Robert Chionis is a performer and playwright with many talents! He has performed in numerous operas and theatrical shows all over the world as well as writing some. Robert received his opera training as an apprentice with the Santa Fe Opera, and studied at the Musical Academy of the West, the St. Louis Conservatory of Music, and the University of Houston.
Robert made his professional debut with the Houston Grand Opera in the world premiere of "The Passion of Jonathan Wade" by Carlisle Floyd and then as a soloist with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. His European debut was with the Wiener Taschenoper as "Tarquinius" in Britten's "The Rape of Lucretia". Over the course of his career, his operatic roles have encompassed Aeneas, Rossini’s and Mozart’s Figaro, Count Almaviva, Belcore, Silvio, Dandini, Eisenstein, Harlekin, Demetrius and John Sorel; his musical appearances include the title role in "Candide", "Matt" in "The Fantasticks", "Hero" in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", as well as "Jack" in the Viennese premiere of "Jekyll and Hyde" in the historical Theater an der Wien.
After his successful European debut, Robert remained in Austria where he collaborated with Vienna's independent opera scene in productions of classical and contemporary rarities such as Berg’s "Lulu", Britten’s "Death in Venice" Birtwhistle’s "The 2nd Mrs. Kong", Reimann’s "Das Schloss", Wenzl-Traunfels’ "Die Suehne", Massenet’s "Thais", Bizet’s "Les Pecheurs de Perles" and Menotti’s "The Telephone", which he performed with Vienna's music society La Prima Volta and the Chamber Opera Chicago under the baton of Victoria Bond.
Robert has toured throughout Europe with numerous concerts and musical gala performances in prestigious venues including Vienna’s Konzerthaus and Musikverein, as well as the Baroque Salon of the Old City Hall. He is also the co-author of the musical revue "Sei mir gegruesst, mein Sauerkraut" and has written the books for the musicals "The Road to Fame" and "The Curse of Shadow’s Edge", which were performed in Vienna’s Akzent Theater.
Now Robert has returned to the US and has brought his show "Surviving Love" to the Midtown International Theatre Festival in NYC from July 20-24. "Surviving Love" tells the tale about the boy from Nowhere, USA who finds his way out of "real America" and into the real world. "Surviving Love" plays at The Main Stage Theater (312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright/performer? Several friends told me I should take up writing, especially after I’d written a parody of an opera we’d been involved in that made us all laugh a lot (the parody made us laugh, that is, not the opera - that was just annoying). But my career as a performer took most of my energy. After I took a break to learn the PEM acting method, I realized that there wasn’t anything going on in the opera or musical scene in Europe that I was terribly keen on auditioning for. So I thought I’d better write something I WOULD be interested in doing…
2. Who is the one person you haven't worked with that you would like to? Oh, man! Just one? I don’t know where to begin, there are so many people I’d love to work with. But given my answer to question 3, it’s a safe bet that Karen Mason is somewhere at the top of that list…
3. What made you want to write "Surviving Love" and how did you decide on which composers to feature? What excites you about bringing it to NY and having it in the Midtown International Theatre Festival? “Surviving Love” originally started as an idea for a cabaret concert. Karen Mason had made a Brian Lasser songbook available to the public, and I knew I had to sing some of those songs (I saw Brian & Karen perform in Chicago back when my singing career was just starting out, and was awed and humbled by their artistry and cameraderie onstage) I was sure that the song “I Made A New Friend” had to go into this concert. When my boyfriend asked me why I thought the guy in the song tripped, I began thinking about the possible answers to that question, and I realized this story song could be part of a much bigger story. The other songs found their way into the show as the story took its shape – if I had stayed with a program of random songs, I certainly would have included songs by many of these brilliant songwriters anyway, but in the end, the story chose the songs.
New York is very important in the story: the Boy from Nowhere finds the home he longs for in the city (for a time), and few places were as devastated by the AIDS epidemic as New York in the 80’s. So the show seemed destined to come to New York sooner or later – being accepted into the Midtown International Theatre Festival was particularly gratifying, because it confirmed my feeling that this show could speak to audiences in New York.
4. What have you learned about yourself from being a playwright/performer and how do you think that influenced you writing "Survivng Love?" As a writer I’ve learned that you have to go where the story takes you, even if that leads you into uncomfortable territory. It also applies to performing: the safest or easiest route will not necessarily end in optimal results. “Surviving Love” was not the first show I’ve written, but it was the first show that really went into that uncomfortable zone and found its way beyond the discomfort. I’m the kind of person who desires to rise above personal injury, to move on and get past the pain with as little resentment as possible (like the “flying boy” in Robert Bly’s book “Iron John”, for those of you who may have read it). But some pain just never goes away, and the only way to survive is to go forward without denying the pain, while at the same time allowing yourself to accept the joy and wonder that is also out there.
5. Favorite part of the creative process in a show? When the story takes you somewhere you never anticipated when you started out – in “Surviving Love” that meant I had to find a song I never would have imagined putting in the show. As a performer of my own work, I love the way the audience goes with me for the ride, even into that disturbing territory, where humor can be found in the most desperate of circumstances, and spine-chilling disgust aroused by a casual joke.
6. Favorite place to write/rehearse/practice on your own? My apartment in Vienna is my best place to write, or at least I do my best writing there. I certainly loved rehearsing “Surviving Love” in the Blackbox Theater in Vienna, because its extremely intimate acoustic allowed me to experiment with how soft I could actually sing and still keep my voice in my body. For somebody who began his European career in opera, this was very liberating.
7. Favorite way to stay in shape? Rollerblading! But time and weather don’t often allow for it, so I do a yoga program and core workout in my living room on a daily basis, and hit the gym when I can to pump iron, which I also enjoy.
8. Boxers or Briefs? You’ll find out when you see the show.
9. Favorite website? I hate to admit this, but it’s Facebook. Living overseas for so long, I’d lost contact with some people who had been a very special part of my life when I lived in the States, and it is really nice to have contact with them again.
10. "Mary" or "Rhoda"? Do you mean Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern? I loved them! Why the “either/or”?
11. What's the best advice you've ever received? “You have to decide if you’re going to go with what you know in your heart to be right, or if you’re going to do what other people say you should do.”
12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Okay, this is kind of odd, but back when I was a sexually-confused teenager I once had a very arousing dream about Joni Mitchell while I was sleeping next to a guy I had a massive crush on… TMI, right? I know. I think that’s the last time I dreamt about anybody famous.