On Stage with Kathleen Stroup

Kathleen Stroup is in her 14th year on stage and is starting a second careet as she studies landscaping at Albany Tech. jim.hendricks@albanyheral.d

Kathleen Stroup is in her 14th year on stage and is starting a second careet as she studies landscaping at Albany Tech. jim.hendricks@albanyheral.d

— Kathleen Stroup has spent 14 years in front of the footlights at Theatre Albany. On Thursday, she and four other women will form an ensemble cast for “The Dixie Swim Club,” a two-act play that follows five teammates from a college swim team over a 33-year span.

Stroup, who served in the Marines three years, retired from her civilian job at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany last year, followed a few months later by her husband. Combined, they had put in 78 years of service.

And she’s never been busier.

She’s pursuing a second career as she studies landscaping at Albany Technical College. When she’s not in school, rehearsing or performing for Theatre Albany or watching her soon-to-be 5-year-old granddaughter, she’s out on the golf course with her husband.

We caught up with her Friday morning for a conversation about the play while she was baby-sitting her granddaughter.

AH: How many Theatre Albany plays have you been in over the years?

KS: I’ve lost track. I’ve been doing it for over 14 years. I’ve been in at least one every year, and one year I was in four out of the six. It depends on what’s going on.

AH: What about this one, “The Dixie Swim Club”?

KS: It’s a fun show. It’s the third one we’ve done from this group of writers. I was in both of those, too. It’s all about relationships. Five women, with very diverse backgrounds, meet in college and are on the swim team together, and then they maintain their relationship after they graduate. And they all go their separate ways and they have very different lives, but they all get together once a year to renew their friendships. I think everybody will know somebody just like somebody in this show.

AH: How has the cast come together? I recognized several of the faces up there, so I assume y’all have played off each other before.

KS: Two of the people are new — Flo Reneau, who plays Sheree, and Deborah Liss-Green, who plays Dinah. That doesn’t mean they’re new to acting, they’re just new to our stage. It’s always nice to expand our cast pool by having new people come in, and it adds a lot of diversity to the show. Each person brings her own take to the character. If someone else were playing my character, it would be different. This cast, Kelly Mullin has been in several shows and Francie’s (Michas) been in several, so it’s us three kind of old hands at Theatre Albany and then there’s the two new, and we’ve all meshed right together. One of the great things I think Mark Costello does is casting. At lot of times I’ll audition for a show and I’ll have a preconceived notion about a part I want to play and invariably ... I am wrong. He’ll cast me in a different role and, at first, I’m disappointed because I wanted the other one, but it works out for the best. The way he fits people into the various roles, to me that is the best thing he does among a lot of great things he does. This ensemble cast ... there’s no star; all five of us are equivalent stars. And we all fit the characters. We’re coming together perfectly on this. We’re five diverse people who have become friends.

AH: So, have y’all, as cast mates, planned your August trip to the beach yet?

KS: (Laughs) We’ve been thinking about it seriously! Somebody’s already got a place out on the Outer Banks. Somebody’s already got a place down in Florida. We’re already making plans about who brings what, and we’re not going to let Sheree bring any hors d’oeuvres.

AH: When you said you try out for one character and Mark puts you in another one, did that happen this time?

KS: I picked out two characters in this one — Dinah and Vernadette. I got to be Vernadette. I think this is the first time I’ve ever gotten the role I actually went to audition for. But like I said, it always works out great.

AH: Tell me a little bit about the story. This is five women who were teammates in college and developed some rapport. From what I understand, the play takes place over four weekends over 33 years.

KS: yes, the first weekend you see us we’re all 44, so we’ve been out of college for a long time. The next time we get together, we’re 49 and the next time we’re 54. And the next time we get together we’re 77 and we’re coming to the cottage for the last time because they’re getting ready to tear it down. You kind of get the drift of the lives of these five women as they progress through the four scenes in two acts. Everybody is ... I won’t say content with their lives. There is contention, it’s not always a smooth road, but they always pull each other through it. And you get the drift through the show that the weekends aren’t the only times they get together. They talk to each other on a regular basis. They get together for birthdays and other celebrations throughout the year. This is their girls out weekend.

AH: Kind of their bachelorette weekend.

KS: Oh, yeah.

AH: Is this the first time you’ve been in a cast where it was all women?

KS: No, I’ve was in “Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain” many, many years ago and that was also about five women — they were all bank tellers at a particular bank with five scenes. ... It was the same kind of ensemble cast where you’re following their lives. It’s a theme that constant through good theater and even good books. You care about the characters. You care about what happens to them. They’re believable. They’re not over the top. They’re characters that people can relate to and it reflects like in a microcosm.

AH: It’s a summer play about relationships on the beach ... how would this appeal to guys to go see it?

KS: Oh, you get the impression it’s like a girl flick, only on stage?

AH: I wasn’t trying to say it exactly that way, but yeah.

KS: But guys coming with their wives, they’ll get little tips. It’s like insight into how a woman’s mind works and what women say when the guys aren’t around.

AH: Well, we (men) can all use that, I think.

KS: So, it gives you a little insight about what women are really thinking about the men that they’re in a relationship with. And they’ll be able to recognize former girlfriends, a sister-in-law. ... In these five characters, they’ll find somebody where they knew somebody just like her.

AH: Your character, just from what I saw in the rehearsal, some unusual “props” (sling and neckbrace).

KS: I’m a hard-luck case. My truck’s falling apart, held together by duct tape and rope. My house, at various points, is crushed by a tree in a storm or hit by lightning. But she’s not brought down by this; she’s not depressed. That’s her life. That’s the way it’s been going since she was a kid, so she makes the best of it. One of the lines is: “A dark cloud has followed that girl since the day she was born.” In describing my character, and it’s true, every scene is another hard-luck story.

AH: So, how do you approach playing that character where it sounds like you maintain a ray of optimism amongst some really dark clouds?

KS: It’s like life is what you make it. You can be miserable, but why make things worse? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I think that’s what this character does and it’s how I feel myself. There are things that are going to happen to you anyway and you can’t do anything to prevent them, but it’s all in your attitude how you overcome them. Well, for Vernadette, my character, she overcomes them with humor. She turns everything into a big joke, though she is troubled by some of the things that have happened in her life. But she sees the humor and it’s a self-deprecating humor, “Yeah, just my luck.” I think how you approach life can have an impact on how happy and satisfied you are with your life. You see people and you think their life has got to be peachy-keen because they’ve got a good job, a good income, a good home, a good family ... they have the all-American dream. And yet, they’re miserable because they see the dark side of everything. And then you see somebody who doesn’t have much, who has health problems and other things going on in their lives, and they’re fun to be around.

AH: How much of Kathleen do you see in Vernadette as you’re presenting her on stage?

KS: Attitude. I see my attitude in confronting life. Fortunately, my life hasn’t been hit with as many lightning bolts as Vernadette’s (laughs). I have been very lucky in my life and I have a very good life. My approach to life is the same as Vernadette — make the best of any situation you have.

AH: You’re a golfer?

KS: My husband and I both golf. I shot the best round I’ve shot in my life a week ago Saturday. I shot a 90. I was thrilled. It was a really good day.

AH: How long have you been a golfer?

KS: I started in high school but then I quit when I joined the Marine Corps and didn’t have an opportunity to play. And then a young family and kids. But I started back again 20 years ago. My husband never played golf before and I tried to get him into it, but no, no. Hitting a ball with a stick and chasing it around the woods wasn’t his idea of a good time — until he went out with some male friends. They told him he had some natural ability. And he was hooked. We’ve been golfing since then. Our son started playing when he was 14, now he’s 32 and he beats us on a regular basis. Now, my granddaughter who I’m watching today turns five this summer and we’re going to get her her first golf clubs.

AH: Getting her a set of sticks.

KS: Getting her the sticks, getting her started out on the golf course. Golf courses are much more amenable to children playing than they used to be.

AH: It sounds like you haven’t really retired. It sounds like you’re busier now than when you were working.

KS: I am busy. I’m going to school now, which I wasn’t doing before because I was working. I do miss the people out there. I go to lunch occasionally with some of the women I worked with out there who’re still working. I thought I would miss the job, but I don’t. You know how sometimes life just feels right? ... Retiring just seemed to be the right time. It just fit. What we did was important. I liked my job and I enjoyed it up until the day I retired, but I don’t miss it, if you understand. What I did was important, but that was the time for it. Now is the time to do something else.

AH: What got you interested in landscaping?

KS: It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. I’ve always loved gardening. We built a new house out here in Leesburg six years ago. ... It didn’t come with landscaping. It was just naked. They brought sod in, but that was it. Before they brought it in, I went out and marked where I wanted them to put the sod. I designed my yard and it’s a work in progress. There’s still things I want to do. ... Then my mom moved here from North Carolina to be closer to family ... and bought a condo just inside Dougherty County. I designed her backyard for her and it turned out gorgeous. ... We turned it into a very European courtyard kind of garden, all paved with raised pots and stuff.

AH: With your stage experience and your landscaping ... maybe we’ll see you on HGTV.

KS: That would be great! (Laughing) Set the stage in your backyard!

AH: Well, there you go. “Staging Your Backyard,” there’s the title. Well, I know I’ve kept you on the phone for a while. Anything you’d like to mention?

KS: I jut would like to encourage all the readers to come to the show. If they’ve never been to a Theatre Albany production, they’re missing out on one of the treasures of Southwest Georgia. I like to say we have the best bunch of unpaid professionals that you will ever see. Everybody in the theater’s volunteers except Mark Costello and Stephen Felmet, the artistic director and technical director, respectively. The actors in the theater are great and the performances are fantastic. I can’t tell you the number of people who said they’d never come to a show before and they are absolutely enthralled. And this is a comedy, so this is a great introduction for people who have never been.

AH: Well, I appreciate it and given your character, I don’t know whether I ought to say this, but break a leg.

KS: (Laughs) Thank you!