An Interview With...
Roe Kurtz
Inside the Long Island Actor's Study

How did you get started in theater?
I was in my first class play in second grade.  I loved it!  I played the Evil Queen in "Snow White" before she transformed into the witch.  I had a gauzy blue dress, a gold paper crown and a beautiful wand.  Why I had a wand I'll never know, but I remember it clearly.

What hooked you?
Being in that show!  There was a little back-drama before I even got onstage: I was still just six and I had been out sick for several days before the show.  My mom had assured my teacher that I would be there for the day of the play.  When I arrived at school on the show day, my teacher hugged me and told me how glad she was to see me!  Then, in the show, when I heard my first applause, I remember thinking, This is GREAT!  I knew then I wanted as much more of that as I could get.  Just like in the show "Applause".

What inspired you to be where you are today?
I love making new friends, and being in theater is an ideal way to do that.  Digging into a new part is very exciting.  The unpredictability of live theater is addictive  anything can happen onstage, and the challenge is playing through whatever happens!  It's predictable too  the script stays the same (well, almost!) night after night, so that's comfortable.  But we have to make it fresh every time.

How did you get into acting?
I got into theater by just auditioning a lot.  I started as a dancer.  I always watched and tried to analyze what the other actors were doing, and I learned a lot that way.  I've also done a lot of reading about acting, and I love to watch really good performances.


What was your first audition?
Besides school plays, my first show was a summer production of "Brigadoon" that performed at Nassau College.  The audition was in an old church, and the show was in an old plane hangar.  One night during the show, there was a terrific thunderstorm, which rang and echoed on the metal hangar building.  During the Lundie scene, the rain let up and everything was hushed.  After the scene, the rain came pouring down again.  We loved that! 

How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
I used to audition for anything that I could possibly fit into my schedule  and sometimes more than that.  (At one time I was in one show and rehearsing two others, and working at a regular job in the city too  and I wound up with mono and hepatitis together).  Now that I'm married and a mom, I don't have as much free time; so I do my "homework" first, and only audition for things I really want.  I have been pre-cast several times.  That can be so exciting, because sometimes I'm pre-cast as someone I never would have thought to audition for!  The company has a lot to do with my auditioning, too.  I also have favorite directors that I would work with anytime.   I've been doing Day Rep for nine years, and sometimes a theater will call me to play a part in a daytime show I've never done before, and I have to do it with one rehearsal, or sometimes no rehearsal at all!  That's such a challenge.  It's a little like living the Actor's Nightmare  but it has a happy ending.  The veterans onstage with you are so great, and help you through if you get lost.

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
Like many Long Island actors, I've been on both the winning and the losing side of precasting  it's just part of theater, and it's not going to go away.  Now that I'm doing directing too, I see the director's side of it.   Since there are now so many theaters on Long Island, I think it makes sense for a director to have some actor in mind when they're mounting a show.

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast?
No, I don't feel typecast.  I've played a variety of parts, so there's really no type of part I normally play.

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 "Roe Topol" type?
I'm often cast as a "wholesome" type, probably because that's my look.  My first part out of the chorus was Eve in "Applause", who plays wholesome until her true nature  the bitch - comes out in Act II.  That was an amazing part to play. 


What is your approach to developing your character?
If the show is historical, I do some research and try to get a sense of the times.  Then I develop an idea of the person from the script  is this a mother, a "good guy", a "bad guy", and what makes them "good" or "bad."  People are rarely all good or all bad  the fun is finding the contradictions in the person, and playing them for the audience.  I don't use any "acting method", specifically  I like to be pretty organic.

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
In straight plays, I'd have to say Annie Sullivan.  She was such a strong, dynamic person.  In musicals  it's a tossup.  Some of my favorites are Gutele Rothschild, and in "Brigadoon," Meg Brockie, which is such a fun part, and Maggie Anderson, who does the wonderful Funeral Dance.

What do you think were your best roles?  your worst?
I think Annie Sullivan is my best role.  My worst  the overly pregnant elf.  Why did they put me in a poison green costume, with a waistband, and a white blouse, when I was nine months pregnant with a nine pound baby??  What were they thinking??  ;-D

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you think you met the challenge?
I would say that was Gutele, since she changes more than any other role I've had.  She is a poor but sweet young girl at the opening, and by the end she's a very rich widow with five grown, powerful sons.  It's a very emotional role.  I think I met the challenge pretty well, and I loved the role.

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
In the future I'd love to play roles who have some huge dilemma, that may make them behave in a way they normally wouldn't.  I like to play deep conflict and deep emotions, and lots of growth.


How do you feel when you perform?
Just wonderful.  Excited, happy, adrenalized.  All systems "go, go, go".

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
I love that great feeling, and the prospect of touching the audience with the story is very exciting to me.  When I really love my role I can't wait to share it with the audience.

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?"  Why do you do it?
The jitters are happy jitters.  It's adrenalizing to feel almost-but-not-quite ready.  I like feeling on the edge like that.  And whatever "flaws" you may see in your performance, the audience never sees.  They see what you put out there  the story, your love for the work, your talent, all that.  That really translates across the pit to the audience, and I believe the audience waits for that.  I certainly do, when I go to see a show.


What is your favorite theater story?
It's gotta be the peas.  Near the top of Act II in Miracle Worker, I have to wake up "Helen" and roll up her bedding, and get rid of it in the wings real fast.  Well, one time, for no good reason, I lobbed it high instead of rolling it offstage.  I saw, too late, a tray with a bowl of peas, set sideways on a bench offstage.  I couldn't watch.  I went back to Helen and started spelling to her, and counted down in my head:  3----2----1---- and there was this huge CRRRAASSHHH tinkle tinkle tinkle.  The bedding had flipped the tray, and there were peas and broken crockery all over.  I saw Helen  my daughter Becky  look a little confused, but since she was "deaf-blind," she knew she couldn't react.  All through the rest of the scene, I heard "tink.....tink....tink tink...." from backstage, as Mona and the other cast ladies cleaned up my mess.  We finished the show and did the Q&A.  As soon as the audience got up to leave, Becky and I just laughed out loud.  Whenever we want to make each other laugh, we just say "Peas!"

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage?
Miss an entrance  sort of.  It was more of a re-entrance after leaving.  I forgot to come back until ten seconds later than I was supposed to.  Drop enough lines to be noticeable  I don't think so.  I'm pretty good at covering or paraphrasing, if I lose the "real" lines.  Crack up  well, if I can't cover a laugh, I try to turn upstage, or "use" the laugh in the character.  It doesn't always work, though.

What was your worst theater experience?
It was during a production of "Pajama Game", in the number "Once A Year Day."  We had a picnic table onstage, and I had to run up on it and do a roundoff off it.  My friend Chris, following behind me, would jump up on the table, do a Russian split, land on the stage in front of the table and we'd dance away.  In production one night, I did my roundoff, and Chris jumped up on the table  and a front table leg broke.  The table rocked forward and landed on an edge.  All I could imagine was Chris coming down on his back on the edge and being terribly hurt.  But he was so agile and such a good dancer that he managed to avoid it.  I think he just grazed the table and "slid" down it to the stage, got up and we danced away.  I had nightmares about that for months.   

What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
It was during a rehearsal for a show where I was wearing a teddy and pantyhose.  I had to fling myself on the bed  and the teddy's snaps exploded.


Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
Well, it's better for me if the theater is not more than an hour away from home.  Also, I don't work in theaters who don't respect their actors' time.  Since I usually have to pay a sitter so I can be at a rehearsal, I appreciate it if the rehearsal starts and ends on time.

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
There are so many wonderful theaters on L.I. now that there's plenty of theater for everybody to be involved in!  The theater community can and should just keep on growing. It's a wonderful community.

Who are some of the people you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with?
I learned so much from Ed Dennehy as a director, and Judy Greenhut as a choreographer.  They both use so much layering and organized complexity in their work.  I try to emulate them.

Who is your favorite performer?
Men: Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford; and DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek.  Women: Julie Andrews, Jodie Foster, Carol Burnett, Kate Mulgrew.


How do you maintain your career and do theater?
I work part-time in my husband's business, and I can make my own hours.  I'm a mom, I do Day Rep at several theaters, and I direct and choreograph in several schools.  (So  I just don't sleep.)  The solution for me, and not just in theater, is to say "yes" when I can and  say "no" when I have to.  I do get overloaded and a little crazy sometimes  but my husband and kids are theater people too, so they know the nature of the industry.

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
Because I love it, on many levels.  In "real life," the important moments go by so fast.  In shows, which are stories about the important moments in people's lives,  you get to relive them for at least three weekends!  Also, I was very shy as a child  I remember walking along in the school hall in junior high, clutching my books to me and watching my shoes walk, to avoid eye contact with anyone.  Theater was instrumental in my overcoming that.  In my working with kids in the theater and through Day Rep, I would hope that a few shy kids could find the same great tool and use it to help themselves "bloom."

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
Absolutely.  Ted and I met doing theater, our kids have seen us do theater all their lives, and they are involved too.  We all know the commitment it takes, and we all pitch in.


What brings you the greatest joy?
Creating something wonderful.

What really irks you?
People without passion.

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would...
I'd quit my job instantly, put away enough money for retirement, kids' college, etc., buy a wonderful house on Lake George, spend lots of time making my bead flowers, sponsor a lot of third-world kids, and become a benefactor of the arts.  I'd love to own a great theater or support theater in a big way.

What's your favorite word?

Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
Unlimited Chocolate.


Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd."  What a challenging and layered part!