Tabula Rasa Artist Interview: Sara Lin Yoder

Soprano Sara Lin Yoder is creating the role of Kiki in the world premiere of TABULA RASA, a new jazz opera by Felix Jarrar & Bea Goodwin that gives Kiki a voice to tell her forward-thinking & woman-empowering story of being a model, a muse, and an artist in 1920s Paris.

May 4, 5, 11, and 12th @ 8pm

Blue Building

222 E 46th St., NYC

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I grew up on gravel roads surrounded by corn fields and pig farms in southern Iowa and dreamed of moving to the big city. Dreams do come true!

Music was a integral part of my childhood. Growing up, my family would spent entire evenings singing a cappella four-part hymns in our living room. My big brothers drilled into me the importance of rhythm, pitch, and musicality at a very young age. Their perfectionism and constant criticisms of  - "Listen! You're flat!" or "You're rushing. USE A METRONOME." - still haunt me today. One of the earliest memories with my mom is her teaching me how to read music from a hymnal. And my dad, a super committed over-enthusiastic storyteller, passed down his skills by singing C.W. McCall's "Wolf Creek Pass" in character more times than I can remember.

 Photo credit: Joyce Yin

Photo credit: Joyce Yin

All of the characters in Tabula Rasa are based on actual historical figures. What did you know about your character prior to working on Tabula Rasa, and how did you go about preparing the role?

 Photo credit: Frank D. Fainer

Photo credit: Frank D. Fainer

I didn't know much about Kiki before Tabula Rasa. I knew the phrase "Let's have a Kiki!" (although, I thought a "Kiki" was a drink instead of a party) and I knew of the image of the violin drawn on a woman's back. But other than that, I went in to this project with a blank slate.

Starting in July 2017, I scoured the internet to learn as much as I could possibly learn about about Kiki, the real life historical figure. Frank (who is playing Man Ray and is my real-life husband) and I spent a long weekend in Paris to see where Kiki and Man lived, to eat and drink where they ate and drank, and to wander the streets of Montparnasse. But once Bea handed us the first draft of her libretto, my focus shifted to what Kiki, the character, is thinking and feeling, what she wants, and why she is motivated to do what she does.

(We thought a Kiki was a drink too!)

If you were to create a Kiki cocktail, what would the recipe be?

My version of a Kiki cocktail would be:

  • 2 oz. Gin

  • 1/2 oz. Chambourd

  • 1 oz. Pineapple or other fruit juice

  • Served up

(Basically, its a gin martini that 's extra af.)

What has been the easiest aspect of Kiki's story to relate to and why? The hardest?

The easiest aspect of Kiki's story to relate to is her kindness. While Kiki never had much money and often relied on others' generosity for food and shelter, she would make sure her friends had a place to stay and something to eat before she did.

It's hard to relate to Kiki's mood swings, although its a fun acting challenge. Kiki goes from being warm and friendly to aggressively angry in the blink of an eye. But that's also what I love about her! In a time where women did not speak unless spoken to, Kiki was letting everyone know what she was thinking and feeling at all times. While I don't condone violence, my favorite story of Kiki is when she was refused entry to a cafe because of her appearance (makeup was still associated with prostitutes in the early 1920s). When the waiter called her a whore, Kiki punched him in the face!!!

What are some of the rewards of working on a new work? What are the challenges?

Building a beautiful new piece of art that never existed before with talented collaborators you love and trust is reward in itself!

Challenges? Funding.

What is your greatest non-artistic achievement?

I'm great at fixing broken household items. So, if you added up all of the broken things I've ever fixed, that would be an impressive achievement.

What's the latest household appliance you fixed?

I fixed a Nespresso machine at my office recently. A little part was busted off, so I tinkered around for a bit and made some adjustments. Good as new!

Name a trashy TV show you secretly love.

Gossip Girl!!!! xoxo

In one sentence, why do you hope people come to see Tabula Rasa?

I hope people come to see Tabula Rasa to experience & support the direction new opera is going - catchy tunes, STRONG female characters (written and developed by females), a short run time (~80 min), kickass immersive set designs, melodies written with the voice in mind (can I hear an amen?), life lessons tastefully scattered throughout the show, relatable themes...and did I mention the tunes? Because you'll be humming the tunes for the rest of the week.

 Photo credit: Joyce Yin

Photo credit: Joyce Yin