Published on May 19th, 2016 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Olesia Shewchuk
Between acting, filmmaking, singing, dancing, and music, there’s almost nothing that Olesia Shewchuk can’t do in the artistic sphere. Her newest endeavour – the title role in the comedic operetta The Merry Widow – is now on until May 29th at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver. We spoke to Olesia Shewchuk to find out more about this production by the North Shore Light Opera Society and her unique artistic journey as a creator and performer.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about you and The Merry Widow?
I am a Vancouver-based TV, film & theatre actress and filmmaker, as well as a soprano, dancer, and pianist. I have a voracious appetite for learning new things, and the thing that thrills me most is getting a full new script and juicy role to sink my teeth into. Most recently, I have discovered how much I love to sing, dance, and act at the same time! So after doing straight plays for years, I’m debuting with my first operetta, in the title role in The Merry Widow. It runs May 19th-29th at Presentation House in North Vancouver. Here is a 1 minute audio clip that I sing in the show with ensemble and orchestra:
The Merry Widow is a comedic operetta, with gorgeous music by Franz Lehar, and internationally loved since it premiered in 1905. North Shore Light Opera Society (NSLOS), which has produced 68 years of musical comedy on the North Shore, placed the show in their season after Stage Director, Edette Gagné, and Music Director, Stephen Pickett, were inspired by a 2015 production starring Renée Fleming at The Metropolitan Opera.
How did you become involved in this production?
Last year, I started studying opera with my incredible voice teacher, Marisa Gaetanne. I sought her out because one of my theatre roles (Angelique in Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid) demanded that I sing a couple of numbers. One day, on the fly, she mentioned that North Shore Light Opera was doing a production of The Merry Widow and were still looking for a Widow. I watched a YouTube production of the show and was enchanted! I auditioned without expectations and was thrilled to be offered the role of the Widow. I have been in sheer heaven ever since.
What should audiences expect to see on stage?
Audiences can expect a great energetic show with a huge cast of twenty-six and a live orchestra – all with immense talent! There’s some stellar singing in this show! There’s a moving romance set amidst the clashing of cultures, political intrigue, marital affairs, gender wars and money issues. We’re using Jeremy Sams’ very witty and snappy English translation, and our fabulous Stage Director, Edette Gagné, has created detailed, motivated and entertaining staging. Oh and original choreography! My co-lead, Carlos Vela-Martinez, and I have been training in Viennese Ballroom Dance with choreographer, Dominic Boyer, for the last couple of months. And with my background in Ukrainian dance, I choreographed the folk dance numbers. Lots of variety and family friendly, with a few subtleties for the adults! It’s a lovely show and I am super proud of it. Tickets can be found at nslos.com.
What was your creative process like for getting into character?
As a second generation Ukrainian prairie girl, I can relate to the character of Hanna! She is an Eastern European farm girl who suddenly becomes one of the richest women after her 70 year old ultra rich husband dies on their honeymoon. OK, maybe not the last bit! But Hanna is definitely a fish out of water in a new environment, as she tries to navigate the unfamiliar high society world around her.
As Hanna spends nearly 80% of her time onstage with her romantic interest, Danilo, it has been fun mining every moment with my equally passionate colleague, Carlos. We have put a lot of thought and effort into getting deeper with motivations, psychology, tactics, objectives, and subtext to bring Hanna and Danilo and all of their exchanges to life. It has been a thrilling ride!
What was the biggest challenge for you with this role and how did you deal with it?
When I was first offered the role of the Widow, I went through a period of self-doubt about whether I could pull it off. This was my first operetta role, and the role of Hanna is huge! Could I get through a two week run of singing eight vocally demanding numbers? Also, five months ago, I was a mezzo-soprano, squeezing out Gs and As. Hanna is a soprano role with many As, Bs and even a couple of high Cs.
So what to do?! I accepted the role! Then I plunged into a daily practice of body and vocal exploration and working on my role. I ramped up my kundilini yoga and studies with my opera instructor, Marisa. I was vigilant about getting to bed at the same time each night, and eating healthy food. I felt as though I were training for a marathon! And I still do, as it’s not over yet, thankfully!
Bit by bit, my range opened up. My voice shifted into soprano territory and is literally growing by the day – I have recordings of my lessons over the months to prove it! And now, with the show opening a week away, I am confident in my role and cannot wait to share it. This brings to mind a quote by Lemony Snicket: “If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.”
I was extremely lucky to have this opportunity, and that Edette and Stephen believed in me the whole way. I could not have done it without my amazing family – my husband and two preschool daughters were champions with their busy mama. And it was also great to have an extremely supportive and awesome agent, Esther Cohen, at Carrier Talent.
What’s the most rewarding element for you about performing?
The most rewarding element of performing is feeling the energetic magical exchange between performer and live audience – when I am so fully present in my role and can feel the audience right there with me alongside my character’s journey.
What’s the most important advice that’s ever been given to you about your career?
A few years back, one of my acting teachers said to our class -“Everyone has access to their own unique personal charm, and there is nothing holding one back from finding it except oneself.” It took me years to figure out exactly what that meant! But last year, inspired by the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and after increasing my own self worth and self esteem, I was finally able to give myself permission to be myself without apologizing to myself. My attitude towards people and the world changed for the positive. My career took off and I was booking professional TV jobs one after another. I made a decision to let out my voice, literally, with singing. And here I am today singing this incredible role!
What books, and authors have been influential in your career so far?
So many books have been influential on my artistic career and life!
My most favorite are:
Gandhi An Autobiography by Monhandas K. Gandhi
The Art of Time and The Return of Courage by Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber
What other projects are you involved with at the moment?
The Merry Widow has consumed nearly every spare moment at the moment! Though, a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work on the NBC pilot, Miranda’s Rights, directed by Mad Men director Jennifer Getzinger. Once the operetta is done, I will go back to auditioning for TV and theatre (and likely musicals now!). I will pick up where I left off with some personal screenwriting projects. I have a short film (that made a shortlist for the Hot Shot Shorts Competition last fall) to shoot, and am working on a feature film as well.
Where can we find out more about you and The Merry Widow?
Thanks to Olesia Shewchuk for speaking with us!
The Merry Widow is on now until May 29th at Presentation House in North Vancouver. Performances are on at 8PM Thursday to Saturday evenings along with matinees on Sunday afternoons at 3PM. Tickets are $20 to $30 and are available from PHTheatre.org