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Artist Spotlight: Eve La Puma ’20, actor-musician

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To round out a quarter of canceled show reviews and artist spotlights in Arts & Life, I wanted to speak with an extraordinary individual who I’ve technically known about since I walked into Dinkelspiel Auditorium four years ago. Julia “Eve” La Puma ’20 is a multi-talented musician, singer, actress and theater-maker who — though wholly unbeknownst at the time — I saw perform under the baton of Anna Wittstruck at the 2016 Stanford Symphony Orchestra (SSO) Halloween Concert. That concert with its macabre decor and costumed musicians is a quite fitting venue to overlap with someone I would get to know quite well from assistant music-directing Rams Head’s 2019 spring show “The Addams Family” and this year’s Gaieties. With the onset of COVID-19 in March, the musician-actor had to radically-rethink her intended capstone project, which blossomed into a heartwarming suite of her Stanford musical experiences this spring. 

The promotional graphic for Eve’s joint Senior Recital through the Music Department and TAPS Capstone Project (Photo courtesy of Eve La Puma)

At the end of Week 7 spring quarter, more than 130 people signed onto a Youtube livestream to watch Eve perform her joint bassoon senior recital and Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) capstone project. Her selected repertoire ranged from Vivaldi, Gliére and Mozart chamber pieces to Stephen Sondheim, Alan Menken and Andrew Lippa musical theater numbers and even an original composition, the delightfully meta-theatrical “Bassoon Song.” La Puma made her senior recital a “family affair,” in the literal sense that her family members performed with her and helped stage and record the recital, but also in the figurative sense in that her Stanford family came en masse to support her. During her time at Stanford, La Puma collaborated with a variety of student-artists in TAPS, ITALIC, Rams Head, [wit], SloCo and the music department, which was well-represented by the chat window buzzing with music and theater commentary for the duration of her livestream. 

The opening remarks of her bassoon instructor, Rufus Olivier, set the nostalgic-yet-celebratory tone of the event: “Eve is such a positive person, talented in not only the bassoon but also dancing and acting. During our lessons I would always ask her, ‘How would you sing that? Act that passage out,’ to look for the drama in the music. I wish I could say Eve grew so much as a musician these past four years but she was already mature beyond her age and just ripened.” 

Both Olivier and her voice teacher Kathryne Jennings, prior to “act two” of the concert reflected on how it was such a delight to work with La Puma because of her warmth, strong work-ethic and enthusiasm for performing with, mentoring and creating welcoming spaces for others. I could not help but think back to last spring when I went into the MemAud pit for “The Addams Family” opening night and found paper mache black roses on every music stand wishing every member of the 15-piece band plus the cast and staff “an unhappy opening.” La Puma during her time at Stanford cultivated the warm and fierce agape, a term which Ancient Greeks used to describe the kind of familial, friendly love that binds communities — whether hereditary or chosen  —  together. As a TAPS major and music minor, La Puma also very much embodies the Ancient Greek notion of mousike, which unlike the English term “music” encompasses instrumental music, vocal song and dance. Though La Puma’s virtual recital was incredibly noteworthy in itself, I followed up with her afterward over Zoom to discuss her artistic journey within and without Stanford.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. 

The Stanford Daily (TSD): When did you first start music lessons? Is it something you’ve done for all your life? Why music and theater? Why pursue these things at Stanford? 

Eve La Puma (ELP): Music has always been part of my life. My mom is a composer for musical theater, so, ever since I was a baby, she’d take me along to her rehearsals. She would bring a full backpack of coloring books for me, and I often would play with my sisters in the aisles of the theater. One day I saw a harpist play at church and thought “that instrument looks really cool” but knew it was good to learn piano first so I could then transition over. I started taking piano lessons in first grade and never ended up going over to the harp. In fourth grade, my mom encouraged me to choose an instrument for the school music program that a lot of other people wouldn’t want to play, so I picked the oboe. My school wasn’t going to let me play the oboe, however, because they thought it too advanced particularly since the teachers in the program only were trained in flute, clarinet [and] sax, not double reeds. But I ended up taking oboe lessons the entire summer and joined the class as an oboist. And in seventh grade, I wanted to join the most advanced ensemble at my middle school, but they already had two oboes going into eighth grade. The orchestra conductor was like, “Well if you want to play with us, you’ll have to switch to an instrument we don’t already have.” 

My mom was the one who suggested the bassoon because she had played it a little bit in high school and for one show in college and thought it might be really cool for me to pick it up. I went to high school at Orange County High School for the Arts (OCSA) and studied the bassoon through the instrumental music program, where it eventually became my primary instrument. [In high school], I definitely knew I wanted to pursue the Humanities and the Arts in some way. In my Stanford application I put that I was interested in majoring in English, theater or music. English kind of dropped off the grid, but I needed a little time to take a break from the intense instrumental music education I had in high school. So I ended up focusing on theater and declared a theater major by the end of freshman year, though I continued playing in orchestra and joined the wind quartet.

I then pursued a certificate of music in bassoon performance until this year when they [Stanford] changed the music minor. I found out I already had a music minor under their new rules, so I ended up declaring a music minor, which is nice because now it will be a more official thing. The certificate of music is an audition-based program, and you have to do a recital by the end of senior year. One of the pros of the certificate of music is that it forces you to put in the effort of doing a recital which you might not find the time for otherwise but I wanted to do one regardless. The music minor is great in getting tons of new students involved with the music department. I have so many friends who realized they accidentally have a music minor or just need one more class, which is fantastic, because it shows how many are engaging with the arts even if it’s not their main degree at Stanford. 

TSD: How would you say doing ITALIC your freshman year impacted your sense of what you wanted to do with the performing arts at Stanford? 

ELP: ITALIC is one of those programs that I understood how much of an impact it had on me after I left it. For my entire life I had been funneled through music and theater practice, so I didn’t have a lot of experience with visual art, photography or other art forms. ITALIC was really great because it exposed me to those and gave me a framework for having a conversation about them. One of the things I really appreciated about that program is that it brings together people who have spent significant time in those art practices as well as people who just have an appreciation for them and don’t necessarily make that art themselves because I think bridging the gap between consumers of the art and creators of the art led to some really interesting conversations during that year. Tons of ITALIC people are still friends, and we have a group that has been getting together to play Toontown during quarantine. I loved ITALIC because of the conversations we had and it just made it so easy to go out and engage with the things we were talking about in the real world. I took so much of it for granted, how they would arrange transportation to take us to the opera and pay for it. And now I’m realizing, “Wow, that is incredible that we got to be a part of it.” I highly recommend it. 

TSD: What did you originally plan on doing for your TAPS capstone project and how did the pandemic change that? 

ELP: Yeah, my TAPS capstone had kind of a wild journey. I had originally planned on doing “Fun Home” at the beginning of this year with a couple of other friends and do sort of a joint-capstone like “Next to Normal.” We had everyone we needed, TAPS was like, “This is great!” but then we were denied rights to the show. So then we were like, “Okay, let’s find something else.” We briefly considered “Spelling Bee” and then wanted to do “Heathers” in winter quarter. We got midway through fall quarter and my voice teacher noted that “You haven’t started casting and you don’t have a lot of the positions filled.” The show would have gone up Week 7 this year but because of Gaieties, Brenna [McCulloch ’20] and I wouldn’t be able to get involved until Week 1 winter quarter, which we realized would be insane. Brenna and I signed on to do “Midsummer’s Nights Dream, and we got cast as Helena and Hermia, which was gonna be super fun but then COVID hit, and the show had to be canceled. Brenna made Gaieties her capstone retroactively and I did the recital since voice and bassoon was already what I was going to be working anyway. I view myself as an actor-musician so it felt right to me to have my capstone be something where I got to showcase both of those skills. 

TSD: Do you want to reflect briefly on the music and theater productions you did at Stanford? 

ELP: Yeah, let me just look at my resume just to make sure I have all of them. Here we go! Freshman fall I started off with “The Merchant of Venice” with [wit], a gender-conscious theater company which sadly was crowded about by the sheer amount of theater that happens on campus. But for the first couple years at Stanford they were the ones who I felt the most community with. So I played Antonio in the “Merchant of Venice.” I have a lot of love for that production. We tried to do some really interesting things with a story that is very problematic and hard to tell. I met some of my best friends on that show. And then I was in a TAPS Department show “Disillusion,” which started as a staged reading written by Clay Slang ’18 but ended up becoming a full production in Prosser. I was in the “Wild Party ensemble that spring in my first Rams Head production. The next fall I did “Hamlet” with [wit], and I got to play Polonius, one of my favorite roles at Stanford. 

I actually auditioned for “Chicago” with Rams Head and hadn’t gotten cast so I was in this little rut where I was like, “Can I even do musical theater?” You know, having a little crisis. A week after Chicago auditions, however, I auditioned for TAPS’ “Next to Normal” and the only role that was left open was Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden. I thought “they are not going to cast me because it is traditionally a male role” but after I auditioned the director said, “Great, let’s make it a female role!” And since I’m a contralto, we didn’t have to change the key signature for any of the songs. I did “Dr. Voynich and her children” with [wit] that spring where I played a character named Hannah. I did “A Little Night Music” through the music department and co-produced “Stop Kiss” with [wit] winter quarter and “Addams Family” spring quarter. I actually had not planned on auditioning for “Addams Family” until mid-way through fall quarter because I was like, “You know I didn’t get into “Chicago,” I think I’ll devote all my energy to [wit] this year,” but my friends encouraged me to audition and I was like, “You know why not? It would be fun to do another musical,” and I’m so glad that I did. I also stage-managed the stand-up comedy show “Lighten Up” for my TAPS stage management project at the end of junior year, which was really fun. Music-wise I played with the Stanford Wind Quartet for 2 ½ years — from the end of freshman year through this fall — and was in SSO my freshman year. 

TSD: When did you start planning your capstone in the form that it took as a Youtube livestream? 

ELP: I first started talking about doing a senior recital with Kathryne and Rufus last year as I always knew  I would love to do a half-bassoon, half-voice recital. I have taken bassoon every single quarter since starting at Stanford and voice every quarter since sophomore year. When we knew that we weren’t going to be coming back and that it wouldn’t be possible to do it in person, I had already been working on this [recital] and getting excited about it for so long. But I knew I could call on my family to “Please accompany me!” and they would leap up and help me so there was never a question of whether I would do the recital. As time went on, my family just kept practicing together and we were like, “What if we had Cece play the cello?” What if we had mom play the harpsichord? And the electric piano? Why not?” We’re a very “yes and…” family which made it really exciting. I toyed with the idea of making it live but I got really nervous about WiFi being a problem. And after watching the Worker’s Benefit Cabaret, I realized I really liked how they did the premiere. It was pre-recorded but you’re watching it with people so you keep the communal sense of being in this musical space together. I texted Kaitlyn [Khayat ’21] and Vincent [Nicandro ’20] so many questions — “How do you set this up? How does Youtube work?” — and they were extremely helpful.

TSD: How did you choose your musical theater songs? Had you performed any of those classical pieces before or did you intentionally try to learn any new repertoire for the recital? 

ELP: It was a mix. For “Just Around the Corner,” I thought it would be fun to do a throwback to that show because that was my favorite performing experience as an actor on this campus. There were a couple songs on the program that I had worked on early on with Kathryne in lessons: “Pretty Funny” and “You Can Always Count on Me.” “Pretty Funny” I had a lot of trouble with the first time I performed it. I get really nervous about using both my mix and my head-voice because I’m just so comfortable in the lower, chesty part of my voice. So I wanted to do it again after three years of voice lessons to see how it felt different and easier to do now. And it definitely did, which was very gratifying. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Losing My Mind” I had been working on this year in voice lessons and I felt really great about them and thought it would be fun to throw them into the mix. 

TSD: What’s the story behind your original composition “The Bassoon Song”?  

ELP: I had worked on Goldrich and Heisler’s “Alto’s Lament” in voice lessons before, a hilarious song about how this girl wants to sing the melody-line but always got cast in alto roles. In the middle of the song there’s this breakout moment where she sings a bunch of famous musical theater songs but just the alto line. So it’s like, [Eve breaks out in song]: “the hills are alive with the song of music!” and it’s just so funny. My mom and I got inspired by that and I was like, “What if I did something like that with the bassoon?” I originally planned on making fun of the bassoon the whole time but people make fun of the bassoon all the time. Let’s make fun of the bassoon a little bit but also make it a positive thing, express “look how great the bassoon is!” and “here’s some melodies that you might recognize [such as Peter and the Wolf, Rite of Spring and Fantasia].” I sent lyrics to my mom by the end of fall quarter, three stanzas of complete lyrics plus a bunch of random notes and bassoon jokes about “the spit” or “the stand-up comics.” My mom is a really great composer because she takes the ideas and words the lyricist puts in front of her and crafts them to fit the music she is thinking of and I led her to take the lead. We have discussed doing a nicer recording in the recording studio. I could fix that high D that didn’t want to speak when I debuted the song at my recital. 

TSD: How would you say your bassoon studies inform your theater and dance practice? 

ELP: Strong musical training is helpful with dance just because I can use the rhythm of this is where the down beat, the music is. Music sticks in my brain really easily, better than anything else, so I would associate the dance move with the music that plays with it to help with memorization. I’ve taken a couple dance classes at Stanford, some social dance, which has been really fun because I never worked on that before. Partner dance is challenging in a whole different way. I took “Social Dance” last winter quarter which was also when we were learning the majority of “Addams” so it was the same thing — I was learning how to be a better partner in class and using that to practice with Rio [Padilla-Smith ’19] on the side. I think the times [my music brain] got me in trouble was when in social dance classes I was like, “This is the down beat! This is when we do the move.” But some partners don’t have the musical background so the music is there but they are not really keeping in time with it. It was a great experience to learn how to let go [and] say, “Okay I am doing the follow-position, I’m going to follow you.” It was actually much more fun to let go of that metronomic part of my mind and lean into the moves together in our own time. 

TSD: How did rehearsing for your recital in quarantine give your music new meaning? Did you consider audience reception of your particular song choices? 

ELP: Definitely for “Just Around the Corner.” I talked to Kathryne, asking “is this too morbid?” but we decided that people would associate it with a role I played and I put in a little disclaimer before the song that “I wanted to do this song because I have really fond memories of performing it last spring.”  “Just Around the Corner” was also weird to do at my recital because I was so used to doing it with a full orchestra and ensemble. I felt more pressure to fill in some of the silences that would normally be filled by other stuff. There is the inherent joy of “I’m performing with my mom and I know this song super well which I know so well” though and  I was really happy to call back on the muscle memory to perform with just piano and make it its own thing. One song that ended up resonating with me in a really interesting way that I didn’t expect was “Losing My Mind” because of some of the lyrics. I started thinking about Stanford and having the end of my Stanford experience be off-campus and separate from this entity. Even if it’s not another person, it’s like “I think about you/the coffee cup/I think about you.” That’s how I go through my days: Whatever I’m doing, I’m thinking about Stanford in the back of my head. That helped me approach the song but made performing it a lot more emotional versus other songs that were just lots of fun to perform. 

TSD: To what extent do you think your audience was different than if you had a traditional senior recital back on campus? 

ELP: One nice thing about recording ahead of time was that we were able to have the comments section up while we were watching the video. It made me so happy to see what people were saying on the side, the jokes like, “Don’t applaud between movements.” It helped with that community feel and it was so lovely to see what people were saying. A lot of my Stanford musical theater friends were there as well as a lot of family members who live in Mexico and they sent me a message the day after, “We watched your recital, it was really great.” Many of them would’ve never seen it otherwise because it would be a lot for them to travel up to Northern California. The Zoom reception gradually dwindled down to just my family members and teachers talking, the people who have seen me grow up and encouraged me to pursue music plus my professors who have gotten to be such a significant part of my life. In some ways, it had a larger audience and a larger audience of people really important to me and I think that’s definitely a positive thing to come out of having to do it online. 

TSD: What is your favorite role that you played in a Stanford show?

ELP: Morticia. It’s fun to be a character that’s adored by all the other characters and feel graceful. I think also that the rehearsal staff on that show was just so good. It was fun to be in rehearsal and to stay after rehearsal with other cast members just working “cause we didn’t want to go home.” I love musicals because they challenge me — I get a lot of stage fright about singing — so I felt like it was a real moment of growth for me to do that role and also such a delight to get to play it. The most challenging number was “Secrets” because it goes up into this really high belt and I couldn’t figure out how to place that for a while, which was something I worked on with Camilla Hayashi ’19. “Tango [de Amor]” was a close second cause I never tangoed before and there were a lot of new skills I had to pick up — and in those [stiletto] shoes. One show I had been walking around and I was like, “Kaitlyn, these feel super wobbly, I’m really worried about doing the tango tonight.” She came backstage during Intermission and filed down the ends of my shoes. It was great. Rio, Kaitlyn, everyone was there, being like “alright Eve, you and your shoes will get through the Tango.” 

TSD: Given your strong vocal and orchestral background, did you ever music-direct any shows at Stanford? Who is your favorite music or vocal director you worked with on a show and why? 

ELP: I actually applied for music director or vocal director for Gaieties this year because I was worried about having my evenings full during the week as a Donner RA [resident assistant]. I knew that my skills and experience served me better as a vocal director, however, and I was delighted that was what I ended up doing. I was surprised how much I enjoyed being a teacher to the point where I can see myself crafting an artistic career where vocal directing is very much a part of that. The hardest song to rehearse was “Be Okay” because there were so many harmony parts. Trenton Chang ’20 and Liam Fay ’22 wrote some great harmonies in that show, but training my ear to hear eight different lines and who was off-key was really difficult. My favorite song was “Sandstone Walls” because it was just gorgeous and I loved working with the leads and getting into the nitty-gritty of placement and vowel shape — stuff you don’t  have time for in larger groups. My experience in conducting is mostly through the 9 p.m. Catholic mass, and we occasionally have musicians. So I have conducted both musicians and singers at the same time but certainly not to the level of a full orchestra. One of my absolute favorite music directors that I worked with was Chris Yoon ’19 for SLoCo’s “Phantom of the Opera.” He’s so intentional about the music and knows exactly what he wants and is good at drawing that out of his musicians in a way that is both time-efficient and very kind. 

TSD: What are your next steps you hope to take with making music and theater beyond Stanford? 

ELP: It’s kind of a terrifying time for going into an arts field. I had been planning to just start auditioning for things once I had left school and I had a summer internship working for a theater company in New York but they ended up having to cancel that. It was very sad. Right now, the plan is still to go into the arts. For now, the next year or so I’m gonna have to be doing some internship somewhere probably in a not-arts related field. I want to use the extra time to pick up some other instruments that might be more useful for doubling in pit orchestras. I want to learn some flute, clarinet, saxophone so I can play some more reed books. Musical theater reed books are written for people that play saxophone, bassoon, bass clarinet and stuff like that but right now I only have oboe and bassoon and they usually don’t put those two together in the orchestration. Yeah, I don’t really know what the future will hold but my hope is to someday go to grad school for musical theater and get more specific training in the field. It’s sort of wide open, which is both exhilarating and terrifying. 

Contact Natalie Francis at natfran ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Natalie Francis '22 (A&L Desk Editor) is a Classics major still figuring out how to combine her passions for classical civilization, eco-criticism and musical performance. A California native, you will find her jamming out to an eclectic mix of Hadestown, Legally Blonde, Frozen II, Surf's Up, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.