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Three Long-Acquainted Kansas City Actors Reveal Brief Tips For Local Success

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Kathleen Warfel (left), David Fritts and Jan Rogge, stars of the Kansas City Actors Theatre's 'My Old Lady,' at KCUR's studios after appearing on 'Up to Date.'

When the Kansas City Actors Theatre opens Israel Horovitz’s My Old Lady next week, the production will star three actors that might, in one of the profession's euphemisms, be described as "well-known" actors.

But KCAT isn't bothering with euphemisms.

The show "provides three great acting roles, especially two for middle-aged and older women,” director Darren Sextro said in the show's news release, adding that this particular group of artists "deserves more opportunities than they’re offered."

In this production, those roles have gone to Kathleen Warfel, David Fritts and Jan Rogge, who have worked together in one way or another for 30 years.

On Wednesday, they paid a visit to KCUR's Up to Date and reminisced with guest host Brian Ellison about how they all got their starts in the theater (short version: when they were kids), as well as some of their most notable roles. (For Rogge, that was KCAT's "extremely challenging, difficult, awesome, terrifying" — and alcohol-soaked — Who's Afraid  of Virginia Woolf? in 2007. Fritts and Warfel initially couldn't say — there've been so many! — before each mentioned two or three that were moving for various reasons.)

The trio was in a unique position to assess the health of the local scene.

"It’s interesting," Rogge said. "The young people come up from the universities and we all have our eye on them because the directors want to cast the young people. Some go away and some stay, and that’s when you get the new generation cropping up."

Rogge said there has been "a wave, ebb and flow" to the city's theater scene. "But right now it's just exploding with theater, fantastic theater. A lot of actors are being employed. It's a real renaissance time."

Besides being a great town to get started, Warfel said, talented people also stay here and make Kansas City home, benefiting from the high number of Actors Equity theaters, an abundance of high-quality directors and a wide variety of types of theaters.

Ellison was clearly enjoying the trio's rapport, and listeners were calling in to ask questions about the business. When the conversation seemed to end too soon, we ran one more round of questions past the actors as they were putting on their coats in the lobby.

If they had one piece of advice for the city's young up-and-comers, we wondered, what would it be?

Warfel: "Be flexible. Be willing to do whatever you can to survive, and be flexible with what people see you as."

Rogge: "Work well with others. Some people think their talent will overrule everything – no! The older and crankier directors get, the more they want people who are good to work with."

Fritts: "Get out and see theater. Meet people. I hate to call it ‘networking,’ but that’s what I mean. There are a lot of things you can do that don’t involve getting cast in a show. Find out what’s going on – go to parties."

Warfel: "Brief it."

Here, the trio all started laughing.

"That’s what we used to call it," Warfel explained. "There was a great actor named Kevin Brief. He’s in LA now."

The actors would see him at opening-night parties and ask him what he thought, but he hadn't been to the show.

"Eventually he would see it," Fritts said. "We all knew him so we didn’t mind."

But his tactic resulted in the phrase "to brief it," as in: Did you see the show tonight? No, I briefed it.

No substitute for talent, but, instructive to all of those young actors who hope, one day, to become as... experienced... as Fritts, Rogge and Warfel.

Listen to the full interview on Up to Date here.

My Old Lady, presented by the Kansas City Actors Theater at Union Station’s H&R Block City Stage. Previews start Jan. 11; opening night is Jan. 14. Performances conclude on Jan. 29. Tickets are available through the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222 or at www.kcactors.org.

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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