How did you get started in theater?
I made my auspicious stage debut in my kindergarten play-- I was the flowerpot in Peter Rabbit. The flowerpot is actually a good role when you consider that there were dozens of radishes and heads of lettuce and only one flowerpot. In the pivotal, climactic scene Peter knocks me over drawing the attention of the farmer. This encounter forces him to take accountability for his actions providing the impetus for his moral epiphany. Ah, the power of perspective. Don't you love that part in Shakespeare in Love when the guy who plays the nurse in Romeo and Juliet is hitting on a girl and she asks him what the play is about, and he says, "Well it's about this nurse..."
What hooked you? Was it your first school play-movie-first time seeing a Broadway Show? What inspired you to be where you are today?
I took dancing lessons when I was small and my mother plays the piano very well, so there was always music around my house. It wasn't until I got caught up in the camaraderie and excitement of my first high school show that I was really hooked on theatre specifically.
What was the first play you ever saw? Ever performed in?
The first two things I saw on Broadway were Cats and the female Odd Couple (I'm not sure which came first...) As far as performance, there was that stirring Peter Rabbit epic, then my first speaking role as the prissy lady in "Ladies First" in a fifth-grade production of Free to Be You and Me.
Did you study acting? If not, how did you get into it?
I was a drama major at Hofstra, where I took acting, Shakespeare, voice, styles, drama history, etc. Then I pursued a master's in musical theatre at NYU where much of the coursework involved song analysis, scene work and audition preparation. Since I had been a drama major undergrad, I had to take baby music theory courses as well to catch up....ugh.
What was your first audition?
I auditioned for Bye Bye Birdie in high school. I sang "On My Own"-- a very appropriate choice for a big '50s musical ;)
How do you choose what play you will audition for? The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
Is there a good part for me? Is there something I can learn from the experience? Is there a person involved that I really want to collaborate with? Does the project fit in my schedule?
Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
Of course, when cooler heads prevail, it's clear that pre-casting is a double-edged sword. It's flattering when someone calls you out of the blue and it's frustrating when your dream role is cast before you fill out the audition form. From the directorial side of the fence, there is nothing more exciting than finding an unknown talent that perfectly fills your need, but there's nothing more aggravating than directing an interesting, but little known piece and having no one come down. I hear about directors
scrambling for talent just as frequently as I hear actors complaining about pre-casting. It's a great temptation to avoid potentially having to beg people
to do your show by circumventing the whole process. The best way we as actors can discourage this is by making the process as easy as possible for the directors--- by keeping an open mind and trying new pieces (and theatres!); being prepared for auditions; returning phone calls from directors even if you're not interested in the project; suggesting friends for
roles that remain unfilled, etc. The easier we can make the search the less likely directors are to avoid searching next time.
What types of parts do you normally play? Do you feel typecast?
In the past few years I've played a wide variety of roles and have been blessed to encounter directors who've been willing to think outside the box. I'm not a classically pretty, "girl-next-door", so there have been times in my life that I've run into the type wall. During my grad school exit interview, my
professor (an agent who represents a lot of top talent in the City) gave me a slew of compliments on my work followed by an abrupt change of topic: "Did you ever consider getting a nose job? You can play Fanny Brice and Tzeitel the rest of your life or you can get a nose job and be a leading lady." When I looked a little distressed, he said, "Would you rather I told you that you were drop dead beautiful, but untalented?" Obviously not, but... Needless to say, it really frustrates me when directors make matching the
actors with the pictures in the CD liner notes a priority over casting talent.
Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly? When directors look at a certain role, what do you think they see as a "Kim Volpe" type?
The bitch who's really vulnerable underneath. Often I play sarcastic, sexy, funny parts. I can play an ingenue if she has a backbone, but I don't think I do "helpless" particularly well.
What is your approach to developing your character?
You have a bag of tricks that serves as a default setting for your acting, a set of "isms" stolen from your real self that usually ring true on stage. From
there, you have to ask a lot of questions and make adjustments accordingly: How is this character like me? How does she move? What are her speech patterns like? What in my bag of tricks works for her? What natural inclinations do I have to avoid? Technique provides you with tools. You don't consciously diagram every objective and action verb, but when you're stuck and your instincts are failing you, you pull out the toolbox and whittle away until you get it right. Sometimes you have to think like a director. Take your ego out of the situation and look at the character and the scene from an objective point of view. What does the character want and how does this desire fit into the dynamics of the scene? Who has the power? What
provides the tension? What's the "second-track"-- what is the character really thinking about while she's talking about/doing whatever is implicitly stated in the script?
Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
For the whole package: Susan Lawrence in Big. For sheer fun: Irene Roth in Crazy for You
What do you think were your best roles? your worst?
Best-- Susan in Big, Catherine in Pippin, Fanny in Funny Girl, Catherine in A View from the Bridge, Sarah in Guys and Dolls. I'm very critical of myself on a night-to-night basis (trying to keep the performance consistent), but I don't think I've ever been so miscast or unprepared that I'd categorize the whole
experience of playing the role as a failure. Or maybe the experiences were so bad that I just blacked them out :)
What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why? How well do you think you met the challenge?
1) Sarah in Guys and Dolls. If you close your eyes and picture pretty little Sarah Brown, I'm probably not in your mind's eye. So I felt a little self- conscious and paranoid about what people might have to say, but I think that whatever I lacked in teen idol appeal, I compensated for by bringing other things to the table. I made it a priority not to play the saccharine stereotype, but to try and find a truth in the role. I think I played a very genuine Sarah and that I found the humor better than most garden variety
leading ladies--- in my own humble opinion, my "If I Were a Bell" was very funny. I believe I met the challenge b/c people who had only just met me during Guys and Dolls were surprised that I thought I could play/sing Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, so I figure I must have done a good job of selling myself as that type.
2) The Woman in Ionesco's The Chairs--so much language and repetition. The absurdity makes it very difficult to memorize (no logical connections) and you have to cast off your cherished Stanislavsky security blanket
and take a leap of faith into the abyss.
What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
I'd like to do Lois/Bianca in Kiss Me Kate again, b/c I only did it as a fill-in, so I never got a chance to really enjoy it. I did Mame in high school and would
like to do it again when I'm actually the right age to do it... and keep all my clothes on (see below).
What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
I'd like to do more straight plays.
How do you feel when you perform?
Privileged to be a part of something bigger than I am.
What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
New challenges--there's always that urge to stretch and do bigger and better. Theatre is addictive.
During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?" Why do you do it?
For me, jitters come for one of two reasons-- poor health or lack of preparation. Most people who've worked with me know that I am extremely neurotic about getting sick. Lori Beth Belkin always teases me about the fact that I'm paranoid that all sorts of random and obviously harmless things "might f**k up [my] voice." But if I've taken my vitamins, slept eight
hours and learned all my lines then jitters are not really an issue. I guess I do theatre because I'm a masochist who has become accustomed to being
overcommitted, overtired and overwhelmed.
What is your favorite theater story?
I was dropped (literally) in Guys and Dolls... three times in one song. An actor who shall remain nameless (cough...Joe Mankowski) was filling in for Sky. The whole week before he went on I kept teasing him that he could drop whatever lines he wanted as long as he didn't drop me. Be careful what you joke about...There are all these little drunken near falls that my character takes and he's supposed to catch me. The first time he missed, it didn't hurt and I just looked extra convincing as being tipsy. Second time, same deal. The last time, however, we both lost our grip. I wasn't even thinking that there was a possibility I'd fall again, so I didn't compensate at all and went
flying, landing on my lower back right where my microphone pack was stashed. The microphone let out this horrific squeal like a seal being bludgeoned and whatever percentage of the audience previously thought
that I was just really good at prat falls finally had to realize something was amiss. But we pushed on and finished the number. I came off and pulled the mic out of my stockings-- it was in a million pieces. I had a black and blue the shape of a microphone pack on my lower back. The folks in the
emergency room thought I had been branded.
Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage?
I don't think I've ever missed an entrance, but I've dropped more than one lyric in my time. I have a good game face, though, so I tend to cover well.
What was your worst theater experience?
I was directing a college production of Hair and one of the actors told me he had to quit because he didn't have time to rehearse b/c he was failing two classes and had to study. He then proceeded to lie on the stage and push himself across like he was Esther Williams doing the sidestroke. "Jose, I just want to make sure that we're on the same page. You don't have time to rehearse, but you have time to swim across my stage?" He explained that it was his night off from studying. So, I diplomatically informed him that if he
couldn't be in our cast that was fine, but that he couldn't stay and distract us from getting things done. He nodded as if he understood and started
walking up the aisle as if he was leaving. Relieved, I pushed on with the rehearsal. I called the cast on stage to give them positions for the opening number and out of nowhere he appears on stage. So I said, "Jose, are you in this show or not." "No," he replied. "Then what are you doing up here?" "I thought I could help," he says. Needless to say, I could not get rid of him; he stayed for the entire rehearsal. It was like someone from Candid Camera hired him to keep trying to stick himself in scenes and just stand there
until I reached my breaking point. Not fun.
What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
My senior year in high school I played the title role in Mame. I was center stage, sitting on top of a very tall guy's shoulders at the center of a circle of dancers. At a certain moment they all point up to me and I throw my arms wide for the big finish. On cue, I throw my arms open and the whole row of buttons on my blouse pops open. Let's just say not only was June busting out all over, but it was very well lit...
Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
You form relationships with the people you most frequently work with and they become like family. Plus work begets work. If someone sees you in something and likes what you do and makes a recommendation, then
another door opens... it's a very small theatre community.
Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
No doubt. Geographically it will always be a theatrical hotbed because of the proximity to NYC. Many of the people in our community are/were/aspire to
be "city talent" and that raises the bar for everyone.
Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with?
God, there are so many fabulous people on LI... Off the top of my head, I'd say that the casts/production staffs/crew of A View from the Bridge, Crazy for You, Guys and Dolls, Pippin, The Taffetas and both sets of Rothschilds (all with the Broadhollow Theatres) were among the most special.
Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
I'd answer that, but my mother didn't raise that much of a fool...
Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer?
Joseph Fiennes, Ian Holm, Kevin Kline, Kevin Spacey, Liev Schriber, Joan Allen, Bernadette Peters, Judy Kuhn, Linda Eder, Barbara Streisand, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet; On Long Island, I'll go with Brian Smith, but there's a huge tie for second ;) Then we have Lori Beth Belkin in the favorite female voice category and Mike Giometti for favorite male voice.
How do you maintain your career and do theater?
I'm late to work a lot, but I also stay late b/c there's no point in driving all the way home just to go back out to rehearsal, so I guess it all evens out.
Luckily, I work for a university, so we get a lot of vacation days, which invariably get soaked up by weekday matinees.
Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
It has allowed me to do what I love without giving up the security of my day job.
Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
Yes. My mother makes good use of Broadhollow's significant other policy. I'm not sure if she'd be as enthusiastic if I did it full time, though. My grandpa
likes to run lines with me-- it's really cute how he does all the other voices.
How has performing enriched your life?
I've met many of my best friends through arts-related activities, and I've learned a lot about myself from doing character work. Moreover, I think performing demands a discipline that rubs off on the other aspects of your life.
What brings you the greatest joy?
Spending time with the people I love; reveling in good theatre, beautiful music and delectable foods.
What really irks you?
People who drag rolling suitcases up the steps at Penn Station (can you tell I commuted for two years?) People who mock musical theatre as a whole. Doing a musical is the easiest thing to do, but the hardest thing to do well. Making dialogue that's naturalistic sound natural may take effort, but it's a logical progression. Motivating unlikely, sometimes stilted language, however, takes a lot of work. Since you're that much further from normal behavior when you're singing dialogue, it's that much more challenging to
make it real. Of course, there are crappy musicals, but there are also crappy straight plays (my condolences to every actor who's ever had to do What
the Rabbi Saw...). Why pick on an entire genre? Okay, here endeth the rant.
If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would...
I'd pay off my student loans, buy my mother a house, buy a theatre, and get myself a cute apartment in the Village and a beach house in the Hamptons.
Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; cash is cash. Money can't buy happiness, but it does give you the freedom to pursue whatever you want.
What's your favorite word?
Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
Chocolate, peanut butter and cheese are fat-free foods; we'd like you're input regarding the upcoming season; and oh, yes, Clark Gable is dying to meet you.
Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of?
I'm doing Songs for a New World (12/31-1/26) and playing Lucy in Jekyll and Hyde (1/12-2/16) --- both at CAP.
Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
Aldonza in Man of La Mancha, Dot in Sunday in the Park with George, Kate in Taming of the Shrew, Phoebe in As You Like It, Florence in Chess, Carol in Oleanna, Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress, Amy in Company, the
Baker's Wife or Witch in Into the Woods, Isabel in Crossing Delancey, Mrs. Walker in Tommy, Daisy in Side Show.