EF - What are your dreams today?
JP - I would love to work in all three mediums - film, TV and theatre. Theatre will always be my first love, though. It is the most immediate. You have more control. In film, it is the director's medium. You might do brilliant work but they may not take the shot. In theatre, it is really about the craft as an actor.
EF - What makes Jennifer Piech tick?
JP - I'd say family is the most important thing. I also love people. I like learning about people and their professions. I love what I do. You can immerse yourself in another world learning about a different time period. In this particular show, it is the world of 1912.
EF - Is there something about yourself that would be a surprise to other people?
JP - I play a few different instruments.
EF - Really, what instruments?
JP - Piano is my first. I did a show called Smoke on the Mountain that is actually playing again now with the same director (Alan Bailey). It is a blue grass musical comedy. I played piano, guitar, stand up bass, mandolin and ukulele. I used to play the drums, too. I'm learning Irish step dancing now, too. I started in the fall. It is great fun.
EF - So, you'll be in Riverdance next?
JP -(laughing). It is nice just to do it for me, not for any other ulterior motive. It is just something I want to learn.
EF - If you wanted to save money and be your own publicity rep, how would you advertise yourself?
JP - Quirky actress with good comic timing (laughing). I definitely see myself as an actress first, an actress who sings. I also tap dance. I do a mean impersonation of Froggy from The Little Rascals. Every once in a while, I'll do it at an audition, since I have it on my resume.
EF - We hit on relationships a little earlier. You are in a very happy marriage. How do you make a relationship work in this business?
JP - It's hard. When I met Carl, he was an actor. Now he is a manager, the company manager of Jekyll & Hyde so he knows Christiane. Because he is managing, he works 10 am to 6 p.m., and then he has to go and do a show. I work in the evenings. So, I see him in the morning and in the evenings, except on the weekends, when we have more time together. Some days we actually have dinner together. It is a real balance. We are fortunate that we live in the area so we each don't have a commute, and we have the maximum time we could have at home. I think it would be hard if it were two performers. It seems when the other one is out of work, it can be very depressing and frustrating. I think that would be difficult.
EF - You bring up an interesting perspective. I'm sure the time commitment of the person working is enormous. In addition, one person is in the spotlight, and the spouse is not.
JP - The time commitment is big. We were in constant rehearsal while previewing. The weeks before that we were working 12-hour days doing technical rehearsal. The cast members that have children didn't see their families for four weeks. It's tough. Once you get beyond that and you are into a run, it is great to have your days free and do what you want to do' whether it be spending time with your child, playing, or auditioning.
EF - In most businesses, like your father's, people may criticize someone's work, but in the acting business, you open yourself wide to criticism. How do you deal with that?
JP - It is hard. I think you have to find a way to be able to step aside. Someone said this, and I can't remember who it was - If you can separate yourself from your work even a little bit, then you can prevent if from going to your heart. You have good and bad days. I have some great shows where everything is completely on and other days where it isn't so good. Part of my perspective comes from a healthy upbringing where I was made to feel that I was special and unique and don't need to be perfect all the time .
EF - That is a very good point about how you were raised and your upbringing.
JP - I think Brian d'Arcy James had said once before that he thought we had similar upbringings because he thinks we are very alike. I thought that was a great compliment because he's terrific. I'm sure he had a very healthy upbringing.
EF - Speaking of critics, word on the street was not good when Titanic opened. What is your view on critics?
JP - I didn't read a lot of the reviews at first because if you believe the good you have to believe the bad. We really believed in the show. We knew what changes had to happen, and it can take a while to reach the final result. We really believed in it and the heart of it. The show deals with people and the mass tragedy. You get to know people on all levels of the ship. I didn't much care what anyone said yet, so I didn't read them for a while because I didn't think it would be healthy for me. I was too close to it. I read them later in the summer. Some people just didn't get it.
EF - Who is Kate McGowen?
JP - She is very bright, intelligent, plucky, feisty, and a little hot headed. There is still an innocence about her even with all the feistiness. She is pregnant by a married man. There is an innocence in that.
EF - The pregnancy thing sort of surprised me.
JP -(grinning) I didn't even tell my mother that before she saw the show. She was a bit surprised.
EF - There certainly is a moral perspective to the character.
JP - She left her home in Ireland before starting to show. She was the oldest girl in the family and needed to send money to the family. I think her mother knew she was pregnant, but I don't know if she would have told her father because it would have been too shameful for the family. She got out, in part, to start a new life.
EF - Now, there is artistic license taken with the character, right?
JP - Yes. There was a woman named Katherine McGowen, as there was a Kate Mullens and Kate Murphy. Kate McGowen was actually a 36 year-old woman who had already been to the US and was traveling from Chicago to pick up an Annie McGowen, who was a teenager. Kate was from Ireland originally. She was to pick her up and bring her back to the U.S. to start a new life. I think my character is based more on Annie's age range. That is all we really know. Kate died but Annie McGowen lived. Jim Farrell died, too. The two other Kates lived.
EF - So there was no real relationship between Jim Farrell and Kate McGowen.
JP - No, that is made up. There was a Jim Farrell, who apparently was quite heroic getting people from the third class out below and to the lifeboats. We did research what it was like in Ireland at the time and why kids had to leave to get work. It was good to find out where the character was coming from, knowing what city life was like, what a dwelling might look like and what was expected from the men and women at the same time.
EF - So, you pored over all the Titanic books?
JP - Oh, yeah! We saw the videos, the A&E series, and all kinds of books. Books not just on Titanic but Ireland, the time period. I'm sure the Christmas before rehearsal every cast member got one Titanic book or another.
EF - Was the accent you use ever a problem?
JP - I had done an Irish play just prior called The Playboy of the Western World. It was a different regional accent, though. The girl who was our dialogue coach for that, a friend of mine, Fiona O'Donovan is from outside of Dublin and that is where I'm saying Kate McGowen is from. I pretty much took Fiona's accent as my own. I had her come over, and I would tape record her. I think I have an ear for that. She really helped me.
EF - How have you grown in the part?
JP - Well, you have to keep it fresh. It has been a year and a half already. I've never been in a show this long (laughing). You go through phases where you feel like you hit a wall and have to reinvent moments.
EF - How would you compare and contrast yourself to Kate McGowen?
JP - I'm a bit of a hotheaded Irish woman. I'm definitely quirky and can be feisty. I'm different in that she speaks before she really thinks things out, and she'll say it in a hotheaded moment. I'm more of a listener.