Hapa Hour with Tami Swartz

I’m very excited to have this next Hapa on Hapa Hour today! I first met Tami Swartz doing King and I with her at Dallas Summer Musicals. We bonded over our love of “Fire Fly”.

imageHailed by The Washington Post as “A lithe soprano…especially clean and well modulated”, Tami Swartz is a singing actor with a diverse career in theater, opera, new music, jazz and stage direction. Theater credits include Lady Thiang in The King and I with Dallas Summer Musicals, Sacramento Music Circus and Music Theatre of Wichita, Tuptim in The King and I with Allenberry Playhouse, Sharon in Master Class with Caldwell Theatre Company and ZACH Theatre, Mrs. Corn in Gary Adler’s musical romp Thanks! at Bucks County Playhouse and as Polly Peachum in Duke Ellington’s Beggar’s Holiday on Off Broadway with The York Theatre Company. Workshops / Presentations include multiple roles in the final version of the Broadway musical Allegiance starring George Takei, including the Talks at Google broadcast series. Opera credits include Heloise in the American premiere of Offenbach’s Bluebeard with Connecticut, Connecticut Grand, Fort Lauderdale and Long Beach opera companies, Cho-Cho-san in Madama Butterfly with Metro Lyric Opera, Lúthien in the world premiere of Adam Klein’s opera Leithian based on the story “Beren and Lúthien” from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarilion at the Liederkranz in New York, Musetta in La Bohème with Late Evening Productions / Dallas Opera, Elizabeth Tilton in the world premiere of Mrs. Satan with The Center for Contemporary Opera in New York City, Gilda in Rigoletto with Harrisburg Opera Association and Anna and Jessie in The Seven Deadly Sins and Mahagonny Songspiel with Liederkranz Opera Theatre. New music/jazz credits include soloist in Round for a Plague Year by Ted Rosenthal with the BMI New York Jazz Orchestra at Merkin Hall. Additionally she was featured soloist with Randy Sandke and The Bern Festival All Stars in a tribute to Duke Ellington at the Bern Jazz Festival in Bern, Switzerland with arrangements by Scott Robinson. Directing credits include Artistic Director for Harrisburg Opera Association’s educational outreach concert series “Opera in the Park”. Harrisburg Opera producing/directing credits include: “Paris 1959” an original crossover program that Ms. Swartz conceived combining Il tabarro with jazz quartet, An Historically Accurate Madama Butterfly with Adam Klein co-director and a re-imagined version of the The Magic Flute with Adam Klein librettist and co-director. Additional producing/directing credits include Charleston Chamber Opera’s inaugural production Pilot Season – a program Ms. Swartz conceived for the Piccolo Spoleto Festival weaving four one act operas into a script showcasing them as ideas for a major network’s pilot season. Additional stage directing credits include Nest Egg Productions, The Hellenic Music Foundation, The Co-OPERAtive Opera Company, NY, NY and The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra Children’s Concert Series. She holds Masters and Bachelors degrees from The Juilliard School and Northwestern University respectively and currently resides in New York City. Follow her on Twitter: @t_swartz for the latest news and updates.

Alex – What makes you Hapa?

Tami – I am Half Japanese / half Pennsylvania Dutch (German from the Alsace Region).

Alex – How long have you been in the entertainment industry?

Tami – I have been in this business 25 years this June…and as I write this I can’t believe it! : )

Alex – Favorite artistic moment?

Tami – There are many influential and beautiful moments I have had personally and shared with others in the performing arts. It is hard to pick a favorite, but what comes to mind presently was when I performed one of the most major roles in the operatic repertoire for the first time. And before I continue, I should note that opera is one of the ultimate expressions of art for me because if performed well it commands excellence in multiple areas – singing, acting and musicianship. So to answer complete answering your question the role I am speaking of is Butterfly in Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly. From the conductor’s down beat until the fall of the curtain at the end of Act III she lived inside me channeling me for her purposes. There were so many thoughts and reactions that my character felt that were so organic, so tangible that I knew I had, albeit temporarily, completely transformed into her. There was no doubt, no critical inner voices, no insecure calculating that many of us do inside our heads when acting is not completely flowing. I actually experienced timelessness. The action that took me out of that moment was when I took my curtain call to a standing ovation of sobbing audience members. (Unfortunately she kills herself, but often happens in grand opera!) It was then I knew that I did my job and it was exhilarating.

Alex – How has being Hapa influenced the foods you eat?

Tami – Growing up Hapa allowed me to become fearless regarding sampling cuisines. There are still things I don’t enjoy, like the one time I had crab brain sushi in Matsumoto, Nagano, but nonetheless I love that I have a broad palate when it comes to enjoying food because of my Hapa heritage.

Alex – What’s your favorite food?

Tami – Wow – that’s a tough question because I love to eat all kinds of food! If I had to pick one I would say roasted duck from any culture is pure ambrosia for me.

Alex – What’s your favorite restaurant?

Tami – Right now I am favoring Dovetail on West 77th near the Museum of Natural History. The food is sumptuous and they make a commitment to organic, local and sustainable ingredients. Also the waitstaff is fantastic (the manager is a personal friend of mine who is a tremendous singing actor that I have worked with and hired in the past) and the atmosphere is sophisticated, yet gentle – you can hear your conversations over romantic candlelight while jazz music is playing unobtrusively in the background. It’s not inexpensive, but completely worth while going to for a special occasion or a celebration.

Alex – Best meal you’ve ever had?

Tami – The best meal I have ever had was at my father’s Executive Assistant’s home in Thanksgiving of 1994. (I used to call her Number One based on the character of the first officer from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” because that was what she really was. The title of EA was far from an accurate representation of her powers.) What happened was after I finished performing on the Macy’s Parade Dunkin’ Doughnuts float I discovered that my car was missing! Thankfully NYDOT just stashed it on one of the side streets along Central Park West, but because it took me a while to find it I showed up at Number One’s table three hours late! It didn’t matter. Besides being served an incredibly moist, savory roast turkey with wild mushroom stuffing, there was a mouth watering assortment of Italian dishes available in abundant quantities and prepared to perfection. You name it – cured antipasti from the best Italian salumerias, pasta with three meat bolognese and pasta carbonara, grilled broccolini and other veg, homemade mouth watering desserts including ricotta cheese cake to rival Veniero’s in the East Village – and an incredible selection of wine (and you know how much of a wino I am)! It felt like a big hug and while it wasn’t at some fancy, Michelin star rated restaurant, it didn’t matter. There was love in every bite.

Alex – Difficulties in being a Hapa in the entertainment industry?

Tami – The biggest difficulty I have experienced is being pigeon holed as Asian in spite of the fact that I read across multiple types. Also being submitted for roles that are completely inappropriate for me because the first world in the breakdown is “Asian”. Thankfully that is changing – especially in the last few years and because I have a really great manager now. I am happy to say that lately I have been seen for roles that have been traditionally Caucasian and now are open to all races.

Alex – Funniest or worst professional moment?

Tami – I think the funniest moment I ever had was when I performed the role of Lady Thiang in “The King and I” with Musical Theatre of Wichita. It was the first of two times with that theater, both experiences equally uplifting. We were rehearsing the king’s death scene and pretty much all 106 of us – adult and child – were crying our eyes out. At the end of the final scene there was rather a pregnant pause…and we all were STILL verklempt and nobody’s saying anything because we’re all just caught up in this amazing moment. Then, with perfect timing, the director’s partner (a fantastic theater director as well) exclaims: “He dies?!” and that was it – we all lost in it fits of laughter!

Alex – Favorite family recipe?

Tami – My favorite family recipe is my mother’s chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. It’s pure decadence!

Alex – Any advice you’d like to pass on to other Hapa’s?

Tami – My advice – develop a broad skill set across as many performing arts genres as you can – and don’t let folks pigeon hole you. Opportunities are on the verge of becoming abundant for “ethnically ambiguous” and “mixed race” types. In the real world there are more and more people out there that look just like us and if the performing industry is interested in portraying realistic trends it’s just a matter of time!


Thank you so much Tami  for being on Hapa Hour today! For more info please check out her website: http://www.tamiswartz.com/

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