Stage right/stage wrong: Um, your hand’s on fire

Local actor Kate Mann is 'smoking' on stage
Stage right/stage wrong: Um, your hand’s on fire
Photo by Jonathan J Miner / J Miner Photography
Kate Mann plays an old man whose soul is swapped into the body of a young bride in Strollers Theater's "Prelude to a Kiss." p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Consolas; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none}

As anyone in the theater universe can tell you, there are times when everything on stage goes just perfectly: The audience is thrilled and a unique and memorable magic is made. And then there are those times when a line gets dropped, a prop falls over or the actor suffers a Jennifer-Lawrence-at-the-Oscars-level stumble. Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive both types of moments, but it’s the really confident ones who are willing to relive and share them with us.

Kate Mann hasn’t wasted much time making her mark on the local theater scene. After a standout stint as an undergrad in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s theater program, she’s remained a regular area presence, particularly with Middleton Players Theatre.

This weekend she stars in Strollers Theatre’s production of “A Prelude to a Kiss.” She plays Rita, a newlywed who ends up swapping souls–yes, swapping souls–with an older gent who insists on kissing her at her wedding. We’re definitely up for seeing Mann play a 70-something trapped in the body of a 20-something.

But before that happens, Mann took a second to share a couple of memorable moments from her Madison acting career.

Mann almost didn’t even try out for Middleton Players Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondhem’s “Sunday in the Park With George” last summer. Her director, Matt Starika-Jolivet, and her eventual costar, Thomas Kasdorf, had to convince her audition. She ended up cast as Dot, a role she ended up absolutely owning.

“I had never done a Sondheim role before,” says Mann. “I was thinking, ‘Congratulations, Bernadette Peters won a Tony in this role. Now do a good job with it.'”

Stage butterflies aside, everything ended up falling into place for her–and for the show. Her chemistry with Kasdorf, playing the pointillist painter Georges Seurat, helped give the production resonance and pop. Mann’s singing voice and mannerisms were a great fit for the role.

“By closing night, I was just bawling,” says Mann. “I was thinking, this is theater the way it’s supposed to be–it’s really happening.”

The vibe was a little different a few years earlier, when Mann was part of the cast of University Theater’s 2013 production of Brian Friel’s “Dancing at Lughnasa.” Mann was playing Maggie, the chain-smoking jokester, among the five Irish Mundy Sisters.

“I had to light all my cigarettes with matches, because it’s Ireland in the 1930s and everyone’s sad about potatoes,” Mann quips. As a nonsmoker, Mann was a match-wielding amateur, and often struggled to master the intricacies of this particular bit of stage business. One night, she broke two matches onstage trying to get a light.

Another night, dousing was the issue. During her character’s extended monologue, a key turning point in the play, Maggie’s supposed to shake her cigarette to put it out. Mann thought she’d managed it.

“I’m in the middle of the monologue, and suddenly I look out and the audience is looking at me with this weird expression,” she recalls. “I look down and realize that my hand is on fire–and I still have half a page of dialogue to get through.”

The burning ash of the cigarette had fallen onto Mann’s palm, giving her a blister/minor burn she had to ignore for the rest of the play.

“I swear nobody remembers anything about that show except he girl who burned her hand,” says Mann.
Strollers’ “Prelude to a Kiss” runs February 3-18 in the Bartell Theater. For ticket information, click here.

Aaron R. Conklin covers the local theater scene in “Stage Write,” Madison Magazine’s theater blog.