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Phantom of the Opera
Webmaster note:  At the time of this interview, Ian Jon Bourg had not yet joined the Music Box Tour.  So he had not yet worked with Mr. David Cryer.  The omission of his name from the list of Firmins he had worked with has to do with the timing of the interview.
Does Ian Jon Bourg Write His Own Notes...?
Interview by Eileen Cohen and Dawn Fortner

Although Ian Jon Bourg was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, he attended  the University at Benedictine College, a Catholic school in Atchison, Kansas.  His first love was always theater and while in Hawaii, he performed in the Honolulu Children's Opera Chorus and later worked as a super, backstage at the opera.  Still, he never truly considered himself a performer.  It is therefore perhaps not surprising that when he attended university at Benedictine College in Atchison, his first thought was to study Arts Administration, a career that would make it possible for him to remain in touch with the arts in a non-performance capacity.  Belatedly realizing that he did not care for "business" he moved into the theater track with the intention of developing a backstage career.  It was only after he was enlisted in the school's musical "Where's Charlie?" as a performer that it occurred to him that "acting might be a viable possibility."  

Still, his next change was from theater to music, his performance instrument being the piano.  Emphasis eventually changed to "voice" when he permanently damaged his hand while working on a car.  In the end, he graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Voice.  From Benedictine College, Bourg went on to Memphis State University in Tennessee where he ended by working in the opera department.  Still not entirely certain as to what his future would bring, he spent a brief period studying psychology and then eventually left school  altogether, securing a job as a waiter and then a restaurant manager.  But it seemed that performing was his destiny, as one of his waiting jobs was as a singing waiter on Beale Street in Memphis where he would sing Elvis songs.
Finally, one of the administrators of the university, with whom Bourg had kept in touch, recommended him to one of the Miami Opera coaches as a candidate for their tenor residency program. Bourg was contacted by the Miami Opera, flew to Miami for an audition and ended by singing with that company for the next two years.  It was only afterwards that he began auditioning for musical theater companies.  Before his casting in Phantom, he played the role of Tony in West Side Story and Freddy in My Fair Lady.
In his spare time, Bourg enjoys practicing his Tai Ch'i as well as some other Chinese bodywork.  He is interested in environmental charities and also participates in the Phantom cast charity benefits.
Note:  Since the time when this interview was conducted, Bourg has become the principal Phantom actor in the Hamburg, German production. - CH

One of the interviewers, Eileen Cohen, is president of the Ian Jon Bourg Fan Club.
Why was it that you chose to train classically?
Most schools focus on a more "classical" program of training the voice.  You learn technique and art songs, arias, etc.  That's at least how it was for me at both institutions.  If you were in a vocal department you were operatically inclined.
Did your style of learning have a name to it - like Bel Canto technique?
Yeah, mostly.  I was very interested in the Bel Canto school and the operas written then, and I was doing a lot of those sort of operas.  Actually, in the Bell Canto school, the tenors had extreme ranges and had to sing both very high and very low, something that was lost later with other schools of singing.  Unfortunately, I think, a lot of what is taught these days is from those newer schools and so the singers don't use all of the voice they have available to them - not that I always do all the time - but I try.
Do you have any albums in the works?
Yeah.  I'm working on something, a compilation CD.  When I go back to LA we'll do something about that.
About your role as André, how did you come to gain that role - to get onto the Phantom family  bandwagon?
I was living and working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and heard that they were having auditions for the Italian tenor [Piangi] in Phantom.  Well, I was an Italian tenor at the time, doing Italian operas, etc.  I didn't have any knowledge of [Phantom].  So I went down to Chicago to audition for Piangi.  I sang some tenor things; then they threw some other music at me and asked me to sing it - I think "Music of the Night" was one of them - So I did and they said thanks, and I didn't hear anything for a while.  And when I got a call asking if I could come back in or go to New York with Hal [Prince], so I did.  And it was still up in the air, but I knew it wasn't for Piangi anymore.  It was sort of a matter of what was available, when.  So I sang Phantom's music; I sang Raoul's music; I sang André's music.  And to make a long story short, after a few auditions an opening came up.  They talked to me a couple of times, but having some other shows scheduled I really wanted to do, I wasn't willing to sign on yet.  Finally, I got another call asking me to come in.  Again I sang all that stuff and they said they could give me André with the Phantom cover.  I only had one show to cancel and so I said okay.
Is it only the [Second Nat'l] Raoul Tour that you've been with?
Yes, however I did fill in for Franc D'Ambrosio in San Francisco a couple of times, so I guess you can say I've been with them.
How did you research the role of André?  What's your perspective on his character?
The research part is hard because a lot of the characters don't exist in the original book or they exist in a different way.  You have to figure out who meshed with whom.  The managers are pretty straight-forward in who they are, I think.  And they also cast it differently.  [But] the way the two people react and the way it's written make it pretty clear who is who and who's concerned about what.  André is much more effete and much more artistic.  The art is his concern and that's why he is in the business - definitely not for the business - and Firmin is obviously...it's an investment perhaps.  I don't have any idea how these guys ended up together.  But somehow they did and they formed this partnership that seems to work well.  The person who needs to handle the artistic stuff - which would be André - does, and the person who needs to handle the business - Firmin - does.  So they sort of cover all the bases.  And they still manage to get along, partly because what they do and what their interests are, are clearly defined [and] they are not really stepping on each other's toes.
Is it difficult to get the comedic timing down, working with Firmin?
No.  In some ways it's easy because part of the comedy of it is that - and [this] depends on who I'm playing it with - Firmin is basically clueless.  He only has the one concern about the tickets, the business and how it's run.  All this other stuff that happens after that is just what's happening at the Opera House and he's totally out of his element in dealing with prima donnas and everything else.  And it's easy to act off of that: as the person who is more concerned, but who still needs Firmin's help.  And the fact that Firmin is so out of touch has its own comedy to it.
How many Firmins have you played with?
I did a little over two years with David Huneryager who's now in Hamburg doing it.  He was with the tour from the beginning.  And then he left and I worked with understudies for a while.  There's three of them.  And another guy came in, T. J. Meyers.  I did it with him for a year and then Donn Cook took over.  That's interesting because Donn was our original Piangi and then left, and then did Piangi again for us and in New York, then he said he wanted to play Firmin for a change and he got it.
That's a story in itself!
That's a story in itself!  And again, he was an operatic tenor.  We were doing the same sort of things in the same circles.  And he started as Piangi.  As Firmin, he has to sing lower than me...He was followed by Chip Huddleston.  So I guess that is four Firmins plus the understudies.
And technically, you could do Piangi too?
In the Prima Donna septet, with everyone working off each other as an ensemble, are there any inherent problems in doing such a large piece?
The only problems are when new people are on, or we've made some changes and not everyone got the word.  Then the people are in different places.  [Also] because of the rhythm of it, it's easy to get thrown a little bit.  Lines are dropped, but everyone has been very good at recovering when those things happen.
And it's not particularly difficult to sing so many parts simultaneously...?
Yeah.  There is a lot of opera parody in POTO such as the ensembles where everybody's singing different things.  It's like a big Rossini finale: it's just a sort of wall of sound at a certain point, because everybody is kind of going crazy, which is exactly what they used to do in Rossini comedies.  You get used to that, so long as you can keep where you are.  Everybody's usually still in a relationship with somebody! Firmin and I [for example] are saying the same sort of thing or talking about it.  By the end of "Managers" we are still focused on getting the prima donna to do her thing.  I don't know what Raoul is doing or saying, or Madame Giry or Meg, because they are in their own worlds at that point.  I can't really hear them either.
There is a scene where you start taking steps.  You take 28 steps, the same as Meg.  Is that supposed to be like that?  It's as if the Phantom is saying something and you start walking almost like in a box.
You mean you counted them? [laughs]
Someone else brought that up to me.  Is it supposed to be set like that?
No, we just walk.  There's a pattern we have to follow so we don't train wreck, and we do have to end up in a different place.  We're all taught that pattern.  We all need to make it in a certain number of steps and that probably changes in each city, depending on the size of the stage.  Sometimes we have to take larger steps, sometimes smaller; speed it up, slow it down...so I'm never conscious of the number of steps. [Still], I always know where I'm supposed to be at a certain part of the letter.
Having played this role for so long, how do you keep it fresh?  Are there any challenges left in it?
One thing I do - and I don't know that it's that noticeable - is that I try not to read the lines the same way twice.  I try to say the line exactly how it's written, with a slightly different inflection, but one that is still true to what he is saying.  I don't know how many different ways I've said "I have experienced all your greatest roles, Signora," and I am still trying to find new ways to say it.  It's really just being present in the moment, and thinking that line and reacting to the other actor.  And doing eight shows a week, people are going to be out and other actors in [so] just dealing with those things, which happen enough, helps to keep it fresh.
Now as far as playing the Phantom goes, how do you interpret him; how do you see him and feel him?
Well...that's a rich question.  A lot of things are obvious.  We know, from the piece, how he grew up and what he must have suffered because of his deformity.  Even his mother, who was ashamed, caused him to suffer.  He obviously didn't know any love or any experience like that.  He obviously knows what that is; we all do.  He has suffered through a great deal and has managed through force of will to overcome a lot of that and be able to be in this place...in control and command his life, finally.
When Madame Giry talks about when she [saw] him in a cage, his life was not his own.  But somehow through force of will and talent and ability, music and magic, he's managed to overcome at least that.  But he can't overcome his being ostracized by society.  He can't do that.  As much as he's created this whole persona that makes him presentable to the world, he is still ostracized.
One thing we don't see in the musical is that there is social contact.  People know who he is; what he does.  He's not yet a madman.  People are scared of him because of the way he looks [or] might look. He's been a bit of a prankster at the Opera House when this show starts, but to my knowledge, he hasn't killed anybody.  He does kill Buquet eventually, but not at the beginning.  He's only been a prankster and people are concerned.  He's still maintaining that he has created a life for himself.  Now the thing that has come into it is Christine Daaé as a vehicle for his music, which is what he talks about.  There is an inherent sexuality and eroticism, but I don't find it to be all about that.  And I don't find it to be all about be a psychotic, angry person, because he's obviously not.
He talks a lot about - and he's obviously very concerned about his music - the opera that he's writing.  Even in the book he talks about that being his big achievement.  Now, that's his real focus and what he wants to do and accomplish.  Once he's finished with that finally, he will have finished something - in a way, his life.
That becomes complicated by Christine Daaé.  He finds this woman who starts out being the perfect vehicle for expressing his music with her voice and becomes something more than that.  And when Raoul is introduced into that, he's not in control anymore.  He's been so in control of his life and [this] becomes so disturbing and so jarring, it prevents him from having her fulfill this whole opera/music thing.  He starts to crack.
[Then], he disappears for six months to work on his opera.  In some ways he's back in control, although he lost control enough to kill someone.  Something has obviously cracked [and it was] sort of random.  Buquet wasn't doing anything. [But] he manages to gain some control by disappearing and working on his opera.  In the book, that is what he wants to do and to accomplish: an opera.  And now that he's done it, he'll get Christine back and will demand that she do it.
So is your portrayal more romantic, or do you make people feel sorry for him?
I think definitely, they should feel sorry for him, empathy.  The real challenge is to get somebody to feel sorry for someone who is obviously a real psychotic serial killer - which he's become.  He's not at first.  People can see that.  In "Music of the Night" you begin to buy into him as a romantic idol.  If you can go there with Christine, you can hold onto that later which [is something] Christine has to do because she knows he's killed people too.
What are you trying to bring out of this character on stage?
It's easy to portray the Phantom as the psychotic, angry man; I don't think that's what he is all about.  He has those moments, but I try to show those moments distinct from where he genuinely and deeply is and wants to be, instead of being that angry person all the time.  That's hard to do.  Some of  it is written in, but sensuality without overt sexuality.  Based on his life and what he says later in the final lair, Erik doesn't know from sex...
He probably doesn't know how to get to first base, although he's probably observed a great deal.
Yup, that's right.  When he says "That fate which condemns me to wallow in blood has also denied me the joys of the flesh..." to me it could mean two things, both or either/or, he has never been with anyone sexually, or that he is impotent.  And with someone that crazy and with his history and social interaction it could be.  It doesn't mean that he doesn't know how to be sensual.  But it does come through his music and his commitment to the idea of what that is, and because he doesn't have that sexual component in his life.  It's all about, or so he tells us - and he tells us in a very sensual and erotic way - it's all about his music.  When Christine becomes the vehicle for that music, that adds a physical dimension to it.  But if it's just about sex, I wouldn't find it very interesting.
Is that why you say he kills Piangi to end up in that scene with her even though he had written the opera?
Yeah.  Not only does he need his opera performed as the culmination of his work and life, he needs to go that final step and perform it with her.  In some ways you can see it - and I'm not a psychologist - it's like that music is the surrogate to the whole sexual component in his life.  That's how he expresses himself physically.  And so this opera means a great, great deal.  It would be like having sex, but it is not having sex; he doesn't know what that is.  I don't like it to be all that, but it's there, so he takes Piangi's place as the sort of fulfillment of it all.  To be there and hear her sing his music is extremely intense and in a way is very sexual, but not in a physical way.
As in the scene in which the Phantom is sitting with the shroud.  The hands are very expressive and  the movements are jerky.  I think of it as a kind of sexual tension...Are you given any direction for that?
There is only so much you can do wearing that sack.  You only have your hands.  But [although] we are given direction, at the same time, Hal Prince has given leeway for different actors to do different things.
Once you step on the stage are you the Phantom?  Or do you sometimes step back from the role?
There is a time when it's all about being in the right place at the right time, especially with all the automation in the show. Since things change in every city you have those moments when you are thinking about where the organ is in relation to the boat and am I walking backwards in the proper direction, etc.  There are times when you are thinking simple things like that.  But I dare say the audience has no idea.  It's your job as an actor to make people believe, by whatever means, that you are inhabiting that character.
There are places I try to focus on the place the Phantom is at in his mind/heart.  For example when I'm in the angel I often think about what hearing those words on the rooftop do to him, so as to be able to do the heartbreak of the angel scene.
Also, "Music of the Night" is very hard to memorize because it doesn't really follow a pattern that's easily memorized: which verse is after which.  After you've done it a while, you figure out a way to do it without worrying about the order of the verses.  I don't think about that anymore so I can think about the actual words and trying to use them and what is the Phantom trying to say at that moment; what is he trying to accomplish; how to express himself about the places where he lives, and his music, and how it effects everything.  Sometimes - and I'm sure it's true of everybody - you can't help but just think about "how is this note going to come out?"  But I don't find much that I have to inhabit in Erik.  In a way, it's a lot like the opera itself:  the words and music do it.  You have to do that with André as well.  You have to think the words as you're singing them, or just before so as to have the reaction.  And if you are in that moment and listening to the other moment and listening to the other actors and believing that they are those other people they are pretending to be, it just happens.  David Mamet, the playwright says something to the effect that the role of the actor is not to be moved but to move the audience.  As I understand it, you don't have to be having those emotions and feelings to be able to convince the audience that you are.  I'm not putting down anyone's ability to portray a character, it's just the magic of the theater.
The fact that you might have three weeks go by before you do the role, is it difficult to just snap into it one day with only one hour's notice?
No.  I've told the stage management that if I walk into the theater at half hour and see on the call board that I'm on as the Phantom, it doesn't bother me.
You have a good memory.
I've done it enough times - especially if you count rehearsals.
How much time do you rehearse?
As a company, we have understudy rehearsals once a week.  I don't do all of them.  There was a period when I did a lot but I haven't done any in this city [Providence, RI] because I have been on.
Would they rehearse just your part separately?
No.  All the understudies are called and we have three hours and we do the whole show.  So it's quite a few times and memory isn't an issue.
What's a typical performance day like for you?
I get up in the morning [laughs], have a cup of coffee, go on-line, check my mail, etc.  I don't really have a routine.  There is nothing I have to do to get ready for the show either as André or the Phantom, unless I'm not feeling well.
Do you have a strong voice, healthy voice?
A healthy, strong voice, yeah.  When you do a show late at night - and I did when I was singing opera too - through the course of the day you've used your voice.  If you're speaking, well that in itself has warmed up your voice.  And I practice Tai Ch'i, so I'll do some physical stretching.  As either character I don't warm up.
Tai Ch'i keeps you physically worked out?  You don't pump iron?
Nope.  As André, I have no routine.  I show up at half hour.  I put my make-up on and I go do it.  As the Phantom, I'll have make-up put on, get dressed and go out to the wings to watch Hannibal, 'cause I never get to see it.  It's kind of fun.  I spend a lot of time in the wings watching the [parts of the] show that I don't get to see otherwise.  But I'm not back in my dressing room warming up or preparing.  I'll usually be getting dressed at the beginning of Hannibal and I'll sing along with Piangi up to the high C and if my voice seems fine then that's it.  Then I'll go out there and do my thing.
And you don't take voice lessons?
No.  Not any more.  I feel pretty good about the foundation I got.  If I wanted to get back into opera I'd have to get my chops back.  Part of not warming up for the Phantom is that it is lower, and the more I warm up, the higher my voice gets - which is true for a lot of people.  If you hear people warming up, they always check out the very highest stuff, and they go over and over it.  The more you do that, the more your voice is comfortable and stays there, and you may not be as comfortable in the bottom.  So if I warmed up, I could lose some of the lower notes, or it wouldn't be as easy because my voice would feel more comfortable higher.  So that's just a technical thing I stopped doing a long time ago and found it didn't matter.  I'll check it; sing a phrase.  If it's fine; it's fine.  You go and do it.
You're very lucky.
Yeah.  I know I am.
And the milk products don't bother you?  Chocolate?
I'm not a chocoholic.  I'm not big on sweets.  I have moments of craving.  I'll have a chocolate bar and that will be once a month if at all.  I used to put out candy dispensers filled with M & M's and other goodies, but I never ate any.  The company was appreciative but they hated me for it.  I don't do that anymore, though.
What do you do during intermission?
As André, I have a big intermission.  Once I do the Il Muto speech, I'm done for Act One.  So my intermission starts there.  I go back to my dressing room and read, usually.  When we've had space backstage, I would practice Tai Ch'i during "Music of the Night" and the intermission.  Then I put on the next costume.  And that's true of the Phantom too except that I have less down time because I have to get down from the proscenium.  Intermission has already started by the time I get back to the dressing room, and I have to take the suit off, do another make-up check, take the wig off...So that whole intermission sort of disappears.  The big drag doing the Phantom is that you don't have much down time and you're on stage about the least of anybody.
28 minutes?
If that.  But you don't have much down time.  You're changing clothes, you're climbing somewhere, sitting in the angel, standing in the cross.
Do you find it physically tiring?
No.  I am very lucky in that respect.  It doesn't bother me.  It's not hard and it's not tiring.  In some ways, André's role is more tiring.
In what sense?
I have to sing more.  I'm running around a bit more.  I do have down time as André, which is fine.  But for some reason it is more tiring for me.  My interpretation of André requires a certain level of energy - a somewhat excited personality.  The Phantom has his whole manic thing too, and whole emotional thing.  But André's excitability is more tiring, just to keep that up.
What's your favorite song to sing in Phantom?
It's probably Don Juan. All of it.  There's a lot in there, a lot of different things: the actual  "Point of No Return" tango music, the giving of the ring...I really enjoy singing that.
Do you have to share the same ring with the actor who regularly plays the role of the Phantom?
We all have our own ring.
I heard the only thing you and Ron Bohmer share is the Red Death costume.
No.  We are different sizes so we each have our own.  Lawrence Anderson and I share the same Red Death and some of the capes.  It sort of depends on the sizes and the understudies.
And they don't share masks?
No.  We each have our own masks, made for our faces, signed and dated.  I think we all have at least two.
Where do they go when you're through with them?
Into a locked box somewhere.
You don't get to keep them?
No.  At least it's my understanding that we don't.
Michael [Crawford] kept his.
Yeah, well, Michael could do whatever he wanted by the time that was all done.
What do you think is the special appeal of Phantom to the audience?
It's a couple of things.  People obviously relate to the heartbreak and the whole lost, unfulfilled  love.  Just about anybody can relate to that, can see themselves in that position.  And a lot of people can relate to being the social outcast in some way, if only a small way.  Certainly very few people can relate to it the way it affects the Phantom.  A lot of people have felt outcast, alone, and put down; and even in a small way, that can be crippling.  And so they relate to that.  And if you combine the whole lost love aspect and the outcast aspect it can be extremely powerful.
Do you like being on tour?
Yes.  It it were a bus and truck, I don't know if I could do that.  But I like traveling.  I like visiting  and seeing and getting to know different places.  And when we play for months, which is most of the time, it's pretty great.  We've had some pretty great cities.  I actually do enjoy it.  The actual moving is hell - at the end and at the beginning of each city - but there is all that time in between and that's fine.
You're not required to do the moving?
No.  We're responsible for moving our own selves.  The show itself...they've got that down.
What other shows have you played and which are your favorites?
I did Tony in West Side Story, one of the greatest musicals ever.  Unfortunately, that's past.  I'm too old for it now.  I'm not a kid anymore.  I love that piece...and Freddy in My Fair Lady, which was a lot of fun too.  That's a great show. Scarlet Pimpernel would be fun.  I've never tried for Les Miz...
A matter of timing?
Yeah.  And I'm having fun doing this so I'm not really concerned.  There are a lot of musicals I  like, but the ones I've done, like the first one Where's Charlie? were a lot of fun...I got to wear a dress.  My first major role and I wore a dress.  I also did a Gershwin revival: Girl Crazy.  That was a blast.
Are you a dancer?
I do dance.
Natural?  Lessons?
A little of both.  I've always sort of been a dancer.  When I was a kid, I was in a Portuguese folk dance group.  In college I did these residencies with different opera companies and we were required to take dance.  For a couple of years I had two hours of ballet a day, which was good.
What would you like to do in the future?
Take it as it comes...As auditions come up I will endeavor to see where that goes.
Is there anything else you'd like the fans to know about you?
I do not have a favorite color.  I don't play favorites much with anything.
You're just an easy going guy.
Yeah.  I see those interviews and they ask, "What's the word you like the most? What's the word you like the least...?" I would never be able to think of something like that.  I have very eclectic tastes about a lot of things: the kid of food I like, the kinds of music I like...I'm not big on sweets.
So you just take what comes to you?
Yeah.  I think part of that comes from growing up in Hawaii.  You're exposed to a lot of different  cultures and philosophies and I find now that I eat a lot of "weird" things.  I'll eat all kinds of Hawaiian  things, like poi.  It is not for everyone.  Also, I eat a lot of Chinese and Japanese things that I just  grew up with.  My tastes are very eclectic and that's true of a lot of stuff, even my philosophy is generally eclectic.  I take a lot of things from various places.
Legal Notices: 
Interview by Eileen Cohen and Dawn Fortner. Copyright 2000 by Eileen Cohen and Dawn Fortner. 
All Rights Reserved. 
This article is reprinted with the permission from: POTO: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
 MAGAZINE - The Millennium Issue Collector's Edition.
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