Interview with Dominika Zawada, a musical theater actress, and founder of ‘Happily Ever After’ the first English musical theatre in Amsterdam.
Dominika Zawada has achieved significant success in her career as an outstanding musical talent. She has won awards including ‘Zdolna Polonia’, a musical competition organized by PoPolskuTv, and also radio station Pracuj FM supported by our international journalism center Communications-Unlimited.nl as a media partner. This was a significant competition judged by professional and award-winning musicians and artists. Furthermore, she reached the finals of the prestigious contest ‘Voice of Polonia Competition’ a contest co-created by the foundation TAK and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Poland with celebrated and award-winning judges, and could be seen internationally on Polish and German television. As someone who is well-recognized as an expert in musical theatre, she was also playing an important role in Spisek’s – first Polish musical film.
Due to her vocal achievements, she was invited by Miss Poland Benelux to be a judge and member of the jury for future competitions. Due to her sustaining expertise in singing, voice, and performance, she has been invited to be on the judge’s panel for the series of popular television series Samen.pl (series), both in 2021 and 2022.
Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska: Why have you decided to create your own English musical theater Happily Ever After? The first (only) English-speaking musical theater company in Amsterdam was created with the focus on bringing English-speaking musicals to the community of Amsterdam and North Holland.
I always dreamed of creating my own creative space/ theater, which would serve as a “free expression place” for those who love music, theater, and art. I wanted to give the opportunity to anyone who’d like to try to be on stage and perform but maybe wasn’t given that chance before, or didn’t have the courage to do it.
I have had the opportunity to perform across Amsterdam in a leading capacity at sold-out venues such as PJPJ where I performed original arrangements of jazz music, and ZID Theatre (for 3 sold-out shows of Ms. Julie). We found that there was very little English-speaking musical theater in Amsterdam and that’s precisely what I loved doing – me, a singer and vocal coach, and my colleague and friend Sara, an experienced actress, and director. The shows were always sold out and well-received by the media and critics, and creating a theatre seemed like a perfect match for the city and us.
The city is filled with community theaters but there’s no consistent flow of English-speaking musicals and we knew that there were many hungry actors, and singers looking for places to perform but also international audiences and expats looking for entertainment in English.
That’s how in 2019 Happily Ever After came to exist. It’s important to add that the company works with amateurs and semi-amateurs. Since then, it has achieved significant success.
Was it not risky to start such a big project?
Indeed. When we first started, we took a huge risk. We didn’t know how many people would actually come and see us but we decided to have 6 performances of Into The Woods. It turned out to be a great decision because all of the seats were filled! Right after that came Corona but we didn’t sit still. As soon as it was allowed we started rehearsing for a Covid-friendly musical, something that would fit the restrictions and that’s how Working a Musical came to Amsterdam. It was not the easiest thing to do at that time. There was lots of navigating between what’s allowed and what’s not, people getting sick, and musicians needing to quarantine but we managed.
After that, we went full steam ahead and haven’t stopped once. We started expanding the number of shows we offered with the latest show, Avenue Q being 13.
Tell us more about your first musical.
For our first musical, we chose Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim. We knew it was a huge undertaking because Sondheim’s music is very complex and the story is never easy. We consulted with the industry people and anyone who had done something like that before, got inspiration, gathered a team, and opened auditions. It was extremely exciting.
You have managed to create and perform at some of the top venues in Amsterdam since then, such as ‘Mike Baudhuistheter’ for the musical ordinary days, and The Amsterdam Theatre House (for 13 sold-out performances of Avenue Q). Can you tell us about some of the other productions you managed to create and perform in since then and do you work with professional artists or amateurs?
Yes, Since then we have managed to produce 5 different musicals, one charity concert, and multiple musical boot camps.
– Into The Woods (February 2020) 6 shows, full capacity (approximately 600 audience members) which was a tremendous success.
– Working (November/ December) 8 sold-out shows ( approximately 300 audience members)
– Little Shop of Horrors (June/ July 2021) 10 sold-out shows (approximately 600 audience members)
And as you mentioned,
– Ordinary Days (September 2021) 3 shows (approximately 150 audience members)
– Avenue Q (June/ July 2022) 13 shows – 1350 audience members – our biggest success.
Right now HEA Production is preparing for a new show, Chicago which will play from March 3rd until 19th at Het Amsterdams Theaterhuis. We work with amateurs and semi-amateurs.
Your expertise in music is something where you have been invited to judge competitions due to your outstanding performance ability. One such example is The series Samen.pl which has received massive publicity and recognition in the Netherlands and Poland. It had a front page in Het Parool (the biggest Amsterdam daily newspaper), Noordhollands Dagblad, as well as in TVP Polonia. How does it feel to be on an esteemed panel of judges on top musical show, and how do you share your performance expertise with contestants, and can you tell us about the singing school you created?
Yes, indeed. After working for multiple singing schools I decided to create my own: Sing With Do where “Do” stands for both my name and the first note of the scale in solfege.
In my studio, I work with a variety of students: from amateurs wanting to have fun and learn something new to professionals coming to prep for their auditions, performances, or exams.
In my lessons, the first step in changing and learning is establishing and finding our attractor state/s. I check with my students what their natural go-to state i.e. their habits while singing. Only when knowing that we can work on changing them and adjusting, and learning the correct vocal technique.
One of your students Imra Dincer says about you the following: ‘’Dominika has a unique way of working with theatre actors. During two of my latest musical projects, she was leading the way in expressing my voice without compromising on acting. She makes the roughest pitches feel effortless and gives you enough technique and courage to thrive on stage. She also has a lot of energy and classes are super fun!’’
It is so extremely motivating to hear it. The joy and satisfaction of seeing others discover their own talents and abilities through music and art are immeasurable. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the profound transformative power of the arts. After graduating from Conservatorium, like many of my colleagues, I started teaching music and singing. Something that started as a simple job became my passion. Right before graduating, I went through some major vocal issues which resulted in having to go through vocal surgery. That experience forced me to relearn everything I knew about singing. I started working with a technique called ESTILL Voice Training that focuses deeply on muscle work and treating your voice as an instrument, not something you just “have” and use unconsciously.
It changed completely my view on voice use and the way I worked as a teacher. I can honestly say that thanks to my past vocal issues I learned to listen carefully to my students’ vocal struggles and adjust the technique to individual needs. Everyone is different and everyone experiences their voice in a different way. Understanding how your student works and being able to relate to their struggles is key.
Music, art, and theater are your true passion?
Art, theater, and musics are my passion and a source of immense fulfillment. They serve as an outlet for my creative expression and provide me with a means to communicate my deep feelings, struggles, and fears, and convey my personal experiences. The power of storytelling and performance to evoke emotion and inspire others is truly remarkable. As a musical theater performer and singing teacher, I am constantly challenged and inspired by the creative process, and it is through this process that I continue to grow and develop as an artist.
What are your musical preferences?
I don’t really have one favorite music genre. It all really depends on how I feel at a given moment. I studied jazz and that will forever stay close and dear to my heart, but what I look for the most in music is a deeper meaning and a message. Either through the lyrics or the melody. That’s why musical theater is so important to me, it’s all about conveying a story and character development. That said, I do enjoy popular, folk and country music and anything that makes my body move. I believe there’s no bad music, just music that doesn’t resonate with me personally.
You make the dreams come true for young artists. What is your biggest dream after winning so many prestigious competitions and being part of sold-out performances across Poland and the Netherlands?
I love creating space for artists to express themselves but I also love being on the expressive side – performing. If I can continue doing both and working with the best of the best, that would be a dream come true. Observing experienced artists, directors, and producers doing their job and learning from them is what I’m trying to do right now because I know that’s very important. I would like to continue judging the work of others to lend my expertise but also continue to perform at a high level in productions across Europe and globally.
Photos: published copyrighted by Dominika Zawada and published with her permission.