Jenna Kase: An actress/superhero you’ll want to knowJenna Kase is a superhero — for at least the next couple weekends, that is.
Jenna Kase is a superhero — for at least the next couple weekends, that is. The recent University of Minnesota Duluth graduate is taking on the lead role in “The Sparrow,” an original production from Chicago’s House Theatre that Renegade Theater Company (the newly reinvented Renegade Comedy Theatre) decided to tackle.
“I think that in every adult there is a child, and the cool thing about superheroes is the fact that they have all these abilities to do things that we, as humans, cannot,” Kase told the Budgeteer. “So how cool would it be to be able to look at something and have it come toward you? To be able to move things without touching them?
“I think the idea of [superheroes] never gets old, because you can do so many things with powers that we don’t have, and imagination is endless. I think that’s the draw for everyone. It’s a cool thing to see what happens.”
Kase was talking about the ageless appeal of people with uncanny abilities because her character in “The Sparrow” is one. The Windy City export, which was penned by Chris Matthews, Jake Minton and Nathan Allen, revolves around Emily Book, a small-town Illinois girl who can fly and move objects with the power of her mind.
“I’ve had a fun time experimenting with the superhero side of Emily, for sure,” Kase said. “We were doing these film shots for a commercial. My character, Emily, wears glasses during the show, and we had me in this cheerleader outfit at one point — good Lord — and someone was like, ‘Take off your glasses.’ I said, ‘Why?’ ‘Superheroes don’t wear glasses.’ [Laughs] It was a good point.”
But taking on the role of Emily Book isn’t Kase’s only duty in Renegade’s production of “The Sparrow”; she’s also the show’s choreographer.
“Stylistically, this show is very based on movement, so it’s been a really hard thing to do,” the Stevens Points, Wis., native said of her daunting juggling act. “When Katy [Helbacka, Renegade’s creative director] first approached me about doing some choreography, she told me that she didn’t think there was a lot I’d need to do — except for one dance and a couple of cheers — and I thought, Fine, I’m not in any of those, so I can separate myself from the scenes.
“Well, as we got more into it, and I started kind of seeing what she wanted, I said, ‘Katy, there’s a lot of stuff in here that you’re going to be need me to do.’”
In addition to a note-worthy number done to the tune of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” one particular headache for Kase was the show’s dodgeball scene.
“It’s a small theater, and it’s a small stage, so it becomes more of a dance — as opposed to a game,” she said. “So, instead of throwing balls, we have to create this illusion that the ball is being thrown and somebody’s getting hit without actually doing it — so we don’t risk hitting anybody in the audience. So that became one of my biggest chores.”
‘Gateway to the Pineries’
The most important thing you need to know about Kase is that she is the queen of modesty.
“My knowledge and my repertoire are pretty thin, but I have loved everything that I’ve done,” she said — despite the fact that she is one of the most buzzed-about talents in the Northland. “I started actually as a music major at UMD, and I ended up kind of experimenting with musical theater in college, so it was something I had never really intended to do. I had done musicals in high school, but I wasn’t anywhere near serious enough about it to make a career out of it. And I just started experimenting with musical theater, and kind of a lot of doors opened up for me in terms of my music career.
“I was like, Oh, I might actually be better at this than I am at classical singing.”
Kase’s knack for testing her own boundaries led her to a great many roles: Hope Cladwell in “Urinetown,” Meg Magrath in “Crimes of the Heart,” Cherie in “Bus Stop,” Matt Damon in “Matt & Ben,” a nurse in “A New Brain” and, her proudest accomplishment on the stage, Stella Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“To this day, I think that was the role that was my best performance — which is funny, because it was my first straight play,” said Kase, ever the team player. “We had a wonderful cast, and we had a guest director from New York who came out and worked with us.
“It kind of sealed the deal for me, for sure, that this is something that I really want to pursue.”
Though she decided acting was something she wanted to do before being handed her diploma, her time in Duluth was supposed to be temporary.
“When I was graduating from UMD, I said that I would stick around for a little bit, get myself out of debt [Laughs] and, meantime, just get some experience — because I didn’t have as much experience as some of my fellow classmates did,” Kase said. “That was kind of my initial plan, but, since this has happened, I have dived into this wonderful theater — Renegade Theater Company, we are a company. I found really great friends, really great relationships. I’ve gotten to have experiences that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere.”
Kase said that the additional stage time here has been beneficial.
“I think that staying in Duluth was definitely a good choice for me,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have been ready to go anywhere else.
“That aside, I’m comfortable here right now, and I’m satisfied, but hopefully in the future I will be able to expand outside of Duluth. I’m not saying that I don’t love Duluth or I don’t want to stay here, but it would be nice for me just to gain some experience in other cities.”
Kase, who wants to be an educator in the theater world, continued by saying that the experience she’s had with and prior to “The Sparrow” — which is being staged thanks to a Young Leaders Fund grant from the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation — will definitely make her more marketable, résumé-wise.
“I don’t consider myself a great trained dancer, nor do I consider myself a great trained choreographer, but I am getting the experience, and I think that’s the best way to learn,” said Kase, who will act in “Rent” at the Playhouse and choreograph “Tommy” for Renegade once “The Sparrow” wraps. “And I wouldn’t have this experience anywhere else. I mean, no one’s going to hire me as a choreographer [Laughs].
“But, now that I’ve had the experience, and I’ve gotten a lot better at it — you know, maybe this is an option for me in the future.”
NEWS TO USE
The Renegade Theater Company production of “The Sparrow” will be staged at 8 p.m. Feb. 4-6, 11-13, 18-20 at Teatro Zuccone, 222 E. Superior St. Cost is $15; call 336-1414 for tickets.
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