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Lisa Kuchinski

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Lisa Kuchinski is a local actor who performs at a variety of Southwest Florida venues, including Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, Cultural Park Theater (where she is also Director of Fundraising), TheatreZone and Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance. She also hones her skills as a cast member on the Murder Mystery Dinner Train.

Some of her most memorable local roles include Sister Mary Theresa in Sister Act (for which she received a Cultural Park Theater Marquee Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play or Musical), Harriet in Wonderful Life (at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre), Gilmer in Godspell (for Herb Strauss Theatre), Sandra in Godspell (for Theatre Zone/FGCU), Roz in Moon over Buffalo, Liat in South Pacific, and Helene in Sweet Charity at Cultural Park. She also appeared recently in Repossessed at Theatre Conspiracy.

A singer and dancer, Lisa has also performed in Chicago, Peter Pan and Jersey Girls.

We have Florida SouthWestern State College Theatre Professor Stuart Brown to thank for getting Lisa started in theater.

“I didn’t act in middle or high school, and I went to work in the construction industry when I was 21. But [eight] years ago, I went back to school at Edison [now Florida SouthWestern State College] to get my AA [Associate of Arts] degree. One day, I saw a poster for a theatre class. It sounded interesting, so I enrolled.”

But Lisa dropped the class a short time later. By chance, she bumped into Stuart Brown a handful of days later. He asked why she’d dropped his class.

“The course required each student to audition for the play. I’d never auditioned for anything and had no idea how to go about doing an audition, so I figured I was in over my head.”

But Brown wouldn’t be fobbed off that easily, telling her that he already had a part in mind for her. It turned out to be a supporting role, and that’s all it took.

She’s been consumed by everything theater ever since.

October 22, 2018.

 

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For Lisa Kuckinski, role of understudy pays huge dividends (11-27-16)

On stage now at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre are two Christmas musicals. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is on the main stage and Another Night Before Christmas is being presented in the cozy off-Broadway theater. Both shows include understudies in their casts, but Lisa Kuchinski’s role as understudy to Melissa Whitworth in Another Night Before Christmas is especially demanding. And in all likelihood, she’ll never perform before a live audience!

In White Christmas, cast members in the ensemble or playing supporting parts serve as understudies for the lisa-kuchinski-dmajor characters – Bob Wallace, Phil Davis, Betty and Judy Haynes, General Waverly and even the Oxydol girls, Rita and Rhoda. While they rehearse and prepare to step into these bigger, more important roles, they experience the thrill and professional pride of being in front of the audience, sharing the applause and taking that final bow every single matinee, twilight and evening performance. And should they be called upon to step in, the line load, blocking, song and dance routines and cues are manageable because the cast is so large and no one, not even the four leading actors, is on stage throughout the entire performance.

Now contrast that with Another Night Before Christmas, which is a two-lisa-kuchinski-ehour musical in which there are just two performers. The show’s star, Melissa Whitworth, is on stage throughout the entire performance, has in excess of 500 lines of dialogue of her own, and must know all of her co-star’s lines as well.

“This is the first time Off-Broadway Palm has ever had an understudy, but because of Melissa’s staggering line load, all of her song-and-dance numbers, and the verbal, lighting and other cues she has to give and respond to, it would be virtually impossible for someone to come in cold, learn the script and blocking, and be ready to go in a day or two,” Lisa calmly explains. [Blocking is a term that refers to where the actors should move and position themselves for dramatic effect, to ensure lisa-kuchinski-jproper sight lines for the audience, and maximize the lighting that’s been designed for each scene. The positioning of the actors in one scene frequently affects the possibilities for subsequent scenes, so getting the blocking right is critical to the success of the entire performance for every actor who takes the stage.]

While Whitworth is young, energetic and the epitome of good health, it is flu season and anyone can turn an ankle, suffer an accident or be required to spend time in the local emergency room. “That’s lisa-kuchinski-kwhy I’m here,” Lisa adds with equanimity. After fourteen years managing a successful drywall and restoration business based in Cape Coral, Lisa is not easily rattled, although she does cop to a flutter of opening night jitters in connection with past performances. “But they dissipate as soon as the lights come up and the adrenaline kicks in. While I’d prefer to get more than just an hour’s notice, I’m ready either way. I’ll be fine.”

Lisa’s preparation for Another Night Before Christmas began when she received the script a lisa-kuchinski-lweek or two before the start of rehearsals. At the time, she was still performing at Theatre Conspiracy in The Taming. “That’s a three-actor play and I had about 500 lines of dialogue,” Lisa reflects. “I thought at the time that I’d never be in a production where I had even more lines to learn, and then the script for Another Night arrived.”

She followed on book (that is, with the script in hand) during rehearsals in case Melissa or Paul needed a line or tripped up on the lyrics of one of their songs. “So I’m saying the lines and singing pat-03along in my head or under my breath, making sure not to disrupt,” Lisa expounds. “I watched rehearsal every day, memorizing the blocking just by watching.” But she rarely had the opportunity to actually run lines with Paul Glodfelter or be on stage.

When an understudy isn’t playing another part in the show, she’s normally only required to attend a tame-this-04couple of performances each week once the show opens. “But I’m here every night because I’m also doing the curtain speech, I’m the reindeer and I jingle my harness and throw snowballs at Santa [which she does off-stage], and I handle the big set change that takes place during the intermission,” says Lisa, who has turned into an ersatz stage manager over the course of the production.

If it sounds like a lot of work with no prospect of actually performing on stage before a live audience, it is! So why does Kuchinski do it? “I got started later in life than most actors,” she concedes. “I didn’t act in middle or high school, and I went to work tame-this-21in the construction industry when I was 21. But six years ago, I went back to school at Edison [now Florida SouthWestern State College] to get my AA [Associate of Arts] degree. One day, I saw a poster for a theatre class. It sounded interesting, so I enrolled.”

But Lisa dropped the class a short time later. By chance, she bumped into theatre instructor and director Stuart Brown a handful of days later. He asked why she’d dropped his class. “The course required each student to audition for the play,” Lisa offers, sounding a bit exasperated even now. “I’d never auditioned for anything and had no idea how to go about untamed-03doing an audition, so I figured I was in over my head.” But Brown wouldn’t be fobbed off that easily, telling her that he already had a part in mind for her. It turned out to be a supporting role, and that’s all it took. She’s been consumed by everything theater ever since.

But because she found her second passion later than most other thespians, Kuchinski feeds an insatiable appetite for making up for lost time. “Melissa [Whitworth] and Paul [Glodfelter] have done a lot of shows,” Lisa effuses. “They’ve been constitutional-convention-03leads in shows. They’ve received nominations and awards. They’re talented and they’re amazing. I’m learning just by observing them. Watching them and watching the director [Paul Bernier] work with them is helping me grow as an actress and a performer in all kinds of ways.”

But it’s not just the opportunity to observe two true professionals in action. While actors typically inject something of their own into the characters they portray, Lisa’s goal as understudy is to emulate Melissa Whitworth, to be true to what she constitutional-convention-09has created in the role so that she does not disturb the rhythm, chemistry, patterns and rapport that Melissa and Paul have developed during rehearsal and their live performances should she be called upon to suddenly take on the part.

It’s a nuanced imitative process, with the objective being to preserve the director’s vision and ensure that the same play is performed each Off-Broadway Palm audience who comes to see the show. As a result, what Kuchinski does as Melissa Whitworth’s understudy goes well beyond stiff, stilted, woefully inauthentic mimicry. Handled with constitutional-convention-11careful thought and analysis, it’s a process that will subtly influence the way Lisa hereafter approaches, learns and performs the parts she wins in future productions.

And that’s the primary reason an actor such as Lisa is willing to put in all the time, energy and effort to learn a role she may never perform. It pays dividends in the form of assisting her to strengthen her talent, practice memorizing skills and increase the range of roles she can successfully take on. “Plus, there’s an introspective, deeply reflective aspect involved in acting. Theater causes you to learn more about yourself and how to communicate better.” a-new-administration-02These are, of course, traits that serve her well in all of her subsequent endeavors and pursuits.

But there are a number of benefits ancillary to learning through observing and being around professionals of the caliber of Whitworth, Glodfelter and Paul Bernier.

“Hopefully my time here as an understudy will lead to my own roles in the future,” Kuchinski acknowledges. “During rehearsals, there are lisa-kuchinski-hvoiceovers and other characters I got to read for. And being in the director’s presence, getting to know the people here at Broadway Palm, and giving them the opportunity to see that I am dependable and professional may leads to opportunities in the future.”

It’s tantamount to an ongoing audition.

“I’m working my way up, so to speak,” Lisa laughs good-naturedly.

With theater economics being what they are these days, lisa-kuchinski-nactors are often asked to function in several different capacities. This has certainly been the case for Kuchinski, who became so indispensable to Paul Bernier over time that he began referring to her as the “assistant to the director.” Lisa was flattered, but not because the compliment was a boost to her ego. “One day I’d also like to direct and produce,” says Lisa. “I’m literally working my way from the bottom up.”

The business side of theater appeals to Kuchinski, as well.

lisa-kuchinski-oBut while Lisa sees directing, producing and ultimately theatre ownership and management on her horizon, she’s in no hurry to attain these lofty goals right away. For now, she’s consumed with learning as much as she can about as many aspects of her craft as possible. She is just six months away from earning a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Florida Gulf Coast University. And she spends all of her free time immersing herself in various phases of local theater production.

Besides being an understudy at Off-Broadway Palm, she lisa-kuchinski-fhas functioned as an understudy on the Murder Mystery Train for more than three years. She’ll be in Amadeus at TheatreZone in January and also ushers at Barbara Mann and for the Naples Players. “I’ve performed with the Charlotte Players, at Cultural Park in the Cape and, of course, Theatre Conspiracy,” Lisa amplifies. “I travel to all the local theaters, putting in time and energy, making friends, and helping out on or backstage. I also attend events and fundraisers.” All of this activity not only places and keeps her in the company of patrons, benefactors, professionals and theater-goers, it gives her a perspective informed by comparative analysis because she’s able to see the different methods employed by area venues in selecting their shows, approaching their productions, hiring employees, and figuring out who their audience consists of and what they prefer to see.

“I’m drinking it all in and learning as much as I can.”

While she can hardly wait for the day she can both direct and perform like Paul Bernier, for the next 29 days it’s all about keeping herself ready to go on at a moment’s notice while handling the curtain speech, set change at intermission and playing the reindeer from off stage. After all, to be an understudy is a noble pursuit, requiring great craft, commitment and a steady hand. And without understudies like Kuchinski, cancellations would become inevitable and the attendant unpredictability would seriously undermine community theater’s integrity and appeal.

 

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