By Denise Gregorka
Bernard Monroe, a professional Director/Choreographer, spends some short-lived quiet time at his home in Little Falls before hitting the road again on his way to another show. This humble, soft-spoken gentleman has a fascinating history in the theater.
Monroe was raised in Syracuse, NY. His mother was originally from Little Falls. He graduated high school, went to college, and then moved to New York City.
After a time in the city, he said he needed to leave for a smaller environment. Monroe stated, “I didn’t want to go back to another big city. I needed the complete opposite of that. The city is a wonderful place, but you have to desensitize yourself, in a way, to some of the elements. Coming to Little Falls…I find the balance is perfect for me. When I go away to work, the energy is high, and then coming home and ‘replenishing the well’ in a place that is very calm works well for me.”
Monroe stated that his mother was a proponent of the arts and greatly influenced him. He has lovely childhood memories of watching her dance. “She would tap dance in the kitchen, and she’d sing.”
He remembers being on stage in a junior high school review for the first time. “I really loved doing that and went on to do high school plays. By the time I graduated from high school, I knew the direction I wanted to go was theater. The dancing seemed to be the thing I was most interested in.”
Monroe went to a school for theater, earning a degree in theater arts. After college, he went to New York City with only $400 saved up.
He enrolled in “a bunch of classes” and earned a scholarship. “That was the turning point. I knew that being a dancer is what I needed to be.” He started auditioning and worked in regional theaters.
MAKING THE CHANGE
After much time auditioning, Monroe decided to change over from performing to choreography & directing. “I made up my mind that the only place I was going to perform was on Broadway; I only auditioned for Broadway. What would always happen is, I would get down to the wire, and I was sure I was going to be picked, and then I’d get cut. This became a little bit of a pattern.”
The last time it happened, he was auditioning for Bob Fosse’s last show, BIG DEAL, and when Fosse cut him, he said he was devastated.
After feeling so low from that experience, a friend invited him to a choreography workshop. Monroe states, “That workshop changed my life. Now I understand why I didn’t get those parts because this is what I am supposed to do.”
In his early 30s, Bernard started working in assistant choreography positions with some dance jobs. As fate would have it, the choreographer of the show he was assisting became very ill, and the job was given to Monroe. Once he got the job, he had to join the union. “It was then that I realized that the dancing shoes had to go away, and from that point on, I did not dance again. I knew I had to let go of something in order to have something else.”
Monroe choreographed for a number of years and then went on to become a director and choreographer. “I like to be in charge of the whole production. As a new director, I had to learn the language of the set designer and the lighting designer. That was a real challenge.” He knew he needed the experience of directing actors besides dancers. Once he tackled the production of “Grease,” he felt more confident going out to get more director/choreographer jobs.
He said he learned what a good director was in terms of a good actor. “What I had found was… a good director stays out of the actors’ way enough to allow them to create. Then the collaboration can begin”. He says, “Directing is a democracy; choreography is a dictatorship. Dancers have to apply themselves to the move to allow the choreography to work.” He finds a nice mix of seasoned actors and younger actors for each show.
WHAT DOES THE JOB ENTAIL?
Monroe’s job influences the entire on-stage expression.
Each show requires a lot of prep time. “Before you even get on-site or in the theater, you are working! You really have to manage your time,” states Monroe. He spends much time at his home office working on all aspects of the show. He also virtually watches auditions.
From that point, he, along with the producer, artistic director, and musical director, puts the cast together before arriving at the theater. He states he prefers to see auditions in person because he likes to see their energy when they walk in the room, and he likes the option of hearing alternative songs from them. “Nothing beats being live, in the room with the people.”
He does loads of work ahead of time, where he can make several changes. “I don’t walk in and work on my feet….my first choice is never my best choice. When I get on site, I am prepared.”
He explains that the actors and dancers need to see him as prepared and confident. “One thing you need to establish is there is one alpha in the room. That doesn’t mean collaboration doesn’t exist, but the final say has to be yours because there has to be one vision.” He says actors appreciate that.
When Monroe is hired for a show, the only thing he is given is the dance arrangement. From there, he creates dance steps based on that. “If you have someone else’s steps, you are not a choreographer. My approach to things will be different from anybody else’s. I prefer when I am doing a show to not really see what the original work looks like.”
FAVORITE ALL-TIME SHOW
“As a choreographer….A show I did at the Fulton Theater called RAGTIME. I just loved choreographing that show. It has so much meat to it. The collaboration between me and the director was really simpatico. I did some of my best work in that.”
“As a director/choreographer, I don’t think I’ve found it yet. I loved doing ‘Cabaret,’ but I still am looking for that one show where I like all parts of it.”
BODY OF WORK
This link to Monroe’s work bio, released by Crane River Theater Company, doesn’t reflect his most recent works since he is in demand and is always working on yet another show: Bernard Monroe – Crane River Theater Company
Monroe presented SISTER ACT & MAMMA MIA last year. He just finished FOREVER PLAID, and this summer, he is heading out to make PROMISES PROMISES and THE WEDDING SINGER.
“I love my job! The one nut for me to still crack is that New York City nut. The goal still is to direct/choreograph a Broadway show. There still is that dream in the mix. That dream is not realized yet. I am very proud of the work I have done but it is good to have a goal”.
Denise Gregorka is a longtime Little Falls resident who has a love for the city’s people & history.
She is married to Craig, who is a Little Falls native, retired photographer & former business owner.
Denise has done costume collaboration for Broadway and off-Broadway theatre for 18+ years and has also been an antique/collectibles dealer for over 25 years.
She is not a professional writer but is compelled to hear and share the “background story” from engaging Little Falls residents.
If you’d like to reach out to Denise about a story idea, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.