The director of Anchorage Opera's twin bill of "I Pagliacci" and "Sister Angelica" is also the director of a hit musical that's been filling houses in New York for the past two years. When's the last time that kind of heavy-hitter did a show in this town?
I can't think of a precedent either. But what really makes this particular New York director interesting is that she's a born and bred Alaskan.
Teresa Pond, daughter of long-time Anchorage Community Theatre director Robert Pond, had a long list of credits as actor, writer, musician, director and general theatrical factotum before she graduated from Dimond High School in 1988.
She earned a bachelor's degree with a major in theater and a minor in music at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and went on to get a master of fine arts degree in directing from the University of California Irvine. Her trajectory was marked by successes and praise from her close community of local performing artists and academic colleagues, people who knew and respected her work.
Then she headed for New York.
"I was like a minnow in an ocean," she said between rehearsals late last month.
The next few years brought her little in the way of vocational fulfilment, despite getting good reviews for directing the play "Half Life" at the 2005 New York Fringe Festival.
Unable to land steady professional work, she tried for an elite director fellowship. The application process took a year and a half, round after round of interviews during which she survived every cut. Until the last.
"I was at the final, final finish line and didn't get it," she recalled. "I had tears in my eyes."
But -- almost like in the movies -- as she wiped her eyes and thought seriously about leaving New York and maybe show biz as well, the phone rang and one of the judges in the fellowship competition called to offer her work.
The job, directing summer theater in Kentucky, led to more.
WORD OF MOUTH
"Everything about how I get work is word of mouth," Pond said. "That's one reason why it's important to base out of New York."
Two years ago, Vital Theatre Company, which produces several shows each season, asked her to remount a musical based on the popular children's book series "Pinkalicious."
Not exactly Ibsen.
"I was waffling a bit," Pond admitted. "But they pushed me; 'Come in and help polish this. It's just a six-week run.'"
The polished product sold out and, with some short respites as the show transferred from one theater to another, has been flourishing ever since. On Oct. 10, it opened in Toronto, Canada. "So I'm now an international director," she quipped.
The demand for preliminary tickets caused the Toronto run, originally scheduled for eight weeks, to extend for six months.
In addition to directing the new opening and rehearsing cast members as they're replaced, Pond also finds herself overseeing sets, props, programs, merchandise, etc. "I'm the point person for all things 'Pinkalicious,'" she said.
And, for the moment, the point person for all things operatic in Anchorage. She's not a novice, having directed Anchorage Concert Chorus' "Amahl and the Night Visitors" in 1996. But the pairing of the two one-act operas that opened last night would challenge even a Met veteran.
"Pagliacci," one of the best-known audience-pleasers in the repertoire, contains so much beef that its brief running time, not much longer than an episode of "NCIS," can easily pass for a complete night of theater. It's sometimes performed all by itself.
More often it's paired with another one-act. This time it's "Sister Angelica." Composed as one panel of a triptych, it's more obscure, mainly admired because it features gorgeous writing for the female voices -- which, given that the action is set in a convent, are just about all the voices.
"Even though they're one acts, 50 minutes is still an entire production. I'm still directing two full, complete shows," Pond says.
But the challenge excites her. "In college, they talked about opera as 'the ultimate art form.' I thought, 'I want to try the ultimate art form.' "
REACHING THE PUBLIC
Part of the challenge is reaching a public that may be unfamiliar with the idea of opera and turned off by it. Pond said that her job "is to find ways to lift it off the page and bring everybody with you."
Part of her solution is to include sharp dynamic motions, visual eye candy, movements that help explain the plot. "My approach is, if I can't hear, would I still understand?" she said. "If it's not clear visually, I'm not sure how the audience can get it."
That goal is assisted by the new generation of opera singers. "They're more dynamic, physically, than used to be the case," she said. "We have some very athletic performers for 'Pagliacci.' It's really opera-theater."
She has the backing of Anchorage Opera's general manager, Torrie Allen. "Torrie gave me permission, so I'm pushing boundaries."
"It's physical, messy, real," said the company's executive associate artistic director Andrew Sweeney, a school chum of Pond's.
"There are a lot of different aspects that have not been touched on in other productions."
"Sister Angelica" presents its own challenges.
Where "Pagliacci" is visceral, "Angelica" is cerebral and conversational. Pond has updated it to the middle of the last century, Sweeney said, and worked up "an uncertain ending." (He wouldn't be more specific. When Allen saw the finale in rehearsal, he's reported to have exclaimed, "It's rockin'!" Probably the first time that phrase has ever been applied to "Sister Angelica.")
"I'm trying to see this through Angelica's mind," Pond said. "There's not a whole lot of sitting around."
One interesting footnote about this "Sister Angelica" will be that all performers, including Juneau conductor William Todd Hunt, will be from Alaska; most productions in the last few decades have featured out-of-state talent.
"It's our first local vocal everything for many seasons," said Sweeney. "We're really investing in our local talent this season."
BACK TO NEW YORK
The locally produced director will head back to New York soon, and she sounded ready for a break. "When Thanksgiving comes, I think I can sleep," she said.
Despite "Pinkalicious" and upcoming work with New York Classical Theatre, the life of an up-and-coming director remains precarious.
Living expenses are high. Work remains sporadic. She still must sometimes take non-theater jobs to stay afloat.
But Pond's career is a bite of success that few theater majors ever get close enough to even taste.
"My life changed when I stopped trying to plan too far into the future," she said. "I guess if I had one thing to tell people, it's that you can follow your dreams, you can do it. But it's hard. It's hard."
Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.