Actor-director John Rensenhouse answers our first Stage questionnaire 

click to enlarge Rensenhouse (above, center) directs Alisha Espinosa and Joseph Fournier in Almost, Maine.

Photo by Brian Paulette

Rensenhouse (above, center) directs Alisha Espinosa and Joseph Fournier in Almost, Maine.

Credit the perfect home for getting John Rensenhouse back in our midst. The KC native's career has included national Broadway tours, getting killed on TV, meeting fans on the street. Part of the core company of Kansas City Actors Theatre, he has become a familiar local presence as both an actor and a director. While readying the play Almost, Maine at UMKC Theatre (running November 29–December 8), he answered The Pitch's questions by e-mail.

Name: John Rensenhouse

Theater occupation: Actor, director and now managing director of Kansas City Actors Theatre

What experience lit your theater spark, and how old were you?

In first grade, playing Frosty the Snowman in a school pageant, my Frosty pants fell down. The audience laughed and laughed. Afterward, my mom said I was the star of the show. I asked, "What's a star?" And I was hooked.

How and when did you make the leap and decide on a life in theater?

When I was a freshman at Grinnell College, I played on the golf team. Then I got cast in the spring play in the theater department, only to later discover that the dates of the play conflicted with the conference golf tournament. I quit the play. As a sophomore, the same thing happened: playing on the golf team and then getting cast in a play that conflicted. This time around, I quit the golf team. Big sea change there.

What has drawn you into directing?

The larger scope of creativity that must be used. A chance to envision the entire experience and then lead the collaboration required to produce it. Plus, as I get older, it's getting harder and harder to learn the lines as an actor. When you're the director, you don't have to learn the lines!

If you had a stage name, what would it be?

Rover Conway. First pet + mother's maiden name. Classic formula.

Where did you get your theater training?

I majored in theater at Grinnell College, then went on to get an MFA in acting from the Professional Theatre Training Program at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. This training program, one of the best in the country, is now located at the University of Delaware, where I go back occasionally to teach and perform.

What brought you to KC, and what has kept you here?

I turned 40 and felt an overriding urge to own a house. I'm a Taurus. I crave routine and stability, two things that don't often come included with the actor's life. I'd been living in New York City and Los Angeles, two places where I couldn't even come close to being able to afford buying a house. I'd been doing a few plays in St. Louis and I spent some time looking for a house there. Didn't find one. Then I came to KC one summer, in 1997, to perform at the Shakespeare Festival, drove down a street and saw the perfect house with a for-sale sign in the yard. Bought it. And said, "Guess I'm moving to Kansas City!"

I grew up here, out at Lake Quivira, so it feels like a natural place for me to be. I still have family here, and it is very important for me to stay with my father, who has been so good to me, until the end of his life. And I lucked into finding the most fantastic boyfriend ever. We've been together for 14 years, and he has a good job here.

What's one of your favorite roles?

Dracula. What's not to like? I got to play him twice, once here at the Kansas City Rep and then again at the St. Louis Rep. The other characters talk about you, build you up, and then you get to swoop in and be all sexy and stuff. Nice work if you can get it.

What's it like to be out there onstage, in front of an audience?

For the most part, terrifying. Especially when you can see the audience. Usually the lights are bright enough so you can't really see them, but when you can, oh lord, it scares the bejesus out of me. I've never really gotten over that. And that pisses me off. Because it is so much more fun when you can just forget about the people out there and fly with the words.

What's one of your favorite shows?

As You Like It is my favorite Shakespeare play. So glad I got to be in the excellent production of it last summer at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. Desdemona, a Play About a Handkerchief is my favorite thing I've directed. I rearranged it a bit and added lots of music and movement stuff. But Noises Off is hands-down my favorite show. I did the Broadway national tour of it back in the day, 1984–85, and then directed it here at UMKC in 2007. Funniest damn thing ever. And I love it that the movie version bombed. That play is a real testament to the wonders and beauty of live performance.

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