Arianna Bashara sings the national anthem at last year's Memorial Day services. The Mount Greylock senior has carved out an impressive resume on local stages during her high school years.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Like the character she portrays this weekend in Mount Greylock Regional High School's production of "Oklahoma!" Arianna Bashara defies expectatons.
After four years of lighting up the stage at the high school and a recent turn as Barbarina in Williams College's production of "Mozart's Figaro Unplugged," it might seem logical that the high school senior is eyeing a spot in a bachelor of fine arts program as precursor to a career in singing or acting or both.
Not so, says the confident youngster who will portray Laurey in the Rogers and Hammerstein classic this Thursday through Saturday, March 7-9, at 7 p.m.
"Honestly, I'm not really sure," Bashara said before heading into rehearsal recently. "I always saw myself going in the medical direction, but I've been really growing in my music. I've applied to basically all liberal arts colleges, so I'm not cutting myself off from any opportunities.
"When I talk to people, they say, 'Obviously, you're pursuing music as a career,' and I'm like, 'Well, not necessarily.'
"But that gets me thinking, 'Why not?' "
She's got the chops — whether it is playing the lead in a high school production, studying the Bard at Lenox's Shakespeare & Company or holding her own with professional singers in an updated opera at the '62 Center, Bashara has shown she is ready to take the next step dramatically.
Just don't tell her which steps to take. She'll follow her own beat, just like her character in this week's production.
"I'm Laurey, so I'm sort of the classic farm girl," Bashara said. "I'm very independent. I'm trying to branch off from the idea that everyone needs a guy, everyone has to have a man. A lot of my songs are about: I don't need someone to be happy. I can be independent.
"I love that because I definitely think that society in general, especially back then, put too much emphasis on that."
Bashara took some time to share her thoughts about performing, studying theater and preparing for her final performances at Mount Greylock.
QUESTION: You were a little busy with another project while you were starting rehearsals for the spring musical, correct?
ANSWER: I was doing an opera at Williams College (Jan. 18-19), which was 'The Marriage of Figaro Unplugged,' so it was a little more modern. We kind of tweaked some things.
We had been rehearsing for that since basically summer, and I had been asked to do the part of Barbarina. It was one of the smaller parts in the show, but it was incredible because I got to work with professional opera singers and teachers at Williams College and Williams students, which was probably the most incredible opportunity I could have asked for.
Q: Had you sung with that company before?
A: I take voice lessons at Williams with Keith Kibler. This is my third year with him. And we're always looking for new opportunities. ... We'd been working on one of the pieces, and he just kind of looked at me and said, 'How would you like to be in an opera?' I said, 'Might as well.' But it was obviously the most incredible opportunity.
It was very nerve-wracking when they put you up there, and you're the youngest one by far. It definitely was a learning experience — going from the high school musical and going to the opera, I'd go from 5 o'clock rehearsal here, have a half-hour break and then rehearse until like 10 o'clock at night at Williams and then drive home and do homework.
Q: Did you have much experience with operatic material before working on that show?
A: Keith had had me working on a few different opera pieces, basically Mozart, Bach. We like to mix those with modern pieces. Italian is probably one of the most beautiful languages to sing in. I've done a few other pieces in Latin, and you need to be versed in modern material as well as the older material to fully grow as a musician.
I hadn't really had that much experience in that material, but first-off, the opera was in English, which was nice. It was roughly translated. It was kind of adapted for that show.
I love singing in Italian and other languages and using those old pieces because you really get so much out of it. When you sing in English and sing modern-day songs, you don't get the same kind of things that you get out of the older pieces.
Q: Can you describe what you mean?
A: I can try. First off, technique wise, Keith's really good with having me analyze different melodies, how the piece is really written.
He really had me, which is great, relate it to Shakespeare. I'd done Shakespeare for six years; I do it at Shakespeare and Company in the summer, and I do Fall Festival here. And when you're speaking a monologue in Shakespearean text — and when I first heard it, I didn't even know what they were saying — you start unlocking each piece, that's how it is with the music. When you start really looking at a piece of music like that, there's enough to dive into.
The older pieces have, a lot of times, more context to dive into, and they're usually from bigger pieces. I learn more about operas, first off. If there's a piece from an opera, if it had been written for a specific story, I get to learn more about that, which I probably, personally haven't gone to a lot of operas on my own. But by being versed in them, I can kind of have more experience with what's going on.
It helps me in everyday life having more of a cultural sense of that. It's helped my technique. It's helped my voice because some of the transitions are harder than what you'd have in a musical.
Q: How was it working with the professional performers in the 'Figaro' cast? Were they very accepting of you as a high school student coming in?
Bashara is playing Laurey in 'Oklahoma!' this weekend on the Mount Greylock stage.
A: I was really nervous. ... But everyone was extremely accepting. The first time I walked in there, and they announced, 'Hey this is Ari Bashara, she's a high schooler and one of my students,' there was this automatic respect for me being there. And then when I got out on stage and showed what I had and saw some of their jaws drop, it was a total confidence booster. And it really reassured that I belonged there, which was nice.
Rehearsals can get tough, especially when you're close to the show and you're working long nights and people were really tired. Just to know that I was meant to be there and I was worth it, was incredible. ... Everyone was like a big family. Everyone was so accepting. I was so impressed. That's kind of like how the theater community it is.
Q: You already had some experience with theater professionals from your work with Shakespeare & Company, right?
A: Exactly. And the thing I was nervous about at first was there's this whole 'diva sense' about the singing world and the competition. But there was none of that when I went there. Everyone was extremely welcoming, helping each other out. If I was having a problem, I could easily walk up to anyone and say, 'Hey, can you help me with this.' If I was having a bad day, they'd be there to listen.
Honestly, it was the most exhilirating feeling when we were all out on stage for the finale and singing together. It was the most amazing feeling to be out on stage with all these people. The support, and the tickets were sold out for all three nights. To know they were coming to see us, especially as a high schooler, it was amazing. I wish I was thinking of better adjectives.
Q: This is going to come out wrong, and I don't mean to demean anyone, but what's it like coming from that ...
A: Back here? It's a whole different feeling. I'm, I guess, a lot more comfortable here. I have a lot more confidence on the Mount Greylock stage where I've been performing for years than I did, say, at Williams. ... I wouldn't be where I'm at if it wasn't for Mount Greylock and the opportunities I've had here. To be directed by Mr. [Jeff] Welch, who I just love, and having that experience. Everything adds up. All my theater here for Fall Festival, all of my singing here in the chorus.
I'm a [teaching assistant] this year for middle school chorus, and honestly, even though it's kind of hard to step back and obviously not be working with professionals anymore, it's great because I feel like I can almost mentor people to come up. That's my main goal a lot of times as a TA. I want people to know that, if they want, they can pursue music. It's not impossible. It's not something that's out of their reach.
I wait all year for the spring musical.
Q: And now it's your last one.
A: It's my last one, which is so bittersweet. I'm really looking forward to moving on to bigger things. But honestly, I've so enjoyed every single musical from my first one, in ninth grade, which was 'Brigadoon.' I was so thrilled because I hadn't been put in ensemble, I was put in an actual, very, very small role. I had a role, and I was so proud, and I just loved being up there on stage with all my friends and just working off the energy of the crowd.
Everyone at Mount Greylock is so supportive. Everyone's really there to support you. I go to all of the sporting events, and all the athletes come to our show. Everyone just supports each other. I'm really going to miss this, especially since this last show, 'Oklahoma!' has been a lot of fun.