Actors Mine Their Own Marriage For Lead Roles In Barn Players’ ‘Jane Eyre'
Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, tells the story of a young woman, an orphan, who takes a job as a governess. She falls in love with the owner of the estate, the darkly brooding Mr. Rochester, who has a secret past.
The musical adaptation of Jane Eyre premiered on Broadway in 2000, and the Barn Players Community Theatre presents the first Kansas City production. Alisha Richardson and Matt Richardson, who married in 2015, play the two lead roles.
"Our comfort level with each other has allowed the chemistry on stage and the story to really grow, I think, at a more rapid pace than it would had we been strangers," says Alisha. "You get to the kissing, and it's like, no big deal, we can just kiss and move on."
"Rochester is a little bit more of a jerk than I am, at least, maybe," jokes Matt. "But I kind of come around at the end of the show: The softer side of Rochester comes out, and he really shows his love for her. And I think that's something that I can really relate to. Being on stage with my wife, and being able to look at her, while I'm saying these things."
Alisha says there are similarities in the storyline. Their relationship is still fairly new, and they're raising an almost six-year-old daughter together, which echoes in their on-stage interactions with Adele (played by Ellie McManamy), the ward of Mr. Rochester.
"And coming from one walk of life to another walk of life and meeting in the middle, I think that portrays on stage," Alisha says.
The couple met when they were cast in another novel turned musical, Little Women at Olathe Civic Theatre Association. Alisha played Meg March, who falls in love with and marries the bookish John Brooke, played by Matt.
"Like I always say, 'showmance turned real life romance,'" jokes Alisha, who studied musical theater in New York and has performed in shows around the Kansas City metro. She works as an events planner for software company Netchemia, and also coordinates weddings.
The OCTA production in 2014 marked Matt's first foray into theater since he was in high school.
"I always wanted to, but I never did it," says Matt. But a colleague at Raytown High School, where he teaches history and coaches golf, encouraged him to audition. "And it's been non-stop ever since, one show after the next for the last two years."
Both describe their roles in Jane Eyre as stretching their abilities, as rewarding, taxing, and challenging.
"It's been a really growing experience," says Alisha, who adds that they've learned how to support each other as partners and actors. "We know our limits and we know what we can and cannot say to each other."
"To go through the struggles of a show together, and to go through the high points of a show together, it builds the relationship every single day," Matt says. "To be able to do that is very special, and I think we plan to share the stage as often as we possibly can, as long as the roles work out."
Jane Eyre runs through May 1 at the Barn Players Community Theatre, 6219 Martway, Mission, Kansas. 913-432-9100.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter,@lauraspencer.