Meet our musicians onstage and off that make magic in Orlando Family Stage’s production of Giraffes Can’t Dance!

Backstage Spotlight: Giraffes Can't Dance
Julian Brown- Djembe Player | Bert Rodriquez- Music Director

What inspired you to become a theater maker and music director or musician? 

BERT:  I was always singing as a child. I sang in school shows and things like that. I wasn’t until seeing Into The Woods at the Signature Theatre in Virginia almost three decades ago that I discovered the art of theatre. Even then, I didn’t know it was something that one could do for a living. My choir teachers, theatre teachers, and my parents all encouraged me to give it a try, so I went to the University of Oklahoma to pursue a BFA in Musical Theatre Performance. And now I’ve spent over two decades working in my chosen professions as a music director and actor!

JULIAN: My family inspired me to become a musician. Since I can remember I’ve always been surrounded by music so it really helped!

What kind of education prepared you for this career? 

JULIAN: While school gave me the opportunity to learn Music Theory, the majority of my education came from personal experience.

BERT: I was heavily involved in choir and theatre all throughout school. And then I went to school at the University of Oklahoma to pursue a BFA in Musical Theatre Performance. I took all kinds of classes in acting, dancing, and singing. I got to assistant music direct the musical my final semester at college. My college years really set me up well for a career in entertainment. But the importance of real world experience is not to be diminished either. Sometimes you have to leap, and the net will appear.

What school subjects that our students may be studying do you use everyday?

BERT: There are obvious things like music, dance, and acting. But also subjects that may be less obvious, like math! Every bit of rhythm involved in music has a math component. Multiples of three and four are the most common.

JULIAN: Math and Music Theory!

What is your favorite part about being a musician? 

JULIAN: The freedom of being able to play what’s on your heart and mind.

BERT: Music is a universal language. Everyone can hear the same piece of music and feel a different way about it. But across the board, everyone is experiencing something whenever they listen to a piece of music. As the person creating the music, performing it, there is an exhilaration in making the choices of how the music will sound. Will it be soft or loud? Fast or slow? Smooth or percussive? And then hearing an audience respond is the best feeling. To inspire emotion and spark conversation is such an honor.

How did you collaborate and draw inspiration from each other or the rest of the creative team for Giraffes Can’t Dance? 

BERT: I think it is so important to quickly discover how best a person learns, and what they feel makes them shine. I want everyone to feel like rock stars on stage. Giving the performers the freedom to make artistic choices grants a kind of ownership of the material. You can be even more proud of the fact that how you perform is unique to you. Seeing that spark of joy that happens when a performer’s choice works really well is one of the best parts of my job.

JULIAN: Collaborating with Bert and watching him and the cast inspired me to grow into a better musician. The Stage Managers and Directors were very supportive and gave me great feedback.

What is it like as a music director to incorporate live musicians into performance?

BERT: Live music is everything! The sound waves quite literally wash over you in a very visceral way. There is a palpable increase in engagement when the music is actually being played in front of you. That goes double for percussion instruments. A drum on a track is exciting, sure. But played live, you can actually feel each beat in your chest. It’s thrilling!

When and how did you learn to play the djembe? What do you like about this instrument?

JULIAN: I learned how to play when I was 5 years old and it was with my family whenever we used to meet up and play music together in a group. I like the sounds the instrument makes and many ways to play it!

How does music help tell the story of Giraffes Can’t Dance?

BERT: The music in this show is very catchy. It’s an old trick when trying to memorize lists of information to set it to a rhythm or music. When you leave the theater literally singing the messages of the show because of how these songs get stuck in your head — that’s a job well done. And in representing music and dance styles from all over the world, how the notes sound provide clues to where in the world the music is coming from. The fact that the music in the show induces toe-tapping will immediately endear audiences to Gerald’s plight (of not being able to tap his toes…Gerald has hooves).

JULIAN: It shows the Character’s connection with the music and their environment.

Gerald is nervous to dance in front of the other animals, can you tell us about a time you were nervous and how you overcame those nerves? 

JULIAN: I’m nervous anytime I play in front of a new group of people, as I play eventually I open up and the nerves go away!

BERT: I was fortunate enough to be invited to sing “Go With The Flow” from Finding Nemo: The Musical at a concert at Lincoln Center in New York City honoring the music of Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The other guest artists were all famous stars of stage and screen like Andrew Rannels, Josh Gad, Betsy Wolfe, Jonathan Groff, and many more. I have never been more nervous in my life. I truly would have never gotten through it if John Tartaglia hadn’t been there, constantly talking to me, calming me down, and reminding me that I deserved to be there. In our show Cricket tells Gerald, “Because ‘show up’ is what kind people do.” Mr. Tartaglia showed up by helping me overcome my jangly nerves to perform my first big concert in New York City!

What are three words you would use to describe this production?

BERT: Rollicking, worldly, and sweet.

JULIAN: Interactive Fun Experience!

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