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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Drama

Kentuckians in Theater

Choreographer Peggy Stamps
Lexington, KY

Who Peggy Stamps is an award-winning choreographer for professional and community theater groups, including Actors Guild of Lexington, the Lexington Shakespeare Festival, Lexington Children’s Theatre, and the University of Kentucky departments of opera and theater. She also has choreographed and staged many opera productions, including the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s Porgy and Bess and the University of Kentucky’s production of The Tenderland, which was performed in the Czech Republic. Stamps has been a featured dance soloist with the American Spiritual Ensemble and has performed with the group on three tours of the United States and six tours of Spain. She has many stage, film, and TV credits in the United States and Canada. Stamps is a graduate of the Purdue University School of Engineering, and her “day job” is as an operations engineer at Lexmark Inc.

What “When I hear music, I see a picture. My mother is a visual artist. When I was young and asked her, ‘Why can’t I draw?’ my mother said, ‘You paint pictures with your body. You paint pictures with people.’ A musical number in a play is used to express emotion—celebration or remorse, for example—and a choreographer’s job is to use the physical body to help interpret the emotion as it fits within the context of the play—to express that emotion using more than just verbal expression and take it to a level [where] words alone can’t take you.”

When/Where “When I’m choreographing, I’m usually working evenings and weekends, in rehearsal halls and on stages. Sometimes I’m in a dance studio. It helps to have a room with mirrors like a dance studio, so the dancers can see what they’re doing, and the choreographer and dancers can all face in the same direction when they’re learning movements. The floor has to have some ‘give,’ like a gym floor. It’s better for the dancers’ backs and knees.”

How “I work hand-in-hand with the director. Many Broadway shows now have director-choreographers [one person who does both jobs]. To do that, you really have to understand theater and character development as well. I also work closely with the stage manager. It’s helpful to have someone who knows how to take notes about movement, so when someone is missing from a rehearsal, the stage manager knows the spacing. I do a lot of my own costuming, which can also be very important in certain dance numbers.... It’s important for a choreographer to be knowledgeable about different periods in history and different cultures. For example, you might have to know how a woman would lift her skirt, how someone would sit down, and their body posture. You have to have danced at some point in your life—I don’t think I could name a choreographer who does not know how to dance. Sometimes you can describe to experienced dancers what to do, but sometimes you just have to be able to get up and show them yourself. The biggest challenge is getting dancers in community theater, who are not always used to the demanding routine of professional dancers, adjusted to the discipline of having to repeat movements over and over again in rehearsal.”

Why “I just love music, and I love adding bodies to music—the music, the movement, the orchestra. I love the way all that fits together and adds to the picture on stage. What I like most is not actually seeing the final number up on the stage, it’s those little moments in rehearsal when you see it click, and the movement becomes the dancer’s.”

Getting There “Take advantage of every opportunity you have to dance. There are free or inexpensive dance classes through community centers, the YMCA—even hula dancing or African dancing. Expose yourself to as many different dance forms as possible—not just ballet. Almost every community has a community theater. Look for the musicals. Audition, even if you only get to be in the back of the chorus and bounce up and down and sway. Those are free dance lessons. Junior highs and high schools, too. Whether it’s an experienced choreographer or the PE teacher, you’ll get experience. The only way is to dive into it and learn.... Music education is also important for a choreographer. You have to understand the structure of music—tempos, form, how the phrasing works. Get as much exposure to music as possible—high school chorus and band, for example. It’s good to be able to read music. When you’re teaching choreography, you have to be able to count out those patterns. And it also helps to be able to communicate with musicians. They want you to be able to speak their language.”

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951