Pictured: Jan Rogge
Our “Inside” series takes you behind the scenes of productions through blog posts written by the artists in the trenches. To read past “Inside” pieces, click here.
By Weiyi Zhang
Actor Jan Rogge has been active in professional theatre in Kansas City for quite some time, having appeared at many of the area’s professional theatres. Besides being an actor, she is also a member of Kansas City Actors Theatre’s company-steering Artistic Committee and directed “Sea Marks” for the company in 2018.
In KCAT’s upcoming production of Marsha Norman’s “’night, Mother,” directed by Sidonie Garret, Jan plays Thelma, a character very much unlike herself, spending almost all of her time inside her house with her daughter, Jessie (Cinnamon Schultz), the only other character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
I asked Jan about her process of connecting with the character who is distinctly different from her.
I try to find the color in this character even though she lives an isolated and desolate kind of life; I look for the humor and the reality. Thelma has depth, but she chooses to not dive into the depth. With a daughter who “thinks too much”, Thelma tries to over-compensate by only looking at the lightness of things, the simplicity of it. I feel that she, at the beginning of the play, thinks her life is great. She likes a controlled atmosphere where she knows what she’s going to do. It’s not until her daughter brings up the things she feels she’s been cheated by that Thelma realizes all the same things have been done to her. Her fear of her feelings and her past shows in the dialogue, too. Some of her rants are not just to get a reaction, but it’s fear of her own mortality and the consequences of the choices she’s made.
Great acting requires dedication and a great work ethic. There is work to be done outside of rehearsal hours, and although actors are not always in the rehearsal space, they can still be working their characters while living their lives. To this end, I asked Jan about her personal preparation process after receiving the script.
I get the script about one month before the first rehearsal, and I read it three or four times. After learning the story, I break down the script into sections. During this, I write down any thoughts or questions I have about my character, and her relationships with the other characters, which in this play include her daughter and others that are mentioned but do not appear in the script.
“‘night, Mother” has a surprising balance of the lived-in drama and levity surrounding a sensitive topic like suicide. The story carries the potential to a new perspective on some of the important issues people face in modern society.
The most difficult thing is finding the rhythm and the real comfort of the relationship and how these characters live in Thelma’s house day-to-day. That has to do with repetition and finding the nuances in the acting. Marsha Norman really lays out the dialogue pretty well, but it’s all that stuff in-between. When I’m watching her; when I’m pretending everything fine. It’s that cat-and-mouse game that is something that I think the three of us will be working on until the time we open. There are shades of denial and acknowledgment that are constantly changing as the play moves along, and really any of those shades could potentially be different, depending on the actor in the play.
The easiest has been working with people I’m comfortable with and who I really respect as artists. We laugh every night. We spend a good 20 minutes talking about the day because we know once we start, it’s intense, so we allow ourselves to have that. Having Adam Fulmer (Stage Manager) and Colin Fowler (Assistant Stage Manager) there and supportive is fantastic. Once we go into the work it’s even better and we always feel good leaving the room at the end of rehearsal.
At the cast’s first read-through of the script, the actors gave a surprising amount life and humor to the words of a show that might seem very somber on its face. Jan shared some of her reasons of why many will enjoy this production.
What I find interesting is this play could be anywhere at any time; it’s not site-specific. I think that’s why this play is still done. I find that we get really deep characters and relationships, yet it doesn’t feel out-of-place or overdone because of its time period, which can sometimes be the case for even some of the best plays from the era.
Once the audience gets to their seats, the play begins; it is interesting and funny. It triggers; it ripples. Besides telling a great story, this play also represents the voices of many people. These two women in the play, they were not given voices, but their feminine response to life needs to be known.
”’night, Mother,” runs January 8th through January 26th. Tickets and information are available at kcactors.org or by calling the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222.