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At American Stage: Janis Stevens channels Katharine Hepburn

Bill DeYoung



Janis Stevens as Katharine Hepburn at Capital Stage in Sacramento. "I absolutely have loved every experience I’ve had out here," she says of her work with American Stage, "and have fallen in love with St. Petersburg and so many of the people that I’ve had the real pleasure to meet." Photo: Barry Wisdom


As she did in the recent dramatic powerhouses Marjorie Prime and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, actress Janis Stevens is taking a deep dive into a woman of tremendous complexity and nuance with her latest American Stage production.

Stevens stars in the one-woman show Kate: The Unexplained Life of Katherine Hepburn, in which the screen legend, 92, discusses her family, her life and her loves.

It’s a virtual production, rehearsed, rolled out and recorded this week on a specially-designed downtown set. Kate begins streaming Wednesday (all details are here).

Stevens, a resident of the Sacramento, California area, says she has begun to embrace the less-than-ideal circumstances of acting without an audience. She is also an (online) acting teacher. “It’s much more fulfilling than I thought it would be,” she explains.

“It’s not anywhere near the same, but being challenged by new ways in which to tell stories and communicate, and still keep the work going out … we can’t shut down completely. Because audiences want something from us. You know, the theater’s been around for over 2,000 years now, and I would hate to think that we’re going to let our current situation conquer us.

“It’s like picking up the banner and saying nope, we’re just going to keep charging forward in whatever way we can.”

Kate playwright Rick Foster also wrote Viven, in which Stevens portrayed troubled British actress Vivien Leigh. Stevens world-premiered both shows at her “home” theater, Capital Stage in Sacramento.

“The first thing, with any character, is you’ve got to fall in love with them,” Stevens says. “And with plays which are focusing on people who actually have lived, or are perhaps still living, research. Just dive into everything that is out there – all of the stuff that’s available through YouTube, or Netflix or anything like that in terms of movies. I own most of Kate Hepburn’s most famous films. Read every biography, read everything that’s out there.”

For Stevens, whose other “real-life” roles have included opera singer Maria Callas (in Master Class) and notorious California “boarding house” murderer Dorothea Puente, the goal is to “submerge” herself in the character. With one caveat:

“The big deal is to not mimic,” she stresses. “That’s not the point. The point is to see if you can bring the soul of the person out. To really make them three-dimensional.”

After the research phase comes letting it go and fully inhabiting your character.

As an actor, “you have to bring yourself to your work. Because that’s what makes your rendition of Blanche DuBois different from the next person’s. Because it’s what you’re bringing, personally, to the choices in the role.

“And you have to do the same thing when you’re playing somebody who has been a living personality.”

There’s a quote, attributed to Willam DaFoe, that Stevens likes to read to her acting students: “‘Every character that’s out there, or that you can imagine, is in you. You just have to seek it out.’

“Because we’re all capable of everything under the sun, and those facets of your personality – even the ones that are frightening – it’s the challenge and the joy of the art form, of the craft.”

Above: As Mary Tyrone in American Stage’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” 2019. Below: In the title role of “Marjorie Prime,” 2018.












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