On Stage and On Netflix: Mary Birnbaum ‘99 and Flora Birnbaum ‘04
by Holly Donaldson Casella ‘04
There is no shortage of artistic talent in the Birnbaum family. As someone who spent quite some time at their house growing up, I can attest that music and performance have always been at the center of life for the Birnbaums, both in formal and informal settings. As girls, Mary ‘99 and Flora ‘04, sang in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus and our playdates often consisted of elaborate performances, usually with full costume and set design!
As you might expect, Mary and Flora also performed at Country School — in musicals, select chorus and a wide range of other venues throughout their collective 15 years here. Mary remembers: "Rhythms class with Francine Piggott in Lower School, concerts with Marsha Whitman in Middle and Upper School and winter musicals with Mr. Garrison in Upper School, as well as the time that Mr. Berwick and Mrs. Purcell let our 9th grade class make DNA: The Musical rather than taking a final exam.” She adds, “For us, it was the dedication of the teachers at NCCS who fostered a creative learning experience that furthered our love of the arts." And Flora adds, "The Christmas pageant in the Lower School, the sense of community, and the way each Country Schooler was encouraged to march to the beat of their own drum helped us find who we were as people and how best to express ourselves!"
Their artistic prowess continues today as both women find success in the performing arts world. Mary is the Associate Director of Opera Studies at The Juilliard School where she teaches acting to opera singers. She is a freelance stage director of theater and opera regionally and internationally. Mary was nominated for “Best Newcomer of 2015” at the International Opera Awards in London and, this year alone, is set to direct three major shows: Dido and Aeneas at Juilliard this winter, Empty the House at the Curtis Opera Theater in Philadelphia this spring, and La Bohème at the Santa Fe Opera this summer. Mary brings an avant-garde style to her directing and is committed to helping young artists develop through her work at Juilliard and the Orchard Project Greenhouse, an arts accelerator that Mary helped found.
Flora has been involved in some of the buzziest projects of 2019 so far. After starting out at a talent agency and transitioning to writing and directing her own independent work, she recently landed an exciting opportunity on the writing team for the new Netflix series Russian Doll, which premiered on Feb. 1; Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland are the executive producers and it stars Natasha Lyonne. Flora is also writing for the third season of the Showtime series SMILF, and is working on a feature film, which she will direct.
It all begs the question, will Mary and Flora find an opportunity to collaborate in the coming years? Turns out there’s already a musical in the works — about sisters, of course!
Keep your eyes on these two, and check out their impressive work while you’re at it.