5 Questions with Kelly Sienkiewicz
Kelly Sienkiewicz is a major talent in the Capital Region. She is hard not to notice onstage with her fiery red hair, hysterical comic chops, and powerful belt. She is so much fun to watch, whether drunkenly cavorting in “The Wild Party,” rolling in the hay in “Young Frankenstein,” or owning the 11 o’clock number with “Get Out and Stay Out” in “9 to 5.” She has been happily working more and more in straight plays throughout the Capital Region, and we are all the better for it. This weekend she returns to musicals with a vengeance, opening the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” this Friday at Fort Salem Theatre.
PW: You are very adventurous in your choices, going from “The Revolutionists” at SCP to “Boeing-Boeing” at SLCA to “Pirates.” What do you get from working on these hugely different projects with these different companies?
KS: For a long time, I was put in “a box” and typecast in a very specific type of role. Because of that, I like to constantly challenge myself both with a variety of roles, genres, and overall experiences. For years, I thought of myself as a singer first and had only performed in musicals. My first non-musical was “Barefoot in the Park” with Home Made Theater in 2019. I loved how that production made me step out of my comfort zone, and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. I think it’s important to get comfortable with being uncomfortable; it’s how we can continue to grow, learn, and improve as performers. This also ties into why I always encourage fellow actors to work with various theaters and different directors/production teams. It not only helps you grow but also keeps you from getting stuck in a “Groundhog’s Day” situation, where you’re doing the same thing over and over again. Working with different directors/companies helps actors be seen as more than one “type” and also exposes us to different methods of teaching, directing, and the whole production process.
PW: “The Pirates of Penzance” seems to have very specific demands as a musical. Have you done Gilbert & Sullivan and what do you find to be the challenges and rewards that are unique to Gilbert & Sullivan?
KS: Fun Fact: “The Pirates of Penzance” was the first show I was ever in! I was in high school and almost played flute in the pit band; but my choir director asked me to be in the ensemble instead. That was when I discovered how much I absolutely loved being on stage. I always say that I feel Gilbert & Sullivan is its own genre. I think a lot of people automatically dismiss a show like “The Pirates of Penzance” because it’s an operetta. They assume because it’s sung-through that they’ll be bored to tears and hate every minute. What they don’t know is how much humor is hidden in G&S works. Our director (Kyle West) has made a point of really finding and highlighting the comedic moments in the show. He has said many times that above all else, this is a comedy. I think it’s rare to find a comedy like this with such a beautiful (and technically challenging) score. After doing two non-musicals this year, I was itching to get back into a musical and I knew this one was the perfect choice for me. A little tie-in to your first question, I also like to bounce between roles that stretch me vocally. This one really challenges the legit soprano chops, while other roles I choose are often of the “belting” variety. I find it’s a “use it or lose it” type of thing with your voice, so I like to keep both types “warm” and ready to work!
PW: What’s been your favorite moment in rehearsal?
KS: Honestly, anytime Kyle West comes up to me and starts with, “Sooooo, feel free to say no…” because he’s simply a JOY to work with. For the record, I said “yes” to whatever he was asking (assisting with a piece of choreography, being designated dance captain, understudying five roles, etc.). Kyle creates a very collaborative environment, which I find so important and refreshing. He also has the perfect balance of keeping rehearsals very focused, but also making them fun. That’s a tricky tightrope to walk, and he does it wonderfully.
PW: How are you filling your commute times to Fort Salem?
KS: I actually love driving, and the ride out to Fort Salem is BEAUTIFUL! I also just got a new car that’s super fun to drive, so that helps. I spend my commute, usually decompressing from work and going over harmonies or choreography. Obviously, the choreography is only being rehearsed in my head because… safety first.
PW: What is a play that changed your life, and how?
KS: I’ll get some groans for this one… but I have to say “Waitress.” HEAR ME OUT. I think it’s often dismissed as fluff, but Jessie Mueller’s performance as Jenna ignited something in me as an actor. I didn’t expect to be affected by a musical about pie; but there I was, ugly-crying in the second row for the entire last 30 minutes of the show. I’ve always been considered a “character actor” and didn’t know there was a role out there that would shake me to my core. I saw it in March of 2017, ten months after the passing of my mother. So, there was that connection to start; but the Jenna/Earl relationship dynamic struck a chord in me that stung. I realized immediately that I knew Earl, and I definitely knew Jenna. I WAS Jenna. I then realized that what I was watching play out on a stage right in front of me was a “what-if” scenario of my own life had I not gotten out of a very similar situation myself a few years prior. That realization is a hard pill to swallow on its own, let alone while sitting in a Broadway theater. My sobs continued as I walked out of the theater and out onto the NYC street. It was like I was walking out of a therapy session where I had finally processed that trauma and had a breakthrough… from a musical about pie. It was quite cathartic. So, when I say that’s my ultimate dream role, there is some reasoning behind it. Art matters.
“The Pirates of Penzance” runs 8/11–8/20 at Fort Salem Theatre. Tickets: www.fortsalem.com