Spotlight on Connor Gallagher: Choreographer Edition
In Theatre Trip’s “Spotlight On” series, we’re chatting with some of the most inspiring people in the theatre industry. And today we’re doing a special feature on Connor Gallagher – a talented director and Astaire Award-winning Broadway choreographer.
Connor Gallagher has most recently done the choreography for Broadway’s Beetlejuice. And on top of that, he has choreographed Roundabout’s The Robber Bridegroom and directed a reimagined production of Beauty and the Beast for Disney Creative Entertainment.
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What was it that initially inspired you to step into the theatre world?
“I grew up as a gymnast and then a dancer so movement was my way in professionally. But growing up I was a bit of a class clown, always hamming it up and getting into trouble in one way or another. Seeing The Nutcracker at age 6 was a big moment for me. It was flamboyant and colorful and weird and as a little closeted gay kid it seemed like a place I wanted to be.”
What was it like getting to choreograph Beetlejuice? Were there any surprises or unexpected challenges along the way?
“Beetlejuice was fun because of the team. I loved working with all of those people. I’ve worked with Timbers for years, and it’s always nice to work with someone you’re comfortable with. You need that trust so you’re not afraid to take chances. Beetlejuice was a challenge because of the development process and the show being so technical. You basically create it all a year before you even go into rehearsal. All of the magic and ideas are baked into that set. It’s not accidental.
It was also a challenge coming out of our out-of-town in DC. We got very mixed reviews, and it can be tough to understand because most nights the crowd went wild like they were at a rock concert. So you’re trying to listen to what the audience tells you, and it’s at odds with the some of the reviews. And on top of that, you’re dealing with a film that’s a cult classic. People love this film and we wanted to honor that.”
Can you share a bit with us about your process when faced with a new number to choreograph? What are the first one or two things that have to be considered?
“The story and the music. That’s the road map you have on a new musical. I generally begin my work before any of the designers, and frequently before the director has done any staging. And even before I get into a room with dancers for pre-production I’ll sit down with the demos and close my eyes and see what inspires me, see what phrases jump out, what the lyric tells me about those characters.
And then I’ll make a road map, a sort of choreographic cheat sheet. This will map out the character journey in counts of 8, so that when I get into the room I have a solid foundation. It frees me up a bit to focus on the bigger picture.”
“I’m generally drawn to pieces that have a darker comedic edge. I think our collective comedic taste has evolved over the last two decades and I’m drawn to pieces that push those boundaries.”
How do you typically like to decompress after a long work day?
“Wine. And basically getting as far away from theatre and dance as possible. My brain needs a break from the theatre world so I can come back thinking clearly.”
Are there any other specific musicals that you would love to choreograph for one day? What’s on your theatre bucket list?
“There are a few new musicals that I’ve got my eye on. Both of them are in the horror/folk/comedy world. I’m generally drawn to pieces that have a darker comedic edge. I think our collective comedic taste has evolved over the last two decades and I’m drawn to pieces that push those boundaries.”
Do you have any role models or other dancers/choreographers that you look up to?
“Jerome Robbins and Rob Marshall. Those guys know how to do it.”
What’s your favorite thing about working in the theatre industry?
“Well. There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure. My world is constantly shifting, my tastes are shifting, my collaborators changing. Every day brings a new set of rules, and my colleagues keep raising the bar. To be able to work in an industry that is always challenging you is a gift.”
Are there any specific books or resources that you would suggest to the budding dancers or choreographers out there?
“Twyla Tharp: The Creative Habit. She articulates the struggles of what we do in such a clear way. I think about it often.”
“Find people you like working with and stick with them. Theatre in general is all about relationships.”
And do you have any other advice for dancers or choreographers who are aspiring to work on Broadway one day?
“Just keep showing up. Find people you like working with and stick with them. Theatre in general is all about relationships. I think it can be hard for dancers to understand. The fact that you’re talented is a given. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. But you’re getting the job because people want to be in a room with you for 6 weeks, 6 months, 2 years. There’s something you’ve got that goes beyond the basic skills. They want you as a human being, a collaborator.”
What’s next for you?
“I’m not really sure what I’m able to say about this one, but I’m directing a musical adaptation of a very famous story as we speak. I think we’ll open in 2021. I’m also about to direct a production of The Secret Garden at my alma matter, CCM. And then I’m going to spend a lot of time snowboarding because life is all about balance.”
What did you think of this interview with Connor Gallagher?
Are any of you working as or aspiring to be a choreographer? We’d love to hear all about what you’re up to in the comments below! In the meantime, you can check out even more of our interviews with inspiring people in the theatre industry!
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Author: Stacy Karyn
Stacy Karyn is the founder of Theatre Trip, author of The Thespian’s Bucket List, and creator of The Cast Album List. She has a TESOL drama certificate, a BA in theatre, and has worked and interned with Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters.