I used to think my life was interesting before I sat down and talked with Alexis Carra ’03, who just spent eight weeks last semester touring in Japan as a star in her favorite production of all time, “Fosse.” I spent a day last semester shopping “Asian American History.” Carra wins.
Carra attributes this opportunity to luck, but through her quiet eloquence, she explains how she left Yale at the drop of a hat. People who have seen her dance will immediately note her animated expressions and the enthusiasm that she brings to her performances. It’s like there’s no one else on the stage.
Her professional debut, “Fosse” pays tribute to American choreographer Bob Fosse, the only individual ever to garner a Tony, an Emmy, and an Academy Award in the same year. It is a high-energy dance musical made up of nothing but material from acclaimed Fosse shows of the past half-century, and it includes such memorable numbers as “Big Spender” from “Sweet Charity,” “Bye Bye Blackbird” from “Liza with a Z,” and “Whatever Lola Wants” from “Damn Yankees.”
“It’s a musical review that has no story line,” Carra pointed out. “It’s a show that consists of three acts with transitions of singing and dancing.”
Although no one would dispute that Carra has the talent and the look for a Broadway musical, it was a little of being in the right place at the right time that brought her to the big stage.
For the past two summers, Carra has been accepted to and participated in “Broadway Theater Project,” a three-week training program connecting students with seasoned theater professionals conducted in her hometown of Tampa, Fla. The event focuses on singing, acting and dancing, but Carra said that it “pushes you in the art that your focus is.” Faculty from New York and the surrounding area came down for the three-week period and offered classes, panels, and question and answer sessions. For Carra, however, the most important faculty member turned out to be the artistic director and founder of Broadway Theater Project, Ann Reinking.
“Ann was one of Fosse’s main dancers in the 1970s, and now she is the director, co-conceiver and co-choreographer of ‘Fosse.’ One day during Broadway Theater Project, I was called out of class to speak to her. She took me into the stairwell, and I thought I was definitely in trouble because I had given someone a ride home earlier who had hurt her ankle when I technically wasn’t supposed to,” she explained
Quite the opposite played out as Reinking proceeded to tell her that one of the dancers in “Fosse” had been asked to do another project, and that she was offering Carra a three-month replacement contract to do the show. Oh yeah, and Carra had to decide that night.
“I had to immediately call Yale to work out the arrangements, but ultimately I decided this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” she said.
That decision took Carra to Japan instead of New Haven for the beginning of last semester, where she was one of four women involved in the show dubbed “swings,” or understudies that collectively learn all the parts of the show in case somebody in the cast becomes ill or takes some time off.
“I had to learn six female parts, and throughout the course of the tour, I ended up performing three of them. Being a swing was a huge lesson. It was hard because there would be times that I would play a role for two weeks straight, and I would get used to doing it. It was emotionally taxing because you’re constantly backstage watching, but you leave with the benefit of knowing more than one part,” she described.
Because of financial reasons, the tour that had gone on for two and a half years eventually had to cancel a six-week portion, but, for those six weeks, Carra kept busy by spending time in New York auditioning and dancing. The tour soon picked back up, however, and “Fosse” played in a different city in the United States every week. As Carra pointed out, “That’s the hard part about touring — a lot of times you’re only in one place for seven days.”
Although Carra said she was delighted to be involved in a show that allowed her to work with so many immensely talented performers, the most rewarding part of the experience was the chance to perform this specific show.
“When this musical first came out on Broadway, a girl from my high school was in the cast,” she explained. “I saw it many, many times. It was my favorite show, and it was my dream to be in it some day.”
From her youth, Carra had come full circle, from the audience to the stage.
“Fosse himself said that he wasn’t a very good dancer, and therefore he would never put something in a show that he himself couldn’t do,” Carra added. “I tend to disagree with his characterization of himself, but it’s true that he was more about style than leaps and turns and jumps. He was all about subtleties — he wanted the audience to get something out of his steps, and a lot of them turned into standard dance vocabulary.”
So what does this new semester hold for Alexis Carra?
“So far I’ve performed every semester here, and this semester I want to relax a little bit and concentrate more on academics,” she said.
Apparently to Carra, relaxing means helping out and staying active in the Yale Dancers organization, along with applying for a Sudler grant to direct her suitemate Kate McGovern ’03 in “Rupert’s Birthday.” With her contributions to the extracurricular life of the University, the Yale community is glad to have her back.
As for her long-term future, she wants to have a career in which she is always creating something. As a dancer, singer, actor and director, her options are wide open, but she currently plans to spend a few years dancing for “Hubbard Street of Chicago,” a modern jazz company that a lot of her fellow “Fosse” cast members came from. She would also like to spend a summer in Los Angeles to get an acting agent and also to try and get jobs dancing in music videos or doing voiceovers. Eventually, though, she would love to move to New York and spend some time on Broadway.
And after that?
“I would love to have my own dance company and be a famous choreographer — maybe even the next Bob Fosse.”