UH's lifestyle and entertainment magazine - by students, for students

“Hamilton” took the world by storm in 2015. Seven years later, the world is still enamored with this American story, which is now on tour and will play at the Hobby Center from Feb. 22 to March 20

Greer Gisy, the dance supervisor for this current North American tour, graciously agreed to sit down with Cooglife for an interview. She talks about her career, the work that goes on behind the scenes to bring the songs to life through dance, and the show itself.  

Cooglife: Hello, how are you today? Good morning. I know it’s freezing outside where I am. I don’t know where you are.

Greer Gisy: Yeah, I’m in Fort Worth. We’ve got lots and lots of snow.

CL: How are you enjoying Fort Worth so far?

Gisy: It’s great. We’re in our last week here. But it’s been nice. There’s really great restaurants and bars downtown by the theater. So it’s super cute. I got to fondue the other night and went to Thompson Library Bar. They have a speakeasy and the password is Alexander Hamilton. Yeah, they really welcomed us here. It’s a great city.

CL: That is beautiful. I’d be screaming Okay, well, I have seen you’ve spent some time teaching at Texas State University, so you’re no stranger to the Lonestar state. How was your time in Texas?

Gisy: Texas has been great. I keep finding myself back here professionally. I’ve worked at the ZACH Theater in Austin. It was kind of my first introduction, and that’s around the time I started teaching at Texas State here and there for masters classes. We’ve done a lot of cities on tour here so far. We did Austin, Dallas, a little bit of San Antonio. That’s where we had our unfortunate COVID outbreak, so we didn’t get to spend as much time there as I’d like. But it’s been great. I worked here 10 years ago as well. You know, it’s different. Texas is its own thing, but the people are really nice. Everything runs a little bit slower than New York City. Just a good change of pace, I guess. Yeah, I like it.

CL: That’s good. Oh, who knows where life will take you. Maybe you’ll end up buying a ranch out here. So, tell me how you came to be the dance supervisor for a show as big and relevant- not just theater, but to the world- as Hamilton. I’m sure it was a coveted spot.

Gisy: Yeah, no, super super blessed. It’s kind of where my career path just led itself. I started assisting my mentor Jeff Amston at Broadway Dance Center (who now lives in Texas on a ranch) at Broadway Dance Center in New York, back when I first moved there in 2008. I just really loved supporting somebody else’s artistic view. 

So most of my work has been associate choreographer or associate director. I choreograph on my own for classes. I have choreographed a couple of productions here and there, but really the work that brings me the most joy is just enhancing somebody else’s vision. So that’s where this position became one that was very relevant for me diving deep into Andy Blankenbhuler’s choreography, getting to really make it so that dancers have access to their acting sensibilities so that the focus is the most important part of the choreography. The show isn’t one where we’re kicking up to our face and pirouetting 17 times. It requires technique, of course, but we have to be humans on stage first. 

Part of my work is just making sure that we are connecting, we’re building community, we’re presenting community to the audience. I don’t really believe in a disconnect. We’re not there to put on a show that they’re just there to watch. We’re there to share an experience. And we happen to be presenting that experience, but they (the audience) are participating as well. It’s really interesting to see our show evolve from the rehearsal room, which is its own beautiful embodiment of the show, and then on stage. 

Sure, the costumes and the lights and all of that definitely add to that aspect. But just adding in that final actor of the audience to get the laughs you get the gas. You get the people that have fallen asleep, and you know everything in between everyone’s experience is their own. So I just get to be the person that gets to make that story continue to be told in the movement.

CL: In your experience, what’s harder: teaching an actor to dance or a dancer to act?

Gisy: Oh, juicy. You know, I don’t know that I can answer that generally. I think it truly depends on the person. And it’s less about whether or not an actor can move or a dancer can act and more about how vulnerable they’re willing to be. Are you willing to fail so that you can succeed? Are you willing to look stupid so that you can look great? Are you willing to have your opinion about yourself change just by letting someone tell you that you are a dancer? 

I say this all the time to my actors; people that are in the show. They’re like, “well, I’m not a dancer.” I don’t accept that. You are a dancer. I know not everyone can be a dancer. But when you’re hired to do the show, you have to be able to move no matter what character you’re playing. So by the fact that they gave you a contract and you signed it and they signed it, now you’re here, you’re a dancer. So let’s get away from that self-doubt and get into the work that I’m excited to help you do. I don’t know if that’s a non-answer.

CL: No, it’s fine. You’re absolutely correct. I know for a fact I used to break choreographers’ hearts because I’d be good enough to get an acting role, but god knows what I was trying to do when attempting to dance. It does vary by person. 

OK, so let’s say it’s early in the morning. You’ve got to go to work. Guide me through the life of the dance supervisor for Hamilton.

Gisy: Yeah. Early morning looks different depending on what day it is. It could be a 7 or 8 a.m. situation it could be, wow, I was up so late last night because the show doesn’t come down till almost 11 p.m. So I usually get up, I journal, meditate, and try to move my body a little bit. That’s always the goal. Sometimes I just get up and do the bare minimum, that’s coffee and a shower. And then I prep for whatever the day is gonna bring. 

So if we’re going into rehearsal, I make sure to brush up on the tracking sheets, watch the video and get it into my head and get to the show. I’m usually there for safety’s call which is 15 minutes before half hour. We have a safety’s call multiple times a week, sometimes every day. We’ve got a lot of swings going into tracks that they haven’t done in a little while. I’m either in rehearsal, or I’m working on noting the show by watching the monitor backstage or watching from the house. We do it on Google Docs. So that’s the whole dance department my dance captain tonight included with our MoD which stands for Ministry of Directing. She’s our resident director. We’re all on the same notes page. 

Other times I’m having meetings during the show, or sometimes if it hasn’t really been a really busy week we’ll play card games. But that has only happened like twice because it’s been super busy pretty much every show. Then I come home, have a glass of wine and go to bed. 

CL: I’m glad you all have managed to stay friends after so many card games.

Gisy: Yes, yes monopoly deals can be a deal breaker prevention.

CL: Absolutely. Oh my goodness. Also, I’ve noticed that this is not your first round working on a book by Lin Manuel Miranda. You were in “In The Heights.” Not just any production, but in Brazil. What was that like?

Gisy: It was amazing. I was supposed to be the assistant choreographer to Luis Angelo, but then the show got postponed. By the time it was brought up again, he was unavailable because he was in Rocky on Broadway. 

It’s one of my favorite stories in my career. He called me on a Monday. I was babysitting. He said, ‘what are you doing this weekend?’ I was like, ‘babysitting.’ He goes, ‘can you get out of it?’ I was like, ‘yeah, why?’ ‘Because you need to go to Brazil. You start rehearsal on Sunday. You’re going to set the choreography by yourself, but I’ll give you a translator.’ 

I was 23 at the time, I was the dance captain and swing and the second national tour. So I jumped. I just went and it was one of, if not the most, incredible experiences I’ve ever had. It was challenging. I had so much self doubt that I just dug myself out of. 

I still have my notebook. And it’s got stains from pasta sauce. They pasta like every night at 1 a.m. That was the only time I had to eat dinner. So it soaked up pasta stains, wine stains, coffee stains, and tear stains. And I picked up a lot of Portuguese while I was there. When my husband and I went on our honeymoon, we went to Portugal. It’s different but, I was able to get us around having had that experience all those years ago. So I get chills thinking about it. It was just such an incredible experience. I still keep in contact with a lot of the people I worked with out there.

CL: Do you have any advice for anyone that would be interested in pursuing a similar career path?

Gisy: Yeah, there’s a myriad of things. I had like an hour and a half long conversation with a friend who was interested. and she was like, ‘wow, I don’t know if I know more or less now.’ Great, then you’re on the right track. 

A resident choreographer is not a new thing, but one who travels on tour in a full-time fashion is pretty new. And we’re constantly figuring out, you know, what our job entails and what works for the show and what doesn’t work for the show and all of that. 

So I think, first and foremost is just flexibility. We have a tendency to be type A people and want things to be very organized and very exact, and there is no exactness to this role. I think you also have to have both an open heart and a thick skin. I’m very good at the open heart part. The thick skin part I’m working on. 

Dance captain-wise, my brain is more focused on the mechanics of the movement. For my position, it’s more about the intention and the purpose of the song and how it drives the story, where we need the audience to look. It talks a lot in colors. 

CL: I have always wondered if there was a method for what you were referring to. If you want to dance in red, what does that mean? Also what type of red? Is there something in a textbook or is it something that’s up to your creative mind?

Gisy: So this is what I love. Red is a conversation starter. Then we start to talk about what does red mean to you? Red happens in ‘Satisfied.’ So we’re feeling what Angelica is feeling, but we’re also being blurred, background images and her memory. How do we portray that? And we’re wearing red but we’re emoting light blue because we’re still in the ‘Helpless’ world. So as we are these pawns in Angelica’s memory, we’re still in ‘Helpless.’ She’s just telling us about her experience at that moment. So we still have this lightness to us. But the movement itself gets darker. So we’re wearing that from the external but we’re loading the internal. 

And that is so heavy, but it’s the conversation starter. What does anger and red feel like to you or what does heartbreak and red feel like to you? Notice that none of this has to do with the actual execution of choreography, all of the choreography, and embodies all of this. So once you get the feeling right and the choreography right, you have a great idea of how to interpret the color. 

CL: That’s so cool. Have you ever thought about writing a book?

Gisy: Yeah, I love writing. I just took a writing course and that was such a thing to try, especially with all the work that comes with “Hamilton,” but it was really nice to get that exercise going. Again, I do love writing.

CL: Is there anything you would like to add, promote, or say to our Houston audience?

Gisy: I’m just glad we’re finally back on the road. That people are excited to see us. It’s so great to see all of the full audiences. It’s a weird time right now. But we’re in this weirdness together. It’s just nice to get to reconnect in this way, even if it’s a little bit different than what we’re used to. The connection I was talking about earlier is still very, very much there. Theater is alive and well. So yes. Let’s go Houston.

Note: Some parts of the interview have been cut for the sake of brevity and clarity.

Photo courtesy of The Hobby Center

Related Posts

 The British-Irish pop band, One Direction, is one of the most popular bands of all time. The...

Making history by casting the first non-binary lead character in one of their movies, Disney...

What you missed at the So What?! Music Fest