Portia’s Secrets: An Interview with Kristen Kollender

Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” is currently open and running until May 13th! The lovely and talented Kristen Kollender talks about finding Portia, the challenges of doing Shakespeare, and giggling in rehearsal.

How did you first become involved with Theatre Banshee?

I had auditioned for a show prior to “Dolly West’s Kitchen” and “The Merchant of Venice” and although I didn’t get cast, I knew from my interaction with Sean and Leslie, the warmth and professionalism that they exuded, that there was something very special about Theatre Banshee.  I hoped eventually to work with them and indeed, shortly thereafter I got so lucky.  I contacted Leslie to invite her to a show I was currently doing around the same time “Dolly West’s Kitchen” auditions were being held, and auspiciously, I managed to snag an audition appointment.  That appointment eventually led to my playing Dolly in the show.

Where are you in the rehearsal process right now?

A very wise, incredibly gifted, inspired, remarkable and one-of-a-kind actress, very dear to my heart (who just happened to play my Momma in “Dolly West’s Kitchen” and win the LA Drama Critics Circle Award–ever so deservedly!!–for her revelatory work–cough–cough–company member, Casey Kramer!!) said to me a phrase that will remain forever emblazoned in my memory, “I treat it all as rehearsals.”  I think, from my observation, that this approach is in large part why her work is so brilliant, so alive, so in-the-moment, so true and unpredictable and full of life and soul.  It is never fixed.  As I continue to journey through this work I would like to cultivate this same outlook and so my answer really is, although we’re running, I am hoping to be very much in process, still in rehearsals…

What drew you to the role of Portia? 

To answer this question honestly I’d have to say that it was more the challenge of working on a Shakespearean role and of finding the human– the woman– herself, in and beneath and because of the language that held the greatest appeal.  I was tremendously curious about Portia and what the interiority of this woman could be who behaves in the ways that she does, doing the things that she does, but it was very mysterious to me and there were many question marks…

Have you ever seen a production of MERCHANT before?

I have seen quite a few productions of “Merchant.”  I used to be very self-conscious about seeing other actresses play a role I was interested in and/or working on simultaneously but I’ve begun to loosen up in that regard and sometimes my curiosity simply gets the better of me– I want to see that role through another instrument.  I have found as of late, that seeing varying interpretations of a role either brings me closer to my own personal interpretation, and/or stimulates or challenges my thinking in ways I wouldn’t have confronted had I not been exposed to another’s work.   I may indeed come back around but for now that’s where my thinking lies…

Were there any challenges with this particular production?

The biggest challenge for me which I am still working on is how to interpret the courtroom scene.  What is going on there?  Why does Portia do what she does?  What is her game-plan walking into that court?  What does she know, what does she not know?  Why does she choose to do it in the first place and risk so much (wouldn’t it have been easier for Bellario, her cousin and the real lawyer, to take care of things)?  What is going on there psychologically?  Who is Shylock to her?  What surprises her?  What is the turning point?  What are the triggers and why?  In what ways are her expectations met or dashed?  What are the personal repercussions?  What is the evolution?

What’s your take on the Shylock/Portia relationship? Is she his nemesis, his friend, or something in between?

An acting nugget that I love is to always find a character’s secret.  I think the answer to this is my Portia’s…

Any funny moments from the rehearsal process?

There was a moment in “Dolly West’s Kitchen” where my friend and colleague Natalie Hope MacMillan could not look at all of us in the cast without breaking as she delivered this hilarious and out-of-the-blue line.  There is a moment like that in “Merchant” that we fought uncontrollable laughter with all through rehearsals.  We’d need only see a twinkle in our fellow actor’s eye and we’d be set off.  Maybe if you come to the show, you can guess where it is!

Any dream roles you’d like to take on in the future?

Maggie the Cat, here I come… I can’t imagine being more passionate about a role than I am about Maggie…

Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” opened March 24th and runs through May 13th. Ticket reservations can be made by calling 818 – 846 – 5323 or by visiting www.theatrebanshee.org.

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