On Sunday, July 18 at 4 p.m., The Hawaii Performing Arts Festival (HPAF) will close its 2021 Summer Festival with Rise Up at the Kahilu Theatre, featuring Broadway talent, Nyla Watson and Ana Flavia Zuim. To give you a preview, the following is an interview with the two stars conducted by Executive Director of HPAF Justin John Moniz .
Livestream tickets for Ride Up are available on Kahilu.TV.
What is the significance of your programming choices for RISE UP?
NYLA WATSON: Wow! I’m overjoyed to even have been able to curate a concert for HPAF, let alone these songs in particular! Rise Up is a collection of songs, characters, and subject matter that I love to sing and am honored to bring to life! I am a lover of musical theater and all things that collaborate acting and song. Bringing life to these characters through my life and experiences is something I feel like I was created to do and these songs are where that comes together with just having the most fun doing what I love with the people I love!
ANA FLAVIA: I’m extremely excited and grateful for the opportunity to share the stage with Nyla Watson at this concert, and the song choices represent Nyla’s journey as well as my own. In addition to Nyla’s incredible solos representing her trajectory in the performing arts, the program will include songs that Nyla and I worked on together in shows at NYU and songs from shows I’ve had the privilege of working on such as Billy Elliot and Hamilton.
What are you most excited to share with HPAF audiences this summer?
WATSON: I am most excited to share my love of Jesus through my art. I am beginning and ending my concert with songs that give thanks to being a part of the bigger plan of God for the Earth but in a way, one wouldn’t expect. If I can use my art to point a few more to the love and purpose of God, I’ve done it.
FLAVIA: I’m most excited to be able to be a vehicle transmitting what it is to experience the thrill of a live concert again after such a long time without that privilege. There is something powerful in music-making, and the impact of music both in the performer and the listener goes beyond what we normally ponder upon, affecting the body, the mind, the soul, and the spirit. I hope Rise Up will lift you up and feed your craving for live performance opportunities!
What inspires you to share stories through music?
WATSON: It brings me so much joy to lend my mind, body, voice, and experiences to characters who would otherwise not be known. They only live on the page until we lend them our lives and limbs to live through. I love singing non traditionally African American roles too because allowing them my skin and my outlook on life, gives such a rich dynamic to their delivery. I believe it also humanizes the black experience and provides a channel for the audience to have sympathy and empathy in a way they may never have before.
FLAVIA: For centuries man has been creating and communicating through music, and songs with lyrics have the potential to share stories and ideas. Whatever the theme of a song is, it brings with it a message which can be interpreted in multiple ways by the listener. It is inspiring to me to share stories and concepts through music, some that the audience may not have considered before, some that they might relate to, and others that may simply be a vehicle to empathy through song. It is my hope that people listening to Rise up will go on a journey of their own with the song selections Nyla and I picked so carefully and with such care for this event.
What is your most memorable career achievement?
WATSON: My most memorable career achievement was having the honor of singing with the New York Philharmonic orchestra, singing Showboat in 2014. Besides being affirmed my being hired to be a part, it was my New York City debut and I was the only woman of color in the show that didn’t have a Broadway credit. Ted Sterling, the conductor, and director took a chance on me. I was so green and that cast, especially the other women in the “Colored Ensemble” loved on me and mentored me through the experience. They are still women who I look up to today and call when I need guidance, affirmation, or prayer.
FLAVIA: While my career involves both performance, academia/research/leadership, and expert witness work, I would say that the achievements I hold closest to my heart are across all of these categories. Some of the highlights would include having the opportunity to work with incredible professionals in shows such as Billy Elliot and Hamilton, which afforded me the privilege of receiving awards with my conducting work for Billy Elliot, as well as Anything Goes and City of Angels. My academic achievements include publications I treasure, where I had the honor of collaborating with great names in the voice science and pedagogy field.
Anything specific you’d like for audiences to know in anticipation of RISE UP?
WATSON: Get ready to go on a JOURNEY! I pray that this concert inspires all who partake to open up to their own greatness. I also hope that it inspires you to love and honor those who have helped you along this journey because we just can’t do it alone. With that being said, I have to thank HPAF and all staff, Justin Moniz, Scott Skiba, my host family, my amazing collaborator, Ana Flavia Zuim, and my HPAF angel, Shayna Leahy. I’m so excited!
FLAVIA: Living in the moment is one of our greatest gifts, and the moments you will experience during this concert have the potential of impacting your lives in different ways, it just depends on the frame of mind you bring to your experience. With that in mind, it is my hope that you will embark on this musical journey with Nyla and me with an open heart and bring your excitement to the unique opportunity we get to share together on July 18th. My gratitude goes to Justin Moniz, Shayna Leahy, and the entire HPAF team for going through all the required extra work needed so that this concert series could happen this summer!
ABOUT THE HAWAII PERFORMING ARTS FESTIVAL
HPAF is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to offer a world-class music training and performance program in the inspirational setting of Hawaii, and to improve the education and elevate the spirit of all who participate, especially the local community.