Karen Raehpour gets a rush when she’s on the stage, knowing that there are no “retakes” when performing theater. Below, Raepour talks about her time with Theatre Frisco, her upcoming performance and how she prepares for a show.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in New Jersey, although I must admit that both Chicago (where I attended Northwestern University’s theater program and worked professionally) and Los Angeles (where I continued theater, got married, and started a family) both feel more like home.
Do you have kids? How old are they?
I have two daughters. Katherine (13) and Rachel (10), both of whom are also actresses!
What made you decide to become an actress?
“Decide” sounds funny to my ears because there was no one moment of decision for me. It’s a passion that has been a part of me as long as I can remember…more of an identity than a career, per sé. I always did vocal solos in dance recitals and school programs, and then it switched to acting in high school. But I suppose that getting into and attending the New Jersey Governor’s School of the Arts summer program, and then Northwestern’s theater program (and musical theater certificate program), is where my passion turned professional.
Have you always stayed on that path or were there other careers before that?
There was no career before acting, but plenty during and after. The old adage that acting pays the bills for only a fraction of a percent of actors is, unfortunately, very true. Even as an Actor’s Equity Union actress at some of the largest theaters in Chicago, there was no guarantee that the next job would line right up where I needed it to. So as an actress, I was also a waitress, a corporate trainer, an art gallery sales coordinator, a fashion show producer, and a singer on a dinner cruise line. Later, after I had a family, I entered a more corporate arena and found sales and then sales management, and for the past 6 years I’ve found that being an entrepreneur is the best fit for me. My business partner, Rachael Kissel, and I, own RK Weddings & Events in downtown McKinney and plan and coordinate weddings and corporate meetings and events throughout the DFW area.
In your opinion, do you prefer plays to film or vice versa?
Theater, hands down! Both as a performer and audience member. When the audience’s reactions fuel an actor’s performance, that’s where the magic happens. There are no retakes, no do-overs, but the show must go on. How? It’s a mystery! It’s also a dwindling media. As a society, it’s our responsibility to support the arts and live theater, or it won’t be there later when we want it to be, and especially for the next generation.
I don’t think all Frisco residents realize what a wealth of great live theater there is right here in their own backyard! With a great costume budget, live band, talented cast, and the highly experienced direction of Neale Whitmore, A Little Night Music is sure to please! So the next time you think about going to the movies, do something meaningful for yourself and your community by buying a theater ticket instead. At the same price as a dine-in movie seat, A Little Night Music at Theater Frisco will be the best entertainment value in town this summer.
What is different about “A Little Night Music”?
You mean besides the fact that Stephen Sondheim is the most brilliant composer and lyricist of our time? It’s a lovely story! It’s about hoping, even when all seems lost. It’s funny, frisky, and heart-warming. It features “Send in The Clowns,” arguably the best song Sondheim ever wrote. It transcended Broadway and crossed over into pop culture, covered by both Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra. It’s rare when a love story speaks to every age group, like us wise, middle-aged people, for instance, looking back on our precious “almosts.” The musical score is fantastic, one of my favorites!
What part of the play appeals to you the most?
Well, I love my character, Desiree. Here’s a woman in the early 1900’s who is succeeding in a man’s world, as a single Mother, no less. This was a time when, for most women, marriage was the only means to achieve security, status, and respect. But Desiree carves out a career and holds out for love. She has her fun while doing it, too, which is empowering! The scene with the iconic “Send in the Clowns” appeals to me most as an actress. It’s not just another shiny musical theater song… but demands great acting, in my opinion. It’s wistful, heart-breaking, ironic. No jazz hands needed, just vulnerability, sensitivity, and truth.
Have you ever experienced stage fright? What do you do to combat it?
Oh, yes! Once in college I was playing Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons, and on opening night, as the curtain was drawn, something happened. I froze. I had the opening line, but couldn’t recall the words, nor did I feel I could move my lips if I had recalled them! My fellow actress somehow saved me…I believe she made up a line that got the scene on track and after that I was fine. That three seconds was an eternity.
As a cast, we catch one another, knowing we too will be caught, should we trip. It’s a dance, and a tennis match. A two-hour trust exercise, if you will. My point being, there’s not much to be nervous about when we realize we are not alone.
How to combat nerves? Trust your fellow actor, be trustworthy, know everyone’s lines (not just your own), stay in character, mind over matter.
What are some pre-play rituals you have to perform?
Oh, this is embarrassing. Here goes. I have to eat two hours out and then drink only water. I do a crazy sounding vocal warm-up in the privacy of my car on the way to the theater. I map out my restroom breaks during the show because I hate running into patrons there and ruining the illusion. Make-up and hair becomes a psychologically transformative ritual for me as I slowly “put on” my character’s face and become her. Ten minutes before curtain I avoid chit chat. I like to get in the zone and run any problem lines or areas right before the show.
Which play in your career have you had the most fun preparing for?
Rosalind in As You Like It at The Goodman Theater in Chicago. That show was really the pinnacle of my career in many ways. With 1,000 people in the audience 8 times a week, I had to be at my best. It’s the largest female role Shakespeare ever wrote, and a multi- layered one. In one scene, Rosalind is a woman, playing a man, playing a woman…which takes some concentration to play! But in working at such a prestigious theater, we also did outreach matiness for local students, and I still have the hundreds of letters I received from students who came to the show, tucked away in a shoe box in my closet. Precious keepsakes.
How many hours in a day go into preparing for such productions?
At Theatre Frisco, we’ll be rehearsing 3-4 hours per day 4-5 days per week. But during tech week (which stands for technical week), that number easily doubles! At some theaters rehearsals can take up to 32 hours per week (for most actors, that’s on top of a full time job!)
Roughly, how many productions have you been a part of?
Besides acting, what do you like to do in your free time?
I truly have no free time. I know people say that casually, but I really, really mean it. I’m a wife, homemaker, mother of two, business owner, and actress. In my “free time” I grocery shop and memorize my lines. Does that count? Being so busy is one of the reasons I took a 10+ year hiatus from theater. I thought adding my passion back to my life would be my undoing. In actuality, it has saved me. I’ve felt happier and more like myself in the last six months than I did the entire decade prior. At times, it’s exhausting, but I figure…I’ll have free time later when my kids go to college and my bucket list roles have all been crossed off.
What is your favorite restaurant in Frisco?
Probably Mash’d. My husband loves his moonshine!
Do you plan to widen your horizons in terms of acting in the future?
Well I’m very excited to be appearing in Macbeth at Shakespeare Dallas this fall and as a leading lady at another equity house come Spring (that I’m not at liberty to announce yet). And I’m interested in pursuing a local agent in the next couple of years.
BUT honestly, the best part about coming home to the theater after a long hiatus is the perspective I now have. I’m far more interested in practicing my art form and in challenging myself than in making money or furthering a career. The goal is enjoyment; to play great roles working with quality people at theatres I love, including high quality not-for-profit ones, like Theater Frisco.
All community theater is not created equal. Theater Frisco has been around since the 80’s. The special attention it has received from board members Howard Korn (President) and wife, Joyce Korn, and the work they’ve done with the community, is nothing short of astounding. They held tight with the organization when it had no stage home from 2007-2010, and fought for its current place at the Frisco Discovery Center black box. Director Neale Whitmore, is a pro with thirty plus years experience. We actors may get the applause come opening night, but it’s these unsung heroes, volunteering their time to keep not-for-profit theater organizations in our community not just alive, but high quality, that this article should be featuring. Want to help? There’s a bunch of ways to get involved. Visit theaterfrisco.com, memberships and supporters.