Monday, April 11, 2016

A chat with the Paramount Theatre's New Works Development Director, Amber Mak


Fresh off her critically acclaimed production of "Hairspray" at Aurora's Paramount Theatre,  Amber Mak has been named as the Paramount's New Works Development Director.

It's a natural transition for Mak. As the founding artistic director of the FWD Theatre Project in Chicago, her mission was to advance Chicago as a premiere destination for new musical theatre.

The New Works Program at the Paramount operates year-round collaborating and partnering with writers in development of a new piece.

"A dream come true for Amber, and us, is to be collaborating with writers of new scores and scripts benefitting from melding together what we have learned and achieved over the last five years," Jim Corti, Paramount's Artistic Director, said in a statement. "A risky and brave sort, this collaboration personally expands all of us as well, as we embark in a new direction yet logical next step for our company: cultivating and nourishing new work for the theatre, made in Aurora."

Mak said Paramount looks to put on a musical that stands on its own.

"We're trying to find that new musical that has something different, that maybe pushes the boundaries of what we think of traditional musical theater in some way," Mak said.

The love of the stage had been in Mak's blood since a young age.

"I grew up going to the theater from the time I was in a playpen at an outdoor community theater in Kansas," Mak said. "My brother was in the shows and I watched.  I became a serious competitive figure skater and loved choreographing my routines.  In third grade I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I replied, 'a choreographer.' '

She has worn many hats in the theater world, including being an actor. In college, Mak was a dance major.

"I always approached choreography from a storytelling, character driven purpose," Mak said. "I love dance, but I only love it when it helps convey an emotional arc and truly serves the musical and characters."

In directing and choreographing "Hairspray," Mak said she didn't want to make the show too campy.

Credit: Liz Lauren
"I didn't want to take away from the issues that really were at hand in the story, such as integration," Mak said.

 Mak said the Paramount will continue to do Broadway shows while at the same time staging new productions.

 "They won't alter their seasons at all, at least in the coming years, because it's going to take us a little bit to develop a show period," she said. "The average musical takes seven to eight years to create, from working through rewrites to workshopping. It doesn't happen overnight."

She doesn't see the Paramount staging a new musical until 2018 at the earliest. The Paramount Theatre has been accepting submissions from writers who have ideas for a new work. She has been impressed with what has been submitted to date.

"There's some great ideas and concepts out there," Mak said. "It's amazing where interesting ideas come from."

Realizing that the theater world is by and large still dominated by men, Mak said she hopes she can encourage other women looking to break into the field.

"In theatre and entertainment we are still behind the times when it comes to women in leadership positions, directing, writing, choreographing, etc.," Mak said. "For so much of history women’s value has often been found in their looks and so often objectified. It is changing and I hope that I can encourage other women to follow their instincts, have a voice and be creative leaders."