Pictured: Katie Karel at first read-through for SKYLIGHT. Photo courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre.
PerformInk takes you inside Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of SKYLIGHT through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past “Inside” articles click here.
Katie Karel is in the final phase of preparations to play Kara in Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of David Hare’s “Skylight.” In this latest INSIDE, Karel talks about her process, her affinity for her character, and her unexpected personal connection to the story.
What’s your process for learning a show?
When approaching a script, upon first read, I make notes and do research on any words or phrases I’m not familiar with. Before rehearsal I’ll read the play again several times; first a few times unobjectively in its entirety, and later objectively as the character. I’ll also research any references I’m unfamiliar with – histories, locations, names, etc. I like to research the playwright and read more of their plays. Admittedly I knew little of Hare away from “Skylight,” so I read his memoir and several of his plays. I usually don’t memorize before being blocked. (I’m kicking myself for that one this time round.)
Do you have a separate process for connecting to and creating your character?
This play is so tangible and truly a gift to an actor – from the language to the characters to the story in its essence. Bill Nighy said of this play that it was “completely accessible, truly modern” and because of that, because of the writing, my work from a thought-process point is easy. I simply need to have my wits about me…which…can be easier said than done. My character, Kyra, is so kindred to me in so many ways, from the way she’s physically described in the play (“…just past thirty…quite small with short hair and a practical manner.”) to her views, opinions, occupations, and relationships. I love how she takes on the weight of the world in a way which is actually empowering. She’s truly endearing and I think that is why I, so many other actresses, and people who know or will come to know this play, so easily endear to her.
Was there anything unique to this production or story that interested you? What and why?
It has been a bit of a dream of mine to work at KCAT, a theatre and true company that produces some of my favorite plays, and produces them so very well. I am so thankful that it is with this play. And quite honestly, without going on and on about how much I simply love the script or giving anything away, I can remember the way I felt after first reading it. It’s the same feeling one might have after hearing a soulful ballad, seeing a breathtaking piece of art, or reading a book you lament ever ending. I can only describe it as feeling like you’ve been let in on a small secret of the universe, for me it always comes in some form of artistic expression. Too much? I just…really like this play.
What are your biggest challenges in this show? How have you addressed them?
Well, for starters, this play is based in and around London so we are, appropriately, using British dialects…and although I feel I have a pretty dang good grasp on the cadence, melody, pronunciation of the dialect, there are just some words that don’t fit well in the native-Nebraskan mouth. Words like “can’t”, “girl”, and “world” being my least favorite. I practice saying about a dozen troublesome words from this play every day. Also, the play is famously known for the live dinner preparation which takes place in the first act, and I’ve only just scratched the surface with negotiating that. I’m just hoping not to chop my hands off or burn anything to a crisp. Lord knows I’ve made my peace with smelling like onions and garlic for a month.
Is there anything you have in your past that’s uniquely prepared you for this particular show/role?
Oh dear…well…briefly I’ll say this casting process (because the show was originally slated to be a part of the previous season) essentially started in the spring of 2016. Since my first encounter with this play, my life has taken an absurd amount of turns, certainly not the least of which is a long and arduous battle with a particularly heinous cancer diagnosis. There were points at which I wondered how I might ever keep my emotions in check if and when I returned to the stage. Although unseen, a central character in this play loses her life to cancer, and toward the very end, Tom states “The point is, I lived a long time next to cancer. Apart from anything it f&*#s up your brain. You start thinking things are deliberate. That everything’s some kind of judgment.” And I have to say I find that statement painfully true. With that being said, after the whirlwind, so many of us go through having or knowing someone who has had this senseless disease, there is so very much another side. I’m currently in remission, happier than I’ve ever been, and getting to do what I love. And in an almost funny way I’m NOW thinking – How will I be able to muster up the emotions needed for this play?
What will surprise people in this show?
Oh, no. I can’t say anything here.
What have you discovered through rehearsal? (Either about the character, the show, or yourself?)
I had no idea what to expect from these rehearsals, no expectations really one way or the other. I came into the first read a ball of nerves, and by the end of it, felt…as Kyra puts it: “I don’t know why, but this is where I belong”. I’m thrilled to work on it every day. I leave rehearsal immensely happy. Really, I just can’t wait to share this story.
Katie Karel is a professional actress and singer in Kansas City making her KCAT debut with “Skylight.” She has appeared Off Broadway at the New Victory Theatre, regionally at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, and Okoboji Summer Theatre, and in Kansas City she has appeared at the Unicorn Theatre, Starlight Theatre, The New Theatre, Quality Hill Playhouse, Musical Theatre Heritage, Coterie Theatre, Egads Productions, and the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre. You can find more about her at www.katiekarel.com.