From her 4th grade debut as Titania to dreams of a more mature Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, actor JENNA BERK loves her life in the theatre. In this week’s Take Ten, she shares the joy of dual roles in the Brave Spirits’ intriguing repertory schedule of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and A King No King, playing through April 23.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
It’s probably not the first production I ever saw, but I’m going to go with The Silver Saucer and the Transparent Apple, which was a dance that my mom’s company (Liz Lerman Dance Exchange) performed. It was based off a Russian folktale filled with murder and miracles, and I was mesmerized. I told the entire story of the dance on a home video when I was three or four, which surprised my parents (they hadn’t realized I was paying any attention).
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
I played Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream put on by my fourth grade English teacher, Mrs. Rowland. We had vocabulary lists of new words every week and if we were really good, we could stay in at recess to decorate the classroom to look like a forest. It was amazing.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
Oh man, this is a hard one. At this moment in time, Noises Off. It’s so beautifully structured and screamingly funny.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
In between college graduation and drama school, I was a hostess at the (now-defunct) Ri-Ra in Clarendon. I liked the math of fitting different-sized groups of people evenly across the servers’ sections, but I hated the nights we had cover bands and I had to collect the cover charge. My ears would be ringing from the noise at the end of my shift and there’s only so many times you can hear “Sweet Caroline” before you lose your mind.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
I went onstage for my first scene without my slip. The dress I was wearing was very transparent, and I didn’t realize that I’d forgotten to wear the slip until after I came offstage and started my costume change. Apparently I cursed so loudly that a crew member had to tell me to pipe down.
6) What are you enjoying most about working on these rep shows with Brave Spirits?
The opportunity to play in a true repertory is so rare these days, and I value the opportunity. Everyone’s making strong choices no matter whether it’s their “main” part, and you really feel supported. The two plays complement and comment on each other in interesting ways as well.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Billy Collins. He’s my favorite living poet but I’d like to think I wouldn’t be so intimidated by his brilliance that I wouldn’t be able to keep up my end of the conversation.
8) What is your dream role/job?
Another impossible question! Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing would have to be at the top of my list. And Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. And so many more.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
This is the most difficult question of them all. It’s a tie between Peter Brooks’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the first performance of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. But there are so many more I could have chosen! What delicious torture.
10) What advice would you give to an 8-year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
To the 8 year-old - don’t stop taking those dance classes, you’ll regret it later. To the graduating MFA student - being a professional actor is hard, so only do it if you’re deriving more pleasure than pain. And save your receipts.
JENNA BERK is a DMV native who has been back in the District since 2011. She is an artistic associate at Brave Spirits Theatre Company and has been featured in their productions of Richard III, Two Noble Kinsmen, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Her local credits include Constellation Theatre Company: Avenue Q (Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Helen Production, Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Helen Musical Production), Urinetown (Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Helen Musical Production); Folger Theatre: Richard III; Taffety Punk: Titus Andronicus; WSC Avant Bard: A Midsummer Night's Dream; Pinky Swear Productions: The Last Burlesque; LiveArtDC: Drunkle Vanya; No Rules Theatre Company: Boeing Boeing; 1st Stage: Blithe Spirit. She has worked as a voice/dialect coach with Rorschach Theatre and Flying V Theatre. Jenna has a BA in Drama and English from the University of Virginia and a BA (Honours) from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Coming next: When We Were Young and Unafraid at Keegan Theater.