The Sound of Music's Maria On Eating Champorado and Why the Arts Should Matter to Everyone

The Sound of Music opens on September 27 at The Theater at Solaire.


 

(SPOT.ph) The thing about classic movies and musicals is they are not—as much as we’d often describe them—entirely timeless. These masterpieces' ability to stick around for years and years, adapting with the times and growing with us, is what makes them an integral part of us. Through the changing cast and directors, they make it a different experience for audiences of all ages. This is reaffirmed by the upcoming Manila run of The Sound of Music at The Theatre at Solaire on September 27.

 

Excited as we are, SPOT.ph immediately had a short chat with Carmen Pretorius as soon as she arrived in Manila. She will be portraying Maria Rainer/von Trapp, one of the most-loved characters in film and theater history.

 


 

SPOT.ph: How would you describe your character, Maria?

Carmen Pretorius: I would describe Maria as a dynamic, nature-loving, incredible, inspiring woman. We all know that she's religious and we all know her story, you know, going from the nunnery to meet the children, but she's incredibly brave. I think that's something that really strikes me about her. She's faced with incredible challenges and she's kind of an orphan who had no real sense of identity, and yet she's always positive. She's always smiling and always finds the light in music and in everything, and I feel like that's something that a lot of people just take for granted, and if you really think about her character, she's actually quite a supernatural person. She's just really inspiring as a woman. I love that about her.

 

There's always been a lot of love for The Sound of Music. What makes it such a compelling musical production to people around the world?

I really feel like it's such a transcendent production. It just transcends time because of a few elements. I think one of the elements is the fact that [Richard] Rodgers and [Oscar] Hammerstein [II] wrote such incredible music that is so emotive and so lyrical in terms of its storytelling. I think that the actual writing of the story is incredibly poignant. The way that it tells very relatable themes interwoven into the story is really incredible. And also, it stood the test of time because it's got themes that everyone can relate to. It's got themes of love, it's got themes of music, it's got themes of religion, it's got themes of war, controversy, and it's got themes of family, and that stuff is really, really important and really cleverly interwoven into beautiful music. I think that's a recipe for success that's why it's been around for so many years. I mean, the songs are so iconic, but they're not just associated with the musical and the movie; they're associated with Christmas time, they're associated with family time, so all of that stuff is really exciting, and I think that's why it's famous.

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You're playing a well-known, well-loved character. Were you ever intimidated by taking on this role?

Yes! I think it's probably fair to say that any actress would be intimidated by playing a role like Maria because it was played by Julie Andrews who is such an iconic actress and singer but at the same time, Frank [Thompson], our director, was so good at making me feel at home in the role and making it my own and he allowed me to find my... as much as we stay true to the character of Maria, he said it is really important that I don't try and be Julie Andrews. That I don't try and be someone. I must just play her from a natural point of view. And that's what a good director does. He kind of helps you as an actress to find truth within yourself, within the realms of the character and what the audience wants. It's challenging. Also, from a technical point of view, singing for eight times a week is quite scary. Performing eight times a week is quite scary. If I said I weren't intimidated, it would be wrong. It's something that is always there with me. But that keeps me going. I always want to be better; every show I want to be better.

 

So having said that, how did you prepare yourself for the role? And how do you sustain the intensity all throughout the show?

In preparation, I'm one of those actresses. I don't believe in watching the film or the other actresses' interpretation of the role before I rehearse it because I just don't want to be influenced any of that. Once I found the role for myself in rehearsals, I will then go and watch other people and maybe be inspired or possibly during rehearsals, and be inspired by some things, but preparation is always rehearsing singing, rehearsing blocking, rehearsing dancing, and getting that rehearsal made me feel like an athlete. You train, train, train, train.

 

And then, I also have a voice coach who's based in Wales. I work with him once a week, once every two weeks to train my voice up 'cause at the moment, I'm trying to get footfall when I start the tour, which would be here [in Manila]. Vocally, it's probably the biggest challenge. So, you're exactly like an athlete. You have to get your voice up to that par again. And I also try and take good care of myself. I sleep, I drink a lot of water, I try to eat well, I try to stay away from sugar, but I'm really bad at that 'cause I love sugar.

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So you don't eat chocolates?!

No. But! [On my first morning here], I had champorado and it's the best! I'm gonna have that for breakfast every morning while I'm in Manila, and then I'm gonna be like, good on stage 'cause I had my champorado. So that's gonna be like, my food for the shows. I have to eat my champorado.

 

Aside from champorado, do you have other techniques that you employ when memorizing your script?

I love using color. I have to highlight everything in colors, 'cause in that way my brain remembers the words. I think step one would be like, to do that, highlight and put lots of color, and then step two is when you're working with the director on the floor and you're putting everything together and you're blocking the scene. That helps me remember my actual lines, so when I think, "Okay, I remember he said I must go in this direction on this line," and then I'm like, "Oh okay, that's the line," so that helps me to remember. So, it's like building a puzzle. You get the outline of it when you build the edges of the puzzle. You put those pieces in place. When I highlight my script, I memorize my script. And then when you start rehearsing, those other pieces kind of just fall into place. All of that helps but as I'm getting older, it's getting harder to memorize lines. Luckily, you do it so many times that you hopefully don't forget them. But it's happened, that I've forgotten them on stage before.

 

Where and when was that?

I think it happened once in China. It's like a few seconds, but it felt like forever! I can't remember exactly where in the show and then luckily, Mark Rayment who was my Captain von Trapp remembered. He could see in my eyes that I was stressing! So then he came in with a line that reminded me of my line and then we just kept going. After that, I was like, "Oh my God, was that really long? It was like an hour!" Mark said, "No, it was like 10 seconds."

 

So yeah, it happens. I think in another show it happened also, but it's usually because you do the show so much. After a while, there's a danger of becoming like, you think you know it too well, and that's when things like that start happening so you always have to be on your toes. 'Cause I've probably done The Sound of Music for like 500 times, or something ridiculous, but I can still forget a line if I don't remember that I'm in the moment. People think, "Ah, you've done it like 10 times, you'll be fine." NO. (Laughs.) That’s basically what I do. I just have a photographic memory so I just read and memorize and read and memorize.

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You obviously got the "artistic" bug early in life. Tell us about when you knew you wanted to pursue this career and who has helped you along the way.

Wow. I honestly believe I was born to travel a certain part in life. Ever since I can remember, my mom told me I started singing when I was like two or three years old. I just sang everywhere. For me, singing was my biggest passion and it still is. Out of all three of our vocations—singing, dancing, acting—singing is my biggest love. I started taking singing lessons, I auditioned for anything and everything I could. You see an audition, you see something in the newspaper or on TV, and then you go, "Okay, I'm gonna go audition and see what happens next." And then during my teens, I traveled to Japan and Singapore and L.A. and I sang as part of a non-profit organization, and we did big shows at the Carnegie Hall.

I kind of always sang, sang, sang, and when I got to high school, I did my first theater production Me and My Girl. During high school, I also did Crazy for You and Hello Dolly. And I actually went to school with Jonathan Roxmouth who played [The Phantom in] The Phantom of the Opera, and we started out together. When I was 18, I entered High School Musical. It was a lot like Connie Fisher in [the British reality show] How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? That was how they cast the first Maria in the U.K. They did like this TV show and then the public could vote for her and they voted for their Maria. I kind of had the same start in my career. They voted for me like in the "Idols" but for theater. And then I won the role of Gabriella Montez. I finished writing my 12th-grade examinations, like literally I was studying on stage with my book. I was studying math while we were plotting our lines.

 

And then, I've had so many people who've helped me along the way, from my vocal coach who's been with me since I was nine, to producers in SA [South Africa] who believe in me, to anyone like you who's ever done an interview with me when I feel like I'm no one. And then I obviously believe that God helped me. I feel like my path was always blessed. So yeah, that's me.

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Going back to when you said you started traveling at an early age. What are some of your best experiences of being on the road?

You know what, it's always been so incredible to be in a new country with people from home. You become like a family because you have to kind of band together because it's all new. I think the best experience is when we come with the food. I love gastronomy!

 

But it doesn't show! Do you even gain weight??

(Laughs.) Thanks! Yeah, I totally do. Oh, that's another thing. You got to keep fit when you're doing a role like this. You can't indulge too much. But yeah, food, and also I'm a very, very visual person. I'm a Taurus, that's my star sign, so I'm quite sensual, so I touch, and I like what I see and what I taste. All of those things. I love photography, so I love traveling and taking photos. I love the architecture of new places. I love the people; I often watch people. I think that that's the most exciting thing about traveling. You get to see the lives of such people you would never have met before.

And then obviously being on stage and meeting all the kids from different countries is really special, and getting to know the local people that are on the show with us. I mean, come on, who doesn't enjoy staying in a hotel room, and having your bed made for you? (Laughs.) It's the fun perks of touring! It's tough, though. You're away from home, you're away from your family, and you’re away from the people you love. I have a boyfriend who won't be on tour with me. So stuff like that makes it hard but it's really, really awesome in other ways. It seems really glamorous to a lot of people but it's hard work. But I love it! I'm happiest when I'm working hard.

 

So, about meeting kids, in this fast-paced digital age, why do the arts matter, specifically to the kids, or even to the millennials (our generation)?

I think it's such an important question because I was born in 1990 so I grew up without all of this technology. I mean, it kind of started creeping in towards my teens, but I think it's so important that kids engage with the world around them. And arts is one of the ways in which to do it—arts and sports. And it's so important to make a connection with actual people and nowadays, everything's online. It's really easy to write a song 'cause you just sort of study how to do it online, it's really easy to record something, it's just like loads and loads, and I think that the connection that arts bring is important. But the discipline that it requires, it's not just something that you can wake up tomorrow and study quickly and then do.

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Any of the art forms, and that includes songwriting, requires a certain amount of commitment and discipline which I think millennials especially, it's instant gratification, you know, we want things now, now, now. And we don't want to work too hard for anything, we don't want to commit to anything. I understand, but I think it's important to have a dream like I did and to have a passion and have it inspire. And that's why nowadays, I just hope that kids won't just stay in front of their TVs and their cell phones. I hope that they get involved. You know, you get to tell stories but you don't just learn how to tell them with other people, with other cultures, you learn it by yourself. You have to access yourself, you've got to explore creativity, and those are just juicy, wonderful parts of life that you wouldn't get to access while being on your phone. It's critical. It's tough being online and being in the real world. It's really important for young kids to learn that.

 


 

How then would you encourage the younger ones or people our age to actually go out from behind their screens and into the seats of live theater?

Oh, I would definitely say the first step to doing that is to come watch The Sound of Music. It's a good introduction to theater. If there's anyone who hasn't ever been to the theater before, it's a great first show. For anyone who has been, it's one of those you have to see. It's like a must-see on your list. It's like a bucket list show. And that's how I would think. If at any point in time, if you can be part of a live audience at a show, that is a special gift. Whether it's theater or a live concert. And especially for kids, to see other kids performing in such a large production like The Sound of Music.

I remember when I was little, I would see little kids on the show that I was watching, it was really so inspiring, and that stuff drove me to carry on working and get to where I am today. It's those engaging situations. It's not seeing someone on the screen, it's seeing someone my age on stage with other grown-up actors, I would really encourage them to come. Come and see the show. Come and see The Sound of Music. There are not many shows that the stars of the show are actually kids. That's what the show is about. It's the children.

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To wrap this up, is there one particular line or a verse from a song that sums up Carmen Pretorius?

"My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees," I think that's it. That sums me up. I am a singer, I love animals and nature, and I am a “creativist” so “my heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees,” I think that's the one line that would best describe me.

 

So after this, after the Manila run, what's next for you?

After this, we carry on our tour. We'll go to Singapore and to Macau. And hopefully other territories later on in 2018.

 

Any other productions?

At this point in time, in my life, it's pretty much The Sound of Music for the next six to eight months. I'm also looking forward to visiting my boyfriend who's gonna be on Evita. He's touring as well, he'll be around the world. So we'll be hopping on and off.

 

You should both travel around the Philippines!

Yeah! I'm hoping he can come visit but I don't think he can 'cause he'll be working. But hopefully, you know, 'cause it's kind of easy to fly from Hong Kong to here, it's like two and a half hours so I'm hoping we can come back and go to this island...Palawan! I hope we can go there soon.

 

The Sound of Music runs from September 27 to October 15 at The Theater at Solaire, Solaire Resort and Casino, 1 Aseana Avenue, Parañaque City. Tickets, priced from P1,500 to P7,000, are available through Ticketworld.

 

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