From Princess to Prostitute, Sarah Coit Has Got It Covered
Growing up in a small town in central Florida, it was clear that young Sarah Coit wanted to be an actor. It was less clear how she could make that happen, given the limited outlets within biking distance. As a precocious middle school student, she enrolled in an improv class taught in a portable classroom by a park, and soon began pestering her teacher for more performance opportunities. He suggested she start learning how to sing, as musical theater was the bread and butter of the local community theater scene. Initially Sarah resisted; she was concerned that becoming a singer would compromise her acting. But eventually she relented.
She was introduced to Roberta Moger, a Stony Brook-educated doctor of music who had built her career as a choral conductor. Despite an inauspicious first lesson (“It took us 45 minutes just to find a song that I had heard of.”) Dr Moger soon found Sarah to be a quick study and, recognizing her love of history, shared with her a passion for early music and baroque opera. “It was really exhilarating, breathing life into these very old pieces.” Musical theater remained a focus, although Dr Moger insisted “If you learn one thing from me, it’s how to sing right.” Under her tutelage Sarah soon found herself the lead in local productions, playing Guenivere in true community theater style: cheating on an inappropriately (although perhaps historically accurate) older King Arthur with an equally middle-aged Launcealot. “I was a 17 year old girl with no real concept of what it meant to cheat on a husband. I’m not sure I convinced the audience that I did.”
For college, Dr Moger suggested that Sarah double major in music studies and theater performance at the University of South Florida. Unlike many schools where tensions can exist between the music and theater departments, here the faculty sought collaboration. “We don’t tangle, we tango”, Sarah recalls the professors saying.
While at USF she studied with Dr. Warren Jaworski, who impressed upon her that the best way to learn to sing is go out and do is as much of it as you can. With that in mind, she auditioned everywhere, but consistently found herself cast in operatic roles more than musical theater. She started in the chorus with the St. Petersburg opera, graduated to small solo parts, and was soon working as an understudy for major roles. This was a particularly valuable opportunity, since the St. Petersburg opera dedicates an hour of each rehearsal to the understudies and ensures that they perform the entire role during outreach excursions.
Far from regretting the shift from musical theater to opera, Sarah revels in the variety of operatic roles. “As a twenty-something girl, you’re all ingenues or Ado Annies. But in opera as a mezzo you get to be Cherubino! And contemporary composers write beautiful repertoire for mezzos, intelligent, complex women like Sister Helen in Dead Man Walking”
Sarah’s double major has served her well, putting her high demand for both her agile voice and thoughtful stage presence. On the heels of recent roles with Seattle Opera and Santa Fe Opera, Sarah will exercise both her singing and acting chops this summer in West Edge Opera’s production of The Threepenny Opera, playing the seductively treacherous prostitute Jenny Diver. “Jenny is a very conflicted lady. Her actions are self-interested, and even though she ultimately sells out Macheath for her own good, she’s also warning him at every turn. And he’s the reason she has to hustle and survive in the first place. He’s the one who abandoned her. But she’s till drawn to him, she can’t help herself.” Performing opposite a decidedly more age appropriate Derek Chester as the less than chivalrous Macheath, Sarah’s come a long way from Camelot.