An original East coaster from Bethlehem, PA, Bobbi Kotula chose to come live in Seattle but took the hard way here. She married a man who wanted to live here, so she moved with him. She later let him go but couldn’t do the same to Seattle.
Two decades plus later, she has become a true Puget Sound theatre fan favorite in a slew of roles that have shone the spotlight on her hearty humor and soulful singing. At Village Theatre she has battled Little Girls as the overly intoxicated and under-romanced Miss Hannigan in Annie, played 75% of the female cast in No Way to Treat A Lady, Fanny’s doting Mama Rosie Brice in Funny Girl, an exquisitely etched turn as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and as everyone’s favorite pot of tea as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, among a slew of others. 5th Avenue audiences know her from Company and their last production of White Christmas.
This week she nervously, excitedly, and confidently jumps into the title role in the non-musical George Bernard Shaw classic Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Going inside the mind of Bobbi Kotula is a ride not to be missed!
David-Edward Hughes: Describe Mrs. Warren and how you are approaching her.
Bobbi Kotula: I always approach each of my characters with love. How is Kitty seeking love? What is her greatest hope? What is her greatest fear? She is a practical gal with street smarts and a deep love for her daughter, Vivie. The play takes place when Kitty finally can have what she desires most–the joy of sharing her life with her daughter.
DEH: You are no stranger to working with Victor Pappas. What is making this particular collaboration special?
BK: Yes, I had the great pleasure of working with Victor on two different concert readings for Showtunes! Victor is a director that casts well: he sees the heart of each character and can recognize it in his actors at auditions. Victor works with each actor differently and provides a safe and creative environment for each of us. He enjoys developing the play’s meaning WITH the actors and has an uncanny way of knowing how to help develop each actor’s ideas for their characters. He trusts and respects our instincts and intellect and loves a good discussion that leads to a fully realized performance.
I warned him that since he has only worked with me in concerts, where the script was in our hands and choreographed into the staging, I have an excruciatingly difficult time memorizing lines and prepared him for a “Bobbi *&!&# day” that will happen. It’s the time when I finally put down the script and rely on my muscle and brain memory–it’s a bit choppy but I get through it and work hard to get over that obstacle. My brain just works that way–there’s a hiccup somewhere in the cross-over from reading to memorizing. Shaw is so specific with his words that paraphrasing is not acceptable, so when I realize that I’ve forgotten an “and” or said “shall” instead of “should”, I stop myself and repeat the sentence with the correct lines. It’s got to be painful watching me go through it but Victor is so patient and has a deep confidence in his actors which only gives us more motivation to keep going.
DEH: Is there a musical role you have done you would like to revisit and if so why? And what is your big bucket list role?
BK: A musical role that I would like to revisit? Sure–Hildret Heinz from Iron Curtain comes to mind first, then there’s Miss Hannigan in Annie, Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, Doatsy Mae in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Mrs. Potts in Beauty & the Beast. Bucket list roles that I haven’t done yet? Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. (I’ve auditioned 3 times for her but haven’t landed it yet.) The title character in Drowsy Chaperone sounds interesting to me and I’m sure there are plenty more but I don’t get out much to see new theatre as I rarely take vacations or have the time to see it locally.
DEH: What would your perfect escape vacation be?
BK: A quiet woodsy cabin with all the comforts of home (electricity, heat, Wi-Fi, movies) with family and friends stopping by to eat all the food that I will cook. Cooking relaxes me and I love to eat. Plenty of music every night where friends play old favorites as well as new compositions. Lots of easy walks where dogs and cats join me for the pleasure of each other’s company. Of course an old movie house in a nearby small town will be showing great films just in case I want a little city life.
DEH: Mrs. Warren is a big change of pace. Is it making you hungry to do more “straight” theatre?
BK: I love telling important stories. If I find that audiences like me in straight theatre too, I’m happy to do so. It’s much easier on the vocal chords, that are for sure.
DEH: What song or lyric describes the essence of who you are?
BK: Jeezus, that one is hard. I am a lot of things. I think perhaps the best one may be from The Sound of Music:
Climb ev’ry mountain
Ford ev’ry stream
Follow ev’ry rainbow
Till you find your dream
A dream that will need
All the love you can give
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.
Seattle Shakespeare Company presents George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession directed by Victor Pappas, at the Center Theater in the Seattle Center Armory. It plays March 15-April 10, 2016 (Previews March 15-17, Opening Night Fri, March 18). Performance times: Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 PM with selected Saturdays at 2PM, selected Sundays at 2PM and 7:30PM, and a special intergenerational Wednesday matinee at 10:30 AM. Get more information or tickets here.