Teaching Artist Spotlight: Meet Mark Andrist

We are so excited to feature Mark Andrist in the Teaching Artist spotlight!

Mark has been a professional working musician since he was fourteen years old, and he is grateful for the opportunities he has had to perform, write, teach, and direct all over the world. Mark is a Music Director for ArtStream Theatre Companies and Cabarets. His younger sister is the inspiration for his commitment to ArtStream, an individual who has lived her life refusing to allow her disabilities to steal her joy.

Check out our latest conversation with Mark about his work at ArtStream.

ArtStream: Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and how did you get involved with ArtStream?

Mark: My sister is the inspiration for my involvement with ArtStream. Martha was born with physical and intellectual disabilities, but she has lived her life with grit, determination, and a healthy sense of humor. Along with a lot of her friends, she was a regular participant in Special Olympics activities but lamented the lack of opportunities in the arts.

Martha and I both grew up in a military family — I spent the majority of my adolescence living in Western Europe. I returned to the States to attend college in Texas, and I did my Master’s work in Kentucky at the University of Louisville and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Then I did what all individuals with Master’s degrees do. I spent over ten years traveling with a band (and occasionally solo). The longing for a better family life with my wife and daughter finally brought me off of the road. Since then I’ve served as a church worship leader, I’ve directed several regional theatre projects (such as “The Last Five Years” and “Austin’s Bridge”), and I’ve had a consistently eclectic cadre of private voice, piano and composition students who have provided enormous amounts of fun and joy.

ArtStream: How did you first get involved in theatre?

Mark: I was enticed into playing roles in various plays and musicals as a kid, but I was also playing Little League and then football. And no . . . I wasn’t that great athletically, but I wasn’t bad enough to get cut from any teams until I was a freshman in high school. It was then that I gravitated to the music and drama communities — and I found my people.

ArtStream: What is something the ArtStreamers would be surprised to find out about you?

Mark: A lot of our actors don’t realize how old I actually am. I’ll be 65 later this month.

ArtStream: What do you feel is most important to teach/offer your students?

Mark: The one thing that is so often not understood by individuals who are wanting to get involved with the performing arts is how much work is involved. We create this illusion that it’s all fun and magical, but in reality the life of an actor and/or musician demands countless hours of work and sacrifice, and a lot of disappointments in the midst of each triumph. It’s all worth it, and one should never give up on his or her dreams — but you can’t go into it expecting it’s going to be easy.

ArtStream: What advice would you offer to someone who is nervous to perform on stage?

Mark: When you’re performing in an ArtStream show, you are not alone. You have other actors and singers on the stage with you — even if you have a solo to sing, or a line to speak, you’ve got friends all around you. The people sitting out there in the auditorium are rooting for you! They aren’t just waiting for you to make a mistake. They’re your friends, too.

ArtStream: Please share an example of something that happened at ArtStream that really inspired you.

Mark: Some of our ArtStream participants live in residential and nursing home facilities, due to their health and mobility issues. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, most of these individuals were locked in their rooms, unable to have any visitors (including their family members). In the course of our first Zoom meeting of the Fall season, one of our Maryland Cabaret members was preparing to sing her audition piece. But then, the lights went out in her room. (It seems that the nursing facility had an automatic timer set for the evening hours when most of the residents went to sleep.) We could still hear her, but all we could see was a black screen. And from out of that darkness, we heard her sing, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow . . .” It not only brought many of us to tears, but it became symbolic for me over the course of those subsequent weeks and months of fear and uncertainty.

ArtStream: What kinds of changes have you seen ArtStream students make in classes and rehearsals?

Mark: I think the most exciting thing I often see is that shift from self-centeredness to team-centeredness. Eventually, ArtStreamers all figure out that the success of a show is not just about their role in the play or their one solo song. I absolutely love it when I hear the voices of encouragement all around an individual who is struggling over remembering a line or a verse of a song.

ArtStream: What is your favorite play or musical?

Mark: For ArtStream, I think my favorite project thus far is the show the Virginia Virtual Company did last season, “Outta the Woods (A Not So Grimm Fairytale).” I loved the concept of Grimm’s fairytale characters growing unhappy with their stories and going on strike. My favorite show in general? Gosh. My favorite play might be Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Musical? Almost impossible to say. “Hadestown” is currently on repeat when I’m driving in D. C. traffic. (I have friends who have bought us tickets to the show in NY for my birthday later this month — and I literally cannot wait!!)

ArtStream: If you could create a new play or musical about anything, what would it be?

Mark: There is a scene in Yann Martel’s book “The Life of Pi” that involves a boy who has grown up as a faithful Hindu, but he has also been attending a Christian church, a Muslim mosque, and a Jewish synagogue. Eventually all four of the respective priests converge on him, arguing that he can’t be all four — he needs to choose one. I really believe that this one scene could (and should) be expanded to a much larger work — a humorous, yet potent look at what is right and wrong in our various religions, and what compels us to seek a God (or gods).