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Call Me Crazy Dancers’ John Curtis On Music, Tap Dance, And Being Married To Your Co-Director

Posted August 15th, 2012

Director John Curtis and dancer Brittany Dunn tap it out.

“The creative process for our show begins with the music,” wrote singer, dancer, choreographer, and NYC resident John Curtis, when we exchanged e-mails this past week. John is co-directing Call Me Crazy Dancers’ 2012 Philly Fringe submit Day for a Dream; a version of the show (titled Daydreams) is coming off a run at the Capital Fringe, where the group garnered a nod from DC Metro Theater Arts. Joined by dancer Amy Smith and co-director Kara Curtis, John leads both the Call Me Crazy band and an eponymous company of dancers.

After the jump: John talks about involving student dancers in his work, and what it’s like to crush on your co-director.

Festival Blog: Call Me Crazy Dancers is a byproduct of the Call Me Crazy jazz band; how central to your choreographic process is music? Does one inform the other, or do the music and choreography seamlessly build on one another?

John Curtis: Music is integral to our choreographic process; the creative process for our show begins with the music. My two bandleaders and arrangers, Kevin DeYoe and Christopher Tolomeo, local Philadelphians and I write our own original jazz and pop material. After years of singing with Call Me Crazy I missed dancing and wanted to integrate dance into the band gigs. The dancing became a larger role to the point where Amy Smith and I decided to co-produce a show to our band music built around dance. The show’s story developed out of the songs in small “sets.” The music largely comes from two of our band CDs, Paint the Town Red by Christopher Tolomeo and Day For A Dream by myself.

When I choreograph a tap dance I sit and listen to the music and I imagine the tap being a solo instrument within the orchestration, much like a jazz musician would solo during a section of a song. We also have an a cappella tap dance in the show, set in a subway station. The dancers and I tap back and forth as if having a conversation. So in this way, the tap becomes the music. Tap is the only dance form where the dance is also the music.

Festival Blog: In a review of Daydreams as performed at the Capital Fringe, DC Metro wrote that your show is a “blend of dance, theatre, song and imagination that advocates for dreams to become a reality and encourages us all to let faith override fear.” What dreams did you have that have since come to fruition? What dreams are still unrealized?

John Curtis: My dream that has come to fruition is that our show inspires people to be artistic. We started with original songs on a CD and brought them to life in a full production including dance and spoken word. So when an audience member sees our show they are witnessing the full scope of the artistic process from writing, to recording, to producing, to choreographing, to performance. The best compliment we got about last year’s show was in an e-mail from a young girl saying that after seeing the show she was inspired to dance. It is a dream come true that our show is inspiring art. But, the artistic process is never complete. We constantly tweak the show as we make new discoveries and come up with new ideas for new material. New dreams are being created all of the time for us and have yet to be realized.

Festival Blog: Your DC show included a few student dancers. Will you use student dancers for your Philly Fringe performance? If so, what is the benefit of using student dancers?

John Curtis: Yes, for the Philly shows we have a handful of students from Kicks Academy of Dance, and Institute of Dance Artistry, as well as Stagelights Dance Studio under guest choreographer Vicky Todd Saunders. Amy and I offer these performance opportunities to advanced dance students to give them a chance to work professionally outside of their home studios. They get to work side by side with more experienced dancers who have worked professionally in the dance world. Having the younger dancers enhances our show because a large part of our theme is our dreams as kids. They possess an unencumbered passion for dance that only young students possess and adds to the spirit of our show. Many of our student dancers in the past are now dance majors in college or have plans to do so.

Festival Blog: What does CMCD bring to the Philadelphia dance scene that was missing before?

John Curtis: We call ourselves the Call Me Crazy Dancers but we try and offer audiences a little taste of everything: ballet, tap, jazz, modern, contemporary, theatre, dance, spoken word, live singing, and original music. We offer many genres as opposed to just one. To us, to be an artist is to be a creator.

Festival Blog: You are married to Kara Curtis, your co-director. What’s most challenging and most rewarding about maintaining a professional and romantic relationship?

John Curtis: We actually met doing a show, so our theatrical collaboration is not new to us! Kara coached some of my vocal sessions on the recording of my album, Day For A Dream and she also spent hours cleaning some of the dance numbers in the show. One night before one of our recent shows in the Capital Fringe, Kara was rehearsing the dancers in the hotel lobby at 1:30 AM. She actually let me go to bed so I thought I was lucky, but the next day she had some notes for me too! It is rewarding to create art together as a couple and to spend time together. Sometimes it can get challenging if we see the journey of the show going in two different directions, but we always work it out.

Day for a Dream runs September 7 at 9:00 pm, and September 8 at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm at Conwell Dance Theater at Temple University. $20.

–Audrey McGlinchy