Meet Our Partners in Crime: Marji & Kristen Jepperson
March 5, 2014
Our winter production of The Secret Case of Sherlock Holmes is off to a great start! Encore Stage & Studio had a fantastic opening weekend with over 1,000 patrons who came to see this fun and comical mystery show, starring the famous partners in crime, Dr. Watson and Detective Sherlock Holmes. Watson and Holmes are one great team, but we have a stellar pair and our own partners in crime behind the scenes we’d love for you to meet: Director Marji Jepperson and Technical Director Kristen Jepperson (or as we’d like to call, the mother-daughter dream team!).
Marji Jepperson, Director for the show and Props and Set Dressing Designer for our season, has been active in theater all of her life. Marji has worked in theater in both the DC area and in California as an actor, choreographer and director. As an actor, her favorite roles include: Aunt Eller in Oklahoma (Act III), Touchstone in As You Like It (Act III), Kate Keller in All My Sons (Great Falls Players), Aunt Martha in Arsenic and Old Lace, and Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady with various companies.
Kristen Jepperson, our Set Designer/Builder and Technical Director, is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, with a BFA in Harp Performance. Since graduation she has toured nationally as a member of the New Christy Minstrels and with Ragtime, the Musical (Emma Goldman). Theatrical credits include: Daisy, The Adding Machine, Studio Theater; Reno, Anything Goes, Olney Theater; Agnes Gooch, Mame, Tobys of Columbia; Reverand Mother Mary Regina, Nunsense, Tobys Baltimore. Costuming credits include: Rapunzel, Miss Electricity, the 25th Spelling Bee at the Workhouse Theater; Pirates of Penzance, Legally Blonde, Encore Stage.
Encore: Marji, can you describe the rehearsal process, what our cast go through during rehearsal and what’s different during tech week?
Marji: After auditions which, of course, got delayed a week thanks to Old Man Winter, we spent the first rehearsal reading the show aloud. We do it Round Robin style, sitting in a circle, with each actor reading just the next line. We cast the show so that the kids could start looking at the script, and thinking about their character. During the break I asked them to to write a biography about their character. It was easier for the actors who only had one character, but I asked the patients to write about their real character, and what caused them to turn into their “grandiose delusion.” There is nothing in the script about this so it was pure imagination. And they did a terrific job! Then we started to block the play, one scene at a time. I asked them to memorize each scene after it is blocked so that we can work on more extensive blocking and character development, and work on relationships with the other characters. During rehearsals we also do improv scenes and games which are not only fun, but help develop acting skills and relationships with the other actors.
During tech week we have speed runs of lines, especially any spots that were troublesome, go over notes from the previous rehearsals. We got to do an entire run of the show on Monday night, first week of tech, which is unheard of usually (thanks awesome tech crew!) These first rehearsals are mostly for spacing since we have been rehearsing in much smaller classrooms. Then each night we add a new element – props, costumes, sound, lights, and make-up.
Kristen: This one was so much easier than the last show (Little Mermaid Jr. with about a gazillion sets and scene changes!). Basically we spent time putting the set together then figuring out the timing on who would change what during the scene changes. Unfortunately, a lot of tech week ends up being a “hurry up and wait” kind of situation because there are so many aspects of the tech that don’t involve all of the people (lighting prep and design, arranging for sound, etc.) Even now that the show has opened, we still do a “dry tech” before each show, which is basically to do all the technical aspects of the show without the actors, just to refresh.
Encore: Marji: The show is about “the world’s greatest detective”, Sherlock Holmes. What do you think makes a mystery come to life and what do you enjoy about mystery theatre?
Marji: I love mysteries, they are my recreational reading. The puzzles are intriguing. Our play has several red herrings, which makes it that much more fun. Sunday, some people from the Sherlock Holmes society came to see the show. They really liked it, even though they were adults, they were well versed in Sherlockian lore.
Kristen: I knew that we would have a lot less stuff to build in this set, so it was fun to get to do a bunch of detail on this set that isn’t always possible. I consulted with my mom, who had very definite opinions about what she would like the set to look like, and took it from there. I was very proud of all the kids who helped me to build the set. The walls look like they have wallpaper, but each of those designs was actually stenciled in by hand by one of the kids! She has so much more patience than I do, and the time machine was built from many pieces of random stuff lying around including a day bed we got free from CraigsList. 🙂
Encore: As a mother-daughter team of Director and Technical Director, how do you like working together for this production? What have you learned from each other and do you have any favorite moments you’d like to share?
Marji: We love working together. It was fun to help develop the set as it went along, and having a good grasp on what it was going to be, and the floor plan. This script calls for the Time Machine to be off-stage, but neither of us wanted that. It’s the coolest thing, why wouldn’t we want to see it? We enjoy working together in the shop, which we basically do for all the shows. Sometimes it’s the only time we see each other during the week. It’s good to meld our ideas. I mostly only get to paint the boring stuff, and I’m not allowed to use power tools. She does a lot of the prep work at home, before we have shop hours (actually our house was full of blue tinsel for the longest time, for Little Mermaid‘s water curtain, and now we already have the chandelier for the upcoming show, The 12 Dancing Princesses). We are both creative people, but she thinks so entirely differently from me that I am just amazed.
Kristen: My mom is great to work with. She is communicative, has ideas, but is very willing to be flexible and collaborative. Some people might have trouble working with their mom because some moms like to keep themselves in the “I’m in charge” roll. But my mom and I have been able to work on a more equal footing, each respecting the other’s input.
About two or three years ago, I saw my mom making a prop for something. It was very intricate and involved and I asked her why she spent so much time and effort on something that the audience really wouldn’t see from a distance. She replied that she was doing it for the actors. That having props that were special lent a lot to what they did in the play. I’ve carried that with me ever since, and even though I know that the audience won’t be aware of some of the smaller things I’ve done with the set, I know that it will help the actors in the building of their characters. I’ve learned a bunch from my mum. 🙂
Encore: You both make working as a team come naturally, which isn’t always the case for family members. Can you share with us your secret tips to working alongside your mother/daughter?
Marji: I don’t really have any tips, I’m afraid, it’s just always been that way. Of course we have differences of opinion, but if they’re technical she always wins!
Kristen: I think the thing that makes it easiest is that we both like and respect each others abilities. We have slightly different perspectives, so it is great to bounce ideas off of her. One of our favorite things to do (unrelated to theater, but indicative of how we work together) is pass a crossword puzzle back and forth, because with our different strengths we make a great team and that Sunday Post puzzle is toast!
Encore: What do you enjoy most about working for a theatre by kids, for kids?
Marji: I enjoy working with kids because it is so incredibly rewarding. They get excited about every aspect of theatre, unlike many adults. I love, most of all, watching them evolve from children into actors with a professional attitude and performance.
Kristen: They are there because they want to be. I’ve been doing a lot of professional theater over the years, and it can get to the point where you treat it like a job. It is so nice to see so many young people who are just so excited to be a part of the theater.
Encore: Using just three words or phrases, what can our audiences look forward to when they come to the show?
Marji: That’s a hard one. I’d say ‘Sit back. Relax, and I know you’ll enjoy the show!’
Kristen: Intrigue, great characters and a Time Machine!
The Secret Case of Sherlock Holmes runs through March 9. Tickets are available online or call (703) 548-1154. Be sure to check out the trailer and enjoy the show!