Theater Chat with Kelly Rodland
By Dan Tingley
Let me start off with a brief statement. I love this job. I get to meet great actors from the Erie area. Theater goers get to watch wonderful plays stocked with wonderful actors. I get to sit with them and chat. I am lucky again to get to interview a fantastic talent. She has been in many plays and has entertained Erie for many years. I am pleased to interview Kelly Rodland.
Let us start off with any background information you want to share. For example, where you went to school, where you grew up, home life. How long you’ve been married, children and where you work.
I was born and raised in Erie, PA. After graduating from McDowell I went to the University of Pittsburgh (GO PITT!) main campus and double-majored in Theatre-performance and Political Science with minors in Spanish, Music, and African Studies. I met my husband and artistic partner, Jeff Rodland, at the Erie Playhouse when we were both working on West Side Story and married him many (many) years later at the Roadhouse Theatre. We’ve been married 11 years and have 3 little boys Gabe (9), Will (4), and Kris (4), and two cats Moe and Comet.
When did you know you wanted to be an actress?
On the weekends my mum would often rent us musicals to watch The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The King and I, etc . I knew right away that I wanted to do that. My mum enrolled me in the Star Summer Theatre Camp run by Roberta Stoughton who taught me the basics. But it wasn’t until high school that performing became less of a way to kill time and more of an overwhelming desire. Thank god my mum and dad never complained about driving me to rehearsals and performances.
What was the first play you were in?
Im not sure? I feel like I should remember this oh well, maybe the Brementown Musicians with the theatre camp? My first show at the Playhouse was Pippi Longstocking.
What was your first lead role?
Bob Martin cast me as Mama Euralie in Once on this Island at McDowell High School and it changed my life. It was the most challenging part I had done at that time and it gave me confidence in myself as a performer and a person at a time when I had very little of both. The best part is I still get to work with Bob every year when he writes and directs the Medieval Feast at the Riverside Inn.
How long have you been an actress?
25 years? Give or take.
Do you like to do musicals?
It would depends on the musical. But, yes, I love to sing and challenge myself that way. Generally though, I am drawn to darker material – something I can really sink my teeth into. That can sometimes be hard to find with musicals. I do theatre for purely selfish reasons I love traveling from the beginning to the end with a character and the deeper she has to go the better as far as Im concerned. Im absolutely loving working on Legally Blonde the Musical – it is so much fun and my character, Paulette, is just a joy to perform.
Do you prefer comedy or drama?
Yes. LOL. Im drawn to drama because I like being able to feel the darker emotions but comedy is much more difficult to do well and I like the fast pacing.
What was your favorite play you were cast in?
My favorite part Ive done at any theatre is Rose in Gypsy at the Erie Playhouse. It pushed me really far outside of my comfort zone in terms of being able to support a show musically. I had not performed at the Playhouse in years and when I stepped back on the stage I was surprised to find that I was more freaked out over the orchestra, costumes, shoes, and make-up than the show! My second favorite role is Mrs. Siezmagraff in Betty’s Summer Vacation written by my favorite playwright, Christopher Durang, and directed by my favorite director, my husband. I was 26 or so when I played the part and the character was supposed to be in her 40s so I keep bugging Jeff to consider re-mounting it now that I’m getting closer to 40! Kim McClelland directed my husband and I in a dark comedy called An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein (yes, THAT Shel Silverstein) shortly after the Roadhouse closed. Kim is an amazing director and an incredibly talented actor and it was great being able to really explore that play and learn from her.
What was your worst?
I plead the 5th. Just kidding, I don’t think I’ve really had a bad experience. I love the community that forms when youre performing with a group of people even if its not the best show, or its miscast, etc its almost always still fun.
Is there a role you would love to play and haven’t yet?
Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, the Witch in Into the Woods, Auntie Mame in Mame, Fanny Bryce in Funny Girl, Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly.
Have you directed?
Yes during college and Psycho Beach Party at the Roadhouse Theatre. Directing seems to take all the fun out of the show for me theres so much to pull together and coordinate, you have to be nice to everyone, and have patience, and not yell these things do not come easily to me. I think Id really enjoy working with student actors focusing on character development, dissecting monologues, etc but in terms of having to pull an entire production together I feel stressed out just thinking about it.
Have you ever finished a play and wanted to play again as another character?
Yes, In Twelfth Night with Gannons Shakespeare Summer Nights Program I played Maria – I want to play Malvolio.
Have you refused a role and later regretted it?
No, not really. There are parts I didn’t audition for that I regretted or was incredibly jealous when they were going up but as a mom, wife, daughter, and employee I have to use my time very wisely. I can no longer do shows just for the heck of it like I used to. If I take time away from all the other people in my life then it truly has to be a one of kind of thing. I also find that I have to be protective of myself emotionally with some plays I tend to lose myself in the character a bit and if that character is crazy or depressed, etc it can really affect my mood and personality.
Was there a role that took you out of your comfort zone?
Rose in Gypsy absolutely did. I have all the confidence in the world when it comes to what I bring to the table acting and character development wise but singing and then singing with an amazing orchestra was absolutely terrifying. I was mostly worried about letting the director, Almi Clerkin, down. I had known her since I was young and I think she really took a chance by casting me I’m so happy she did.
Do you have limitations? Such as doing accents or dancing?
Ummm I can’t juggle because I lack hand/eye coordination, and most people would find my dancing ability questionable. I can learn almost anything I need to though.
Is there anything you will not do on stage?
Probably not, especially if it would improve the show.
How do you prepare for a role?
It depends on the part. For musicals I sing through the music at least twice a day outside of rehearsals. I don’t sing much in my regular life so I really have to get right to work in order to get in shape vocally for a show, especially if theres a lot of singing. I like to talk to the director as soon as possible to get a feel for who they think the character is and what journey she takes through the show. Once I start memorizing lines I start to take a pretty firm grip on who I think the character is so if the director and I aren’t on the same page prior to that time it can make it difficult.
Do you have a certain memorization method?
I find I can’t even start memorizing until the scene is blocked for some reason the movement helps me remember. I’ve always needed to write my lines in order to memorize them. I’ll type or handwrite them over and over and I always use index cards and write my cue line on one side of the card and my line on the other. When I was younger my mum would run me a bath and then sit on the toilet and just quiz me over and over!
Do you have any hobbies?
For the past three years I’ve really been focused on improving my health through exercise. So outside of family, work, and theatre, my time is spent at one of our local YMCAs.
Is there an upcoming event you would like to share with our readers?
Legally Blonde runs at the Erie Playhouse from August 9 through August 25! Leah Johnson (Elle Woods) and I also perform in The Medieval Feast at the Riverside Inn and Dinner Theatre which opens October 4th!
Do you hang your toilet paper over or under?
I’m not sure I have my people tear it off for me so you’ll have to ask them.
Kelly Rodland is a great actor that theater goers should look for. She is wonderfully gifted and witty. I have always enjoyed watching Kelly on stage and deeply enjoyed the pleasure of talking with her. Catch her at the Erie Playhouse and at the Riverside inn. See for yourself what a great talent she really is. This is a must see actor brimming with talent.