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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 26, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 09
Stephen Sondheim's Assassins at ACT Theatre

An interview with Kendra Kassebaum
Arts & Entertainment
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Stephen Sondheim's Assassins at ACT Theatre

An interview with Kendra Kassebaum

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

ASSASSINS
ACT/5TH AVENUE CO-PRODUCTION
ACT THEATRE
February 27-May 8


Kendra Kassebaum is no stranger to the stage. Having performed on Broadway in the musicals, RENT, A Leap of Faith, Wicked, and Assassins (among others), Ms. Kassebaum is equally at home in the Pacific Northwest. Having appeared in the ACT/5th Avenue co-production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well & Living in Paris (where she sang a haunting rendition of 'Ne Me Quitte Pas' ('Don't Leave Me') in French), and the Seattle Repertory Theatre's triumphant Come From Away, she is now reappearing in Stephen Sondheim's unique musical, Assassins. The Seattle Gay News caught up with this talented and beautiful performer as she prepares for her role as Sara Jane Moore, one of the attempted assassins on President Ford.



Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences as a performer?

Kendra Kassebaum: Faith Prince and Ted Neally. I grew up in the Midwest and we had a library branch near us. I would check out albums and those were the albums I got. Bernadette Peters was among them. There wasn't a great selection of musicals, maybe five, but I remember playing them and thinking that I could maybe sound like that. I thought you had to be an opera singer.

Andrews-Katz: What was the show that gave you the theater bug?

Kassebaum: You know, I have to say my childhood memory of something that got me going was the 'Brown album,' Jesus Christ Superstar, that changed my world. It was this mega music video in my head, and I could act all the parts. I wanted to feel [while performing] what that album made me feel like. I guess I'm always chasing that feeling.

Andrews-Katz: Is it true that you turned down being Kristen Chenoweth's understudy in Wicked for the Broadway production of Assassins?

Kassebaum: OK, I'm horrible when it comes to chronological order. I went in for the big audition [for Wicked] and I got called back, and called back, and then I was offered Chenoweth's standby/understudy. At the time I didn't think I could do it. I wasn't [and shame on me] trusting their judgment because I felt I wasn't trained. I freaked out and said, 'no way.' I told them it wasn't the right time for me. Assassins came after and it was during that run that I found out I was doing the First National Tour of Wicked.

Andrews-Katz: What was it like to audition for Stephen Sondheim for the 2004 Broadway production of Assassins?

Kassebaum: Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying, and so exciting! I knew I was going to have a story when I left the audition. No matter what, if I failed or if I did well, I was going to leave with a story from that audition. I made sure I knew my stuff going into it. That entire team were all so gracious and kind. It was a kindness I hadn't felt. You'd think they would be intimidating, but he [Stephen Sondheim] sets an 'equal vibe' in the room [and doesn't pull on any attitudes].

Andrews-Katz: What brought you out to the Pacific Northwest?

Kassebaum: I did theater here - fifteen years ago - when I was back in New York. I loved working with The 5th Avenue Theatre, and was lucky enough to get several jobs there. I remember knowing that maybe one day I will get into the theater scene here. All those years went by and I was ready for the chance. I wanted to get out of...the mill, and more into a Repertory Company vibe where the locals are your acting company. Where they all trade roles and go on rotations, all supporting each other. The beauty of the Pacific Northwest spoke to me as well.

Andrews-Katz: For the phenomenal production of Come From Away you portrayed [several] real people. Do you find that more or less of a challenge than to play fictional ones?

Kassebaum: I guess what I always go to think about is that there is no way I can do an imitation of somebody. I have to find the truth of what these people are wanting and respect the words they say. I can't do that, as I'm not that kind of storyteller. I never felt that kind of pressure to tell the story proper. I see the colors and energy as a painting and think to myself 'How does this woman's effervescence affect the room?' and try to work with that.

Andrews-Katz: Were you familiar with Sara Jane Moore before doing the show Assassins?

Kassebaum: No, I was not. That's one reason why I think she is beautifully tragic. This show's two women [Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme and Sara Jane Moore] were not household names. Squeaky maybe, but she doesn't have the same impact as some of the others named in the evening. I knew about Charles Manson and knew he had all these followers. My director gave us the environment to explore, and one of the things he says is to 'help them [the characters] say their words.' We are trying to find the action of the show so we're letting the characters fade, and are trying to go behind the words to find their meanings. To me, that's where you get to solve the problems - as an actor - finding out the facts of the character.

Andrews-Katz: Why are Americans fascinated with the murder of a celebrity or keader more so than the average person?

Kassebaum: I don't know if I agree with that totally. When you hear about some leader getting killed, it seems bigger than life. I may not know who that person is, and therefore, won't be able to connect to them. But I can connect to the horrible images on the newsreels that show people jumping out of windows in burning buildings and falling to their deaths, because they are average people, like me. I think people tend to believe that when you go into political leadership [the potential for assassination] is the risk you take because the public knows where you are at all times. To me, it's so much 'in your face' that we can grow immune to what we see, or it's survival. It's not a great feeling.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any limitations - what would it be and why?

Kassebaum: That's a great question. I don't know. I would have to say 'Mable' in Mack & Mable. If I could ever go back to my 20-something self and play that role, with the knowledge that I have at being 42, it would be incredible. I'd love to have that kind of knowledge to go back and play that part. Mable's role progresses - she starts off being 20-something and continues - that would be a dream role. I don't know why it is so amazing, but the role is beautiful. But you spend the entire evening falling in love with this character and the pay off isĀ¬ good.

Kendra Kassebaum has performed on Broadway and throughout the Pacific Northwest area. Assassins was first presented Off-Broadway and, years later, remounted as a Broadway production in 2004.

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