Spotlight on Karen Ziemba

by Nancy Rosati        

(part two)

NR:  You have so many credits, I donít even know where to begin ...

KZ:  (laughing) When I presented recently at the Lucille Lortel Awards last week, Sam Harris presented me and he said, ďSheís done ...Ē I didnít write it - somebody else wrote it. I listened to all these shows I had done and I thought, ďIt sounds like Iím seventy years old! Wow, Iíve been around a long time!Ē Itís funny because I realized that itís really kind of piling up - not in a bad way, but I thought, ďOh, Karen, you sound like youíve been around a LONG time.Ē

NR:  Aww, you just didnít have a lot of time in between jobs.

KZ:  Thatís probably it.

NR:  And how many people would kill for that opportunity?

KZ:  I know. Iím very fortunate.

NR:  Do any of them stand out in your mind, either as the most fun, or the worst experience?

KZ:  There are good things and bad things that you experience in every show. Sometimes itís other individuals, sometimes itís the work youíre doing - whether itís doing the choreography of somebody great, or singing the songs of somebody great. Of course in my experience, singing the songs of George and Ira Gershwin in Crazy For You was just an incredible thing to do every night. Dancing Bob Fosse in Chicago, or Gower Champion in 42nd Street - there are just different little jewels you get along the way. Sometimes you have negative things that happen to you, like someone you donít like playing opposite, or someone you feel doesnít like you - it happens. As my grandmother said, your Ensemble is very important and people you play opposite are very important. So, if you have anything to say about that up front ... (laughing) thatís why stars say, ďNo, Iím going to work with such-and-suchĒ or ďI wonít work with such-and-such.Ē I feel thatís the case with directors and choreographers too. Once they get enough of a say, they say, ďYou know what? Iíve heard this person isnít so great to work with. Iíd really rather try that person.Ē Keeping your nose clean is very important.


As far as what stands out, I really loved doing 110 in the Shade that I did at New York City Opera. What a great role that was. This character in Contact, the character of The Wife in ďDid You Move?Ē has turned out to be quite a tour de force for me, and I didnít realize it at the time, but I think the longer Iíve done it, the deeper she gets and the easier she is to flesh out. Sheís got so many different facets of her personality, and I think sheís a very sympathetic character too.

NR:  Yes, she is. Absolutely.

KZ:  (smiles) ... unbeknownst to me from the beginning. I read the script with these twelve or so lines and was given this classical music by Susan Stroman saying, ďWeíre going to dance to thisĒ and I thought, ďWhat are they thinking of? What is this going to be?Ē Itís what you make it.

NR:  What a challenge. I have to tell you that I was pleasantly surprised that itís as much of a story as it is.

KZ:  She said, ďThis is the story. Youíre going to do these steps, and then where you take it from there is from your soul and from your mind.Ē We were allowed to do that and thatís whatís so great about workshops. You get to experiment with things. If they start with a really good story ... itís got to be a good story, thatís the bottom line. Youíve got to care about these people.

NR:  Youíre telling so much of it with your face. I was really amazed when I saw it. My husband and I loved it.

KZ:  Good.

NR:  Were you nervous about doing something like this? You donít have any big songs. You have very few lines. Were you a bit skeptical in the beginning?

KZ:  Fortunately we had a chance to perform this in a workshop downstairs in the basement, in the rehearsal room. I invited people to come see it - people that were very close to me and who I knew would talk straight. Not that I didnít love what I was doing, and not that I would ever not trust Susan Stroman ... this is my sixth project with her. Anything she wants, I will try at least once. Not only do I respect her, but I just like to take those chances because she does, and why not jump in and try something? So I had these people come and they said, ďThis is really moving and we think you want to hold onto this because itís something that youíre obviously relating to and something is coming out of you that we are getting.Ē

42nd StreetAnd thatís the most important thing, that you can communicate what youíre doing and people not only get it, but they appreciate it and they think about something afterwards that maybe they hadnít thought about in awhile, or they are moved to laughter or tears. You just donít want them to be ďho-hum.Ē It was something very stark, and funny but tragic - it was all of those things. The push and pull of ďDid You Move?Ē in Contact, and the push of the entire show ... one minute youíre laughing and the next minute youíre clutching your breast because you canít believe something is happening. Thatís what makes good theater to me. Itís the emotions being tugged and pulled, tugged and pulled, and the surprise that you get from something youíre not expecting.

NR:  What struck me were the pregnant pauses in the show, where I donít think anyone breathed. There were a few moments like that.

KZ:  Yes, those ďpin-dropĒ moments.

NR:  You would hear everybody in the theater hold their breath and then let it out together.

KZ:  And in this theater, since we moved upstairs, there are how many more people in the Beaumont than there were down in the Mitzi? Even though the Mitzi Newhouse was very satisfying because it was so intimate that the audience was part of the scene, I was worried about moving to a larger space. I thought, ďOmigosh, is it going to read?Ē and itís worked out OK. And the response of course - when itís laughter, itís tenfold, and when itís silence, itís tenfold, so itís worked in a very positive way.

NR:  The response has been incredible. You canít get tickets, and who knows? Mondayís coming up and there could be Tony nominations. How does that feel?

ChicagoKZ:  Itís wonderful - the thought of being validated in some way that people really enjoy this and are embracing it. But Iím not surprised because I remember when I first sat down in the basement when I was still doing Chicago, and was invited to see the first half that they created of this show. It was ďContact,Ē the second act, and I was so moved by it. I thought, ďWow. This is really good stuff.Ē It was good theater and something I hadnít seen in awhile. The dancing was exemplary, so Iím not surprised.

NR:  In a few more days youíll all know. At least youíll know the first half - if there are nominations.

KZ:  On Monday morning we start rehearsals for a concert of South Pacific that weíre doing for Lincoln Center Theatre on the 22nd of May. Weíre doing it with George Hearn, Bill Murray, Brett Barrett, Pat Suzuki and Tony Roberts - itís going to be great! Just to hear that score again - I cannot wait. Weíre doing it with a full orchestra and Jerry Zaks is directing. Itís going to be a big group so Iíll have something else to think about besides that on Monday.

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