was excellent.

I haven’t yet seen, Once, but I sure look forward to it. On the Tony Awards it was one thing that truly intrigued me – the way the movement worked with the actors and music. Plus Joe Calarco said, “I’ve seen it, but we have to see it together” – he is a great barometer for me with movement.  e share the same passion for a particular way movement can infuse a scene.

In DC – I very much enjoyed 1776 at Ford’s Theatre. It’s a great musical.

And I’m of course looking forward to Dreamgirls at Signature.

What advice can you offer a student who is considering making dance his/her career?

If they want to have a career in musical theatre, than be sure to know the skills that it takes to do them. Now, more than ever, musical theatre requires everyone to act, sing and dance! It’s a difficult business, I mean DIFFICULT, so they have to be up on their skills and continue to study. Audition as much as possible! Auditioning is a learned behavior – I believe that – you get better with time.

Why should DC area theatregoers come and see The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?

It’s an entertaining evening. Plus, the level of talent in this cast is extraordinary.  Great singing, great acting, fun, laughs, and of course, some damn good dancing!

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas plays through October 7, 2012, in Signature’s MAX Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. Tickets are available for purchase in person at the Signature Theatre Box Office, online, or by calling Ticketmaster at (703) 573-7328.

LINKS
Karma and Brianne Camp on their Helen Hayes nomination for the choreography of Signature Theatre’s Hairspray.

Joel Markowitz’s tribute to Marvin Hamlisch and reflections on his funeral.

Jane and Joshua Coyne’s tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.


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