We're back for another visit with Richmond favorite (and Theatre Gym veteran) Jill Bari Steinberg. From what I've observed, most of Jill Bari's friends call her "Jill Bari" ("Bari" being pronounced exactly the same as "Barry"), although JB also seems to be popular. At least one close friend consistently calls her Jill. Jill Bari is married to musician Steve Organ.
Q - Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. Should I call you Jill Bari, or JB, or Jill?
A - Yes.
Q - Do you have a day job, other than acting?
A - I work at the Library of Virginia. It's wonderful being surrounded by history, genealogy, and so many books. It's also nice to see people research their own family records. Corrie Barton, Jacquie O'Connor and Dan Stackhouse also work there, so one of us is always promoting one Richmond production or another. There's a group of my co-workers that comes to see most of my shows, and that group seems to be growing, so that's nice. We all have to do what we can to build the Richmond audience.
Q - You've had the opportunity to play a great variety of characters. Does any one role stand out as being particularly challenging or invigorating?
A - There's something challenging about every role and every performance. Sometimes I feel good about my work, and sometimes I fail miserably, but there is always a lot to learn from every experience and from every person you get to work with. I think I've had the chance to work with and learn from the best directors in town--Anna (who's directing Kimberly), Steve, Keri, Bruce, Scotty, Bo, Rick (St Peter--I'm new and had to ask), to name a few. The role I'm currently playing is challenging and fun because she's crazy and grounded at the same time. Luckily, I'm not alone. I have Anna to guide me, and an amazing cast of actors to listen to on stage. With Irene Ziegler, Debra Wagoner, Richard Koch and Matt Mitchell by my side, performing the role of Aunt Debra is a real blast.
Q - What's the best thing about working with Anna Senechal Johnson?
A - She's positive and supportive and wicked smart. This production is her vision of this great material brought to life. It's not easy to tell a bunch of seasoned (ie: old) actors what to do, but Anna always knows what will work best for the play. She directs with equal parts listening, problem solving, kindness and skill.
One of my favorite Anna directing moments happened during rehearsals for My Children! My Africa! (mid-90s). There's a moment in the script when the character I was playing has a complete meltdown--she screams, cries and even collapses. At the time that seemed like the scariest thing in the world to me, so I tried convincing Anna that it would be a lot stronger moment if I held back and didn't go there. She didn't agree and said something like, "That's what that moment is all about, losing all your confidence and comfort and control. Use your fear. I know you can do it." What resulted was--for me--a real breakthrough and one of my favorite moments ever on stage. That is something cool that the best directors I've worked with all have in common--they have always said something along the lines of "This is something you can do." That confidence in you from someone you admire goes a long way.
Q - If you go just by the numbers, one could say that the majority of the Richmond mass audience attends only touring blockbusters like Wicked or The Lion King, touring shows at the Landmark. What would you say to these masses to encourage them to attend a locally produced production?
A - First I'd say, "Good for you! You went to the theatre! Didn't you love it?" Then I'd gently suggest that they're really missing out if that is all that they're seeing. If they love musicals, I'd tell them to go see whatever musical is currently playing at Barksdale or Theatre IV or Swift Creek, and suggest we talk about it afterward. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Putnam County Spelling Bee, Once on This Island, Joseph, Annie, Seussical, Urinetown, The Sound of Music--the list of truly great, splashy, locally produced musicals goes on and on, and all of them were better than any bus and truck show I've ever seen. We buy local produce and goods because they are just better. It's the same with theatre. Not that I'm biased or anything.
(Part 3 coming soon to a blog near you! Photo captions: as the daughter in On Golden Pond with Joe Inscoe, as the mother in Last Days of Judas Iscariot with Jesse Mattes, as the niece in How I Learned to Drive with Gordon Bass)