New York native Deb Lapidus earned a B.A. in piano at the University of Maryland. In addition to Juilliard—where she has been teaching singing to the drama students since 1987—she has also taught at N.Y.U. She served as vocal coach to Claire Danes for the film Evening (2007) and to Sigourney Weaver for The Girl in the Park (2008), as well as coaching Weaver on Snow White for Showtime. She has numerous Broadway credits as well.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you when you were growing up and what did you learn from that person?
Unfortunately, I didn’t really have a person like that growing up, but my dad always supported me and wanted me to follow my dreams. He was in a profession that he didn’t enjoy and which didn’t really suit him—the family jewelry business—so I think he understood the need to follow one’s heart … and my heart was in music and the theater.
When did you first know you wanted to be an actor/director or other theater-related professional and how did you come to know it?
In college I began as an English major. Eventually I was doing none of my work and none of my reading because I was constantly in the drama department doing musicals. On a plane ride home to New York my junior year, I had a moment of clarity and realized I needed to switch my major!
What theatrical performance have you attended that changed the way you think about theater?
Any play that’s really long and seems short changes the way I think about theater—so here’s to Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia marathon, O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (the London production with Jessica Lange),Hamlet (the London production with Stephen Dillane), and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America—both parts.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had as a performer?
Thankfully, as a performer I haven’t had many—but as a director, it is always embarrassing to watch your ideas fail in front of an audience. I once did the song “Travel,” by Maltby and Shire, in the Juilliard third-year drama cabaret. It was like being on a bad Carnival cruise. It was all I could do to not flee the room in horror.
What are your non-drama related interests or hobbies? What would people be surprised to know about you?
I love to travel, and I also collect travel books. I love antiques and have an amazing collection of Gene dolls—a line of very beautiful dolls that look like movie stars from the ’40s and ’50s. They have amazingly detailed and beautiful clothing and are fairly expensive. I had a rather nice but small collection until (through one of those weird New York experiences) I met the creator and designer of the doll at my gym (who even knew he lived in New York?). We became fast friends and over the years he has showered me with these glorious dolls. So now my collection is truly slamming!
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
So many things are great here. You can do almost everything and never leave your block. I love the shopping, the theater, the food—every kind of cuisine you’d ever want. I love the diversity of the people.
What book are you reading right now, or what CD are you listening to?
Just finished reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter—a story about a doctor who delivers his own twins, discovers one is “normal” while the other has Down’s syndrome, and tells his wife one of the babies died at birth—a riveting plot that makes you want to read all night. CDs? Not me—not with iPod shuffle! My iPod has lots of show tunes, and great artists like Sinatra, Ella, Doris Day, Chet Baker, and Fred Astaire.
If you could have your students visit any place in the world, where would it be, and why?
I love magical Prague—amazing architecture, people, and music everywhere, anywhere, and all day and night!
If your students could only remember one thing from your teaching, what would you want it to be? And how has your teaching changed over the years?
I tell my students, always honor yourself by working from yourself. And I tend to say less now in the classroom than I used to.
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
Probably having more free time! Though I might be selling antiques; I used to spend a lot of time rummaging around shops and going to shows.