BWW Interview: Kathleen Carter of GREASE at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre
The film version of Grease celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and many of us probably still picture John Travolta and Olivia Newton John when we think about this show. First appearing on stage in 1971, Grease enjoyed an eight-year run on Broadway, two revivals, and of course many community theatre and school performances over the years. I even performed in Grease at my high school during my junior year. This iconic musical, which follows the lives, loves, and heartbreaks of a group of high school students in the 1950s, takes the stage at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre May 3-June 17. Kathleen Carter, who portrays Rizzo, took a few moments to give us some insight into the production.
BWW: So, this is your first show at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre. Tell us a little about your experience so far.
Kathleen: Yes, this my first show at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, but it's my 3rd with Prather Productions. Most recently I had the opportunity to do Chicago and Mama Mia in Florida. It's a great company to work for. It's really fun to be here in Lancaster. I heard a lot about the theatre scene in this area, so it's great to experience it. Our cast is phenomenal, and I love working with them.
BWW: What has your favorite role been to date?
Kathleen: Oh gosh, I have a few. Something I love about theatre is that because it's live, every show is so different. People always ask what's your favorite show, and it's always whatever I'm currently working on. But there are a few that stand out. Most recently, I understudied and was contracted to do a few shows in the role of Velma Kelly in Chicago; it has been my dream role since I was 13, so it was amazing to actually have that opportunity, and it's definitely one of my favorites. One of my other favorites was Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein because I got to be goofy and comedic, and that was a lot of fun. One of the other roles I really enjoyed was Donna in Mama Mia. I wasn't that excited about it at first because I didn't know as much about the show, and it seemed like everyone was doing Mama Mia. But I fell in love with it, and I would do it over and over again.
BWW: Rizzo is one of the most complex characters in Grease-we see her tough sarcastic side, her fun-loving side, and her vulnerable side. What has been the biggest challenge in working on this character?
Kathleen: I think it's very easy to look at Rizzo and only see one side of her. That is something our director cautioned me about-that we make sure we don't see just one side of her. She's sarcastic, mean at times, but she's mean for a reason. There's a lot of hurt in her, so it's important to help people see that part of her. Finding that dimension has been fun but difficult because you want people to relate to her. As I'm making cuts at people on stage, finding the motivation of why she's saying certain things has been a challenge.
BWW: What is your favorite scene for your character and why?
Kathleen: My favorite scene is the one where I sing "There are Worst Things I Could Do" because it's such an iconic song. I had fun playing with it, finding new aspects to it, finding what Rizzo is saying behind the words. Working with the director, I saw new elements and dimensions in it. It was hard opening up and finding that vulnerability; I like to find those things in the characters that I can relate to personally, so going there was a great challenge but also hard. I told the director, Amy, that after we worked on that scene I just went home and cried because I needed that release. In the stage version this scene is much more directed at Sandy than it is in the movie, so finding how to make it more relatable has been a wonderful challenge. There's also a lot of dancing in the show and since I'm a choreographer I love that.
BWW: Some critics in recent years have found fault with Grease from a feminist perspective because at the end Sandy changes how she looks to impress a guy. It seems to indicate that a woman's worth is wrapped up in her appearance. How would you respond to this criticism, and how would you encourage modern audiences to understand this musical?
Kathleen: It's one of those things that is easy to have an issue with in this show. It is very hard to swallow the fact that Sandy changes who she is in order to fit in and impress a guy. However, something we have tried to do with this production is to make it more about being comfortable in your own skin. Personally, I think Grease does a great job of highlighting what high schoolers go through no matter what decade you're in. I remember watching it as a child and trying to reenact it at slumber parties. I think it sheds light on how people act out and how they act in high school. We're all prone to peer pressure and acting out because of hurts in our own lives. It's not an ending that I particularly like, but something I try to find in the show through my character is the idea of being comfortable with who you are. Rizzo has this spite and jealousy toward Sandy, and she eventually realizes that she is hurting other people because she's jealous and not feeling good about herself. Also, Sandy teaches others that they can be more accepting and inclusive. That part gets passed over a lot, but we're trying to highlight that part of it as well in this production.
BWW: Grease is still shown on TV, and sometimes it seems like every theatre in the world is performing Grease. Given that so many people have seen the show multiple times, what is it about this specific production that will set it apart and make people want to see it?
Kathleen: One is our talented cast. I'm so impressed with everyone who steps on stage. Also, our director, Amy, has created a beautiful picture on stage. The dancing is amazing and beautiful. She really has a way of bringing out everyone's best talents, and she's found a way of bringing a lot of heart to the show. She likes to dig into it and pull out of us the heart behind it-we talk about our character's motivations, and she's great at bringing her vision to life. This is my second show with her and she's so good at what she does, I think people will really enjoy that. Our production just has so much life to it. I'm proud to be part of it. It's my first time doing this show, and I'm so glad to be part of it.
BWW: In Grease we see stereotypical high school cliques. What clique would you have most likely been in when you were in high school?
Kathleen: Most theatre kids were bullied or made fun of, not part of the cool cliques. I was a goody-two-shoes-really the opposite of Rizzo. I was on the outskirts of the cool kids. I could hang out with them in school, but not outside of school. I think a lot of theatre kids find themselves in a similar situation in high school.
For tickets, visit www.dutchapple.com