Interview: Jane Keller of LEAVE 'EM LAUGHING at Circa Theatre

The show runs from 27 July through to 17 August.

By: Jun. 10, 2024
Interview: Jane Keller of LEAVE 'EM LAUGHING at Circa Theatre
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Interview: Jane Keller of LEAVE 'EM LAUGHING at Circa Theatre

Today I spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking to one of Wellingtons most recognised music teachers, Jane Keller. She is well known in the region as not only an excellent vocal coach, but extending that skill by helping with character development and performance.

Jane has encouraged many people onto the stage for the first time, including myself and given many a love for musical theatre and an appreciation for the late great Stephen Sondheim.

Many of Janes students over the years have become lifetime friends. A tribute to her as a person and a teacher.

So where did it all start for Jane and how did she end up living and teaching in New Zealand? With her final ever upcoming solo show Leave ‘Em Laughing about to launch at Circa on 27 July, I thought now might be the perfect time to find out.

Jane was born in Columbus Ohio in 1952 so is 72 years young. She has two sisters, one 2 years her junior, the other 5 years. Both her Mother and Father passed away since she moved to New Zealand and unfortunately circumstances at the time meant that she was not able to get home to either of their funerals. She was able to hear an audio recording of the funerals and have a message read at each service and was in the US a month after her Father passed, to be there for her Mum at the time when the reality hits home.

Janes whole family is musical. Her Mother tells the story of when Jane was 3 or 4, when attending church, they would always find Jane in one of the Sunday School rooms playing with a piano, so they brought one and she started taking lessons then later on took lessons for playing the viola. When in high school she then started taking singing lessons, so there were times in her life when she was having three different music lessons a week. One of her sisters was also learning piano, violin and voice and the other piano and cello. While her parents were not wealthy, they spent a lot of money on music lessons. One of Janes big regrets in childhood was that she never had dance lessons, because had she had that early in life, feels it would have been so much easier to pick up choreography in the shows that she has performed. It’s one reason why she loves doing her one woman shows-no complicated dance routines!

Jane graduated high school (our College) in 1970 and went to Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music outside Cleveland. It was very prestigious, very hard to get into. It was in a small town and Jane became desperately homesick, so after the first year, she transferred back to Ohio State University back in Columbus where she was able to live on campus, but visit home when she wanted a home cooked meal or when she needed a load of washing done, while still having the independence of living on campus.

She ended up graduating with a degree in Music Education and a second degree in Voice Performance. Inspired by her beautiful, funny and smart music teacher at Junior High, her dream was to follow in her footsteps and become Junior High School music teacher. She quickly realized that she wasn’t cut out for it as she had no discipline. When her students played up, she was likely to find it funny herself rather than disciplining them, meaning she was popular, but knew she couldn’t easily control the classroom.  She wanted to quit after her first year, but her parents convinced here to stay for another but still didn’t like it and resigned.

After the dream (held since year 7) was over, Jane had a crisis of identity, feeling like a failure and wondering which direction her career would take. She started waiting tables at some high-end restaurants and ended up making more money doing that than she had as a music teacher, which required a degree!  She did that for 3-4 years and went back to Graduate School and got a Masters in Vocal Pedagogy which is when she started doing a lot of theatre, both amateur and then finding professional work with Columbus Light Opera. She has performed the role of Katisha in the Mikado four times but her favourite Gilbert &Sullivan role is that of Ruth from Pirates.

While at Graduate School, she was given a teaching assistantship meaning that she was teaching classes and lessons that allowed her to study and graduate for free. She didn’t finish her Masters degree at that time however and started working at Ohio State University in a clerical job.  It was around that time that she met her future husband, Dick. She was 32 and they were married four years later in 1988 and had their son Sam another four years after that. 1988 was quite a year for Jane, she not only got married, but also completed her Masters degree before she moved to New Zealand.

Dick moved to New Zealand prior to them getting married-he is a firm believer in this countries no nukes policy and as he was working in IT, knew he would be able to get a job here.  He was not really interested in getting married, they had discussed this previously, but as the time apart lengthened, he softened and changed his mind and returned to the US to marry Jane. She recalls that there was no Skype and emails back then, so they used to write letters and send cassette tapes of themselves talking to keep in touch.

They were married on 11 Sept, an infamous anniversary now.  They were both in America in 2001 and Jane recalls them going out to dinner on the night of the attack to celebrate their anniversary. The whole restaurant had a subdued atmosphere, nobody was laughing, it was a bizarre feeling.

Once married Jane moved to New Zealand, hoping that in a year or two, Dick would get New Zealand out of his system and she would be able to return home. Of course that never happened.

Her first job when arriving in Wellington was working part time with New Zealand Line, a shipping company,  working 9-12, then teaching singing in the afternoon.  She loved the work there and the people, but it was a time when smoking was allowed in the office so she would return home after her three hours work reeking of smoke.

She started her Wellington teaching career via a University student at Dick’s work who suggested that she meet with the well-established singing teacher Emily Mair. Emily arranged to meet Jane on James Smiths corner and described herself as short with brown curly hair. Suffice to say, there were a few people who fit that description that day, so Jane had to deal with a few cases of mistaken identity before she finally met Emily. They had morning tea and a chat and Emily offered to refer people on her waiting list to Jane for lessons and the rest is history.

Jane auditioned for Opera Technique for John and Gillian Gerome and did The Mikado with Lloyd Scott. Then she fell pregnant with Sam. She began teaching from home but soon moved to her studio in Courtney Place. She is the longest tenant at that venue.

Jane has transferred her love of music to her son. Her husband Dick is an accomplished drummer himself, so he was encouraged from an early age. While Sam loves music and has a beautiful voice, it is not his passion and that is totally ok. She supported him with his love of sport and that is how he now makes his living.

Due to the lack of a professional outlet in Wellington, Jane decided to do a one woman show-she had returned a few times to the States to do some professional work there, but much easier to do it here. She was reluctant to do Community Theatre, until the right role came along with Urinetown and she then started doing a few unpaid shows, Nunsense and the Full Monty. In the Full Monty, she loved playing Jeanette Burmeister, a role which had the best entrance of any show she has done, so much so, that the audience would applaud before she had even spoken. In the dressing room, while everyone was putting on their make-up she was removing hers. Not glamorous, but memorable. Her other favourite role was that of Carlotta in Follies as that character gets to sing “I’m still here”. Jane performed that show in Auckland.

Jane has taught a generation of performers here in Wellington and some have moved onto professional work. She is an avid supporter of theatre in Wellington, both professional and community. She spends a lot of money doing it, but that is how she likes to spend her money. She feels that we should all support each other. She really likes to go and see how shows evolve and often sees opening and closing nights, or two nights in a row to see the differences and what she may have missed out on at first viewing.

She is particularly happy to see Capital Theatre Trust come along filling the gap left by Wellington Musical Theatre, bringing the big shows back to Wellington and giving people the opportunity to perform on the big stage and wishes them every success.

Leave ‘Em Laughing is going to be Janes sixth and final one woman show, but she says she is not retiring-she still wants to be in shows, but no more solo shows with the amount of work involved putting them together.

The show runs from 27 July through to 17 August and tickets are available via the following link

Performances - Leave 'Em Laughing - Circa Theatre (


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