How does a girl become an artist? That is a central question in The Gardens of Anuncia, and a focal point as well of my conversation the other day with Andréa Burns, who in the musical plays Tía, the aunt of the Younger Anuncia character. “Tía,” Burns said, “is the sensitive, poetic adult in the family. She is an artist herself, though she does not have the opportunities that Anuncia will have.”
Burns, whose previous LCT experience was in The Nance, is herself the mother of a creative child: “It’s thrilling,” she said, “to share artistic passions with a young person so near to you – to share movies, plays and books.” But she acknowledged that “often in life it’s aunts or uncles who provide the greatest encouragement. They don’t have the baggage and practical responsibilities that a parent has.”
Growing up in Florida, where she attended a performing-arts high school, Burns had an aunt, her father’s sister, who occupied a place in her life somewhat similar to that of Tía in The Gardens of Anuncia. “My aunt lit up when I was in the room. She wasn’t as artistic as Tía, but she thought I hung the moon.” Burns’ aunt lived in upstate New York, and Burns spent time as a teenager at French Woods, a summer performing-arts camp in Hancock, about a three-hour drive from the city. “It’s churned out a lot of creative people,” Burns said.
Burns became a professional actor at 18, and she has since amassed a wonderful array of credits: in Broadway shows such as In the Heights and On Your Feet! and, more recently, off-Broadway in the City Center Encores! productions of The Light in the Piazza and Dear World. After The Gardens of Anuncia finishes on December 31st, she will jump into rehearsals for the Broadway production of The Notebook, which she did last year in Chicago.
Having a fulfilling creative experience is paramount for Burns. “It’s nice to be acknowledged by the wider world,” she said, “but it’s too easy to get caught up in the glamour of performing. Burns sees her profession not as performers indulging their egos but as ministers carrying out an artistic mission. “What we do as actors,” Burns explained, “is provide an act of service. We give an audience an experience that they can’t necessarily have in real life. We hold that space for them.”
Burns has known Michael John LaChiusa, the creator of The Gardens of Anuncia’s words and music, for years, but this is her first time working with him on a produced show. “He writes demanding music,” she explained. “When in the show I sing ‘Listen to the Music’ or ‘Never a Goodbye’ I have to be very focused.” It is a great help, she said, “to be surrounded by actors who demand excellence from themselves. This would be a much less happy experience if I were part of an ensemble that was only giving 78 percent.”
To offer the most of herself is something that Younger Anuncia learns from Tía. Burns said: “My character tells her niece that pursuing one’s dreams involves sadness – leaving behind the key people of your youth, in person if not in memory – and that the sadness can be balanced by fulfillment. But for deep fulfillment you need to give your all.”
Brendan Lemon is a freelance journalist in New York.