CU Boulder alum Amy Marie Stewart—a New York-based singer, actor and teacher—is equally at home performing in both opera and rock musicals. Indeed, she credits her undergrad in opera from the College of Music (BM ‘07)—as well as additional opera training in grad school at Roosevelt University in Chicago—for garnering such praise as “sweet-toned singing” from the New York Post for her performance in “¡Figaro! (90210).”
Specifically, Stewart recalls how—in her sophomore year at CU—she was cast as an understudy in Maurice Ravel’s “L’enfant et les sortilèges: Fantaisie lyrique en deux parties,” which taught her an important lesson. “Being cast as an understudy in the principal role of the child was one of my most valuable learning experiences because it taught me the power of preparation,” says Stewart, who was most recently seen in “Sondheim on Sondheim” at FreeFall Theatre in a cast that included Ann Morrison (the original Mary in “Merrily We Roll Along”) and Kissy Simmons, who played Nala in “The Lion King” on Broadway. “I had to go on for the last performance at Macky Auditorium, which was a huge shock to me.
“It was an even bigger shock for [former] Director of Opera Studies Bill Gustafson. He pulled me aside, put his hands on my shoulders and asked me if I was up for it. I said ‘yes’ and he said ‘you’re on, kid.’ I had fully prepared myself, and it went really well. Opera Music Director Nick Carthy gave me every single cue—and a huge hug afterward.
“Now as a professional, I look back and recall how—when you’re 18 years old or so—most of us think it’s talent that will ultimately set us apart from our colleagues, but it’s not. It’s preparation that sets us apart. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to find work.”
Alongside her love of classical music by “angsty Germans” and her work as an actor and voice teacher, Stewart moonlights as a front man in the Brooklyn yacht rock cover band “That Feeling When.” She also founded and launched TheoryWorks in 2017, comprising online modules that teach music theory to singing actors.
“What set me on that path is that—at 18 years old and despite years of playing piano—I didn’t read sheet music well at all, having learned most of my pieces by ear,” explains Stewart. “I was in remedial theory my first year, five days a week.
“That process of having to learn music theory from scratch as an adult, not as a kid, is what eventually led to my becoming a theory TA at Roosevelt University and then founding TheoryWorks to help others become more fluent in music theory.
As word of TheoryWorks gets around New York City, Stewart says it’s helping buoy her reputation as a professional musician and actor. “It’s the result of what I call a ‘parallel career’ approach that not only provides greater financial stability and peace of mind that comes from having multiple revenue streams, but also allows you to continue to pursue what you most love to do while maintaining a level of sanity and control over your life.”
Put another way, Stewart adds: “There are three veins to my career. I’m a performer, including debuting new works in the classical realm and collaborating with other singers, musicians and composers in the city. Most days, I’m also auditioning for musical theatre … and then there’s TheoryWorks.
“Everything works together as a kind of cross-training for everything else. The more flexible and well-versed you can be—singing in different styles, performing in different genres and working with students, for example—the more you stand out as someone who can capably hit the ground running in a variety of roles and situations.”
Stewart’s final bit of advice for current students? Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have your professional cake and eat it, too. “The way I see it, the days of ditching your day job in order to pursue your dream job are over, in favor of creating parallel and complementary career tracks that are sustainable over time,” she says. “Instead of surviving on minimum wage to pursue your dream, I believe in finding the things in which you’re an expert—or can become an expert—and making your way with diligence, perseverance … and preparation.”