What does 25% of the cast of RENT have in common?
They got their start in professional theatre via Signature’s Overtures Musical Theatre Institute.
Jimmy Mavrikes (Ensemble & Mark Cohen understudy), Adelina Mitchell (Ensemble & Mimi Marquez understudy), Ines Nassara (Joanne Jefferson), Sarah Anne Sillers (Swing & Joanne Jefferson understudy), and Sean Watkinson (Ensemble & Roger Davis understudy) were all once emerging artists who participated in Signature’s professional actor training program.
And if you include Signature’s full-time staff, there are currently seven Overtures alumni working in the building! Read on to learn more about this incredible program and how it prepares artists for successful theatrical careers.
What is Overtures?
Signature’s classic actor-training program immerses up to 20 emerging performers (college students and recent graduates) in a rigorous two-week schedule of challenging master classes led by professional artists. Offered each summer, the program bridges the gap between academic training and real-world experience, challenging students to refine their acting, dance, song interpretation, auditioning, and performance skills as they prepare to enter the competitive world of professional theatre. Performers are admitted by audition and come from across the country to train at Signature with musical theatre’s most exciting artists from the DC area and Broadway, including Heidi Blickenstaff, Alex Brightman, Eden Espinosa, Judy Kuhn, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Michael Arden.
What impact did Overtures have on Jimmy, Ines, Adelina, Sarah Anne, and Sean?
Jimmy Mavrikes (Ensemble & Mark Cohen understudy) is a Helen Hayes Award winning actor who Signature audiences may recognize from shows including Girlfriend, Assassins, and Cabaret.
“[Participating in Overtures] really made me grow up. I was green, but this program made me really think about making theatre my career…working with [the late Overtures director] Jane Pesci-Townsend changed my life. She was an absolute force to be reckoned with, a genius, and just the most amazing human you’ll ever meet. Meeting her at Overtures made me want to go to Catholic to study with her, which made me so connected with the DC area theatre community, and I know it’s why I’m working at Signature today! I think about her in every performance I do, and channel her mantras whenever I come across challenging pieces.”
Adelina Mitchell (Ensemble & Mimi Marquez understudy), a recent George Mason University graduate, is already making her mark on DC stages. Signature’s audiences may remember her from the world premiere production of Gun & Powder, and she is also a Signature in the Schools teaching artist. Adelina was also the 2018 recipient of the Andrew A. Isen Young Artist Gift; learn more about the Gift here.
“I remember being welcomed into Overtures with open arms from the entire staff on the very first day. The program truly is a safe space for people of every level to discover and learn. I not only left Overtures with an entire book of notes from all the incredible masterclasses, but I left inspired to keep learning- which is invaluable. There’s no question that the Overtures program was a catalyst into my professional career and I am forever grateful. Without the staff giving me the tools and encouraging me to grow beyond the program, I wouldn’t have the privilege to say I get to do what I love every night. Being able to do it all on the Signature stage just a few years later is the cherry on top.”
Ines Nassara (Joanne Jefferson) is a Helen Hayes Award winning actor. Her Signature credits include Spunk, Crossing, Aftershock (Signature in the Schools) and several cabarets and new play readings, including Sick Bastard (Sick and Twisted Love) and U.G.L.Y.
“[The] Overtures environment was the best. [Everyone was] so talented and supportive and funny and brave and curious…[I grew as an artist by] absorbing new information and new techniques and learning and learning and learning with confidence in what I already have and excitement for how much more I got to learn and grow…It’s such a vulnerable and exhausting time, but… you’re there because of your passion and potential. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Be brave and follow your instincts. We all have the tools to tell a story.”
Sarah Anne Sillers (Swing & Joanne Jefferson understudy) has performed on stages across the region and is making her Signature debut in RENT. You’ll see her again as a Swing later this season in She Loves Me.
“Overtures really instilled in me the importance of uplifting other artists. Our profession often feels very competitive; you’re constantly being pitted against scores of other actors vying for a small number of roles. But at Overtures, you’re given this extremely supportive environment to bond with a group of likeminded young artists and watch them grow and challenge themselves over the course of two weeks; there’s no way you can walk away from that experience without a profound appreciation for each and every one of them as individuals. My time at Overtures taught me that we as artists do not thrive within an environment of comparison (which, as we all know, is the thief of joy!). It’s when we celebrate every artist in the room for their unique strengths, quirks, and vulnerabilities – and in turn, learn to celebrate those qualities within ourselves as well – that we flourish as a community. It’s a philosophy that I know I’ll take with me for the rest of my career.”
Sean Watkinson (Ensemble & Roger Davis understudy) has appeared on regional theatre stages across the country. Signature audiences will recognize him from his performances in Billy Elliott, Beaches, Gypsy, Miss Saigon, and The Happy Time.
Who are some other notable Overtures alumni?
In addition to these talented RENT cast members, Signature’s own Artistic Director, Matthew Gardiner, and Deputy Director of Marketing, Director of Creative Content, James Gardiner, got their starts as part of the 2003 class of Overtures. Since then, Matt has directed more than 25 productions for Signature, including the much-lauded revivals of A Chorus Line, West Side Story, La Cage aux Folles, and Jelly’s Last Jam. In addition to his work on Signature’s marketing team, audiences may know James not only as an actor, but also as the book writer of the Broadway musical Glory Days, which had its world premiere at Signature in 2007. (Fun fact: James co-wrote Glory Days with fellow Overtures alum Nick Blaemire, who went on to create the musical Soon and perform in the Broadway productions of Cry-Baby and Godspell.)
You can find other Overtures alumni on stages and screens across the DC area, New York, and nationally. Some familiar faces include Ryan Jamaal Swain (FX’s Pose), Florrie Bagel (Roundabout Theatre Company’s The Rose Tattoo), Tim Rogan (Arena Stage’s The Pajama Game), Tiziano D’Affuso (Ford’s Theatre’s Into the Woods), and Chani Wereley (Round House Theatre’s Spring Awakening).
Want to see more of these talented artists? Check out the links below.
Jimmy Mavrikes and Lukas James Miller perform in Signature’s production of Girlfriend: watch here
Adelina Mitchell and fellow RENT cast member Kaiyla Gross sing “Come to Your Senses” from Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom! watch here
Ines Nassara, Katie Mariko Murray (currently appearing as Maureen Johnson in RENT), and David Rowen sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”: watch here
James Gardiner performs in Signature’s The Last Five Years: watch here
Nick Blaemire wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the musical Soon, which had its world premiere at Signature: watch here
Learn more about Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner here
For more information about Overtures, including how to audition, visit https://www.sigtheatre.org/learn-and-engage/overtures/
Thank you to the following donors who support the Overtures Musical Theater Institute.
The Lorraine S. Dreyfuss Theater Education Fund
Robert E. Hebda
Andrew A. Isen
Linda Smith in honor of Gene Smith
Weissberg Foundation in honor of Wally Babington
Signature’s Education and Outreach Programs are sponsored by