Sense and Sensibility / The Lion in Winter

Kerry SkramIt’s Valentines week, so I get to talk about a theatre person with a tremendous heart. Kerry Stram is an activist, a mother, and, above all, passionate about theatre. And she shows that passion with two projects both opening next Friday. As an author, she adapted Sense and Sensibility as a play, being presented up in Ames for ISU Theatre. And as an actor, she’s starring in The Lion in Winter at the Kum & Go Theatre for Iowa Stage.

A Sense of Self

“I’ve always been a theatre person,” says Skram. “I have a vivid memory of being at the Des Moines Playhouse as a young child, 8 or 9 years old, and watching Oliver. Suddenly there was this loud gunshot and I jumped; I then realized I’d been sitting on the edge of my seat, completely taken by the story. I’ll never forget that.”

Kerry S&S RTIThere are a great many reasons to become involved in the theatre world, as Skram demonstrates. “It is just my passion. There are so many elements. First of all, telling a story and feeling the energy of the audience as they get pulled in, allowing them to escape along with you for a couple of hours. Being an actor onstage involves a lot of risk and it can be scary, but losing yourself in the character and hitting those honest moments, there’s nothing like it. And playing those honest moments off another actor, it’s incredibly fulfilling.”

A graduate of Iowa State, she moved to the east coast working at a Harvard University library by day, and theatre projects in the evenings. She later moved to New York City and received an AA degree in acting from the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She found her way to Minneapolis for a bit, and then finally back home here to Des Moines. Along the way, she built a family, and a tremendous body of theatre work with the Repertory Theatre of Iowa (the group which eventually evolved into Iowa Stage).

A Sense of Sensibility

Kerry S&S RTI2The works of author Jane Austen have always been favorites of Skram, and she’d always wanted to perform them onstage. “My first couple of years at RTI, I kept suggesting we look into producing this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that I had seen in 2003 at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. A few people were intrigued by the idea, but no one was really excited about it. Finally one day, fellow company member James Serpento called me and said ‘Why don’t you write an adaptation?’ James and I talked a bit and decided that Sense and Sensibility would be a better fit for our company and I got down to work.”

“James guided me along, especially in the first few weeks, but once I found my voice and style for the piece, it really came quickly. And there was never a question that I wanted to play Elinor! What was especially lovely was that while writing it, I also had a company of actors and had specific people in mind for the roles as I wrote them. That was a lot of fun!”

S&S ISUIowa State University has a thriving theatre department run by Brad Dell, a dear friend of Skram’s and also an Iowa Stage company member. And beginning next week, ISU Theatre will present Skram’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. The show looks wonderful already, but there’s only one drawback: Skram won’t be able to see any of the performances, because she’s rather busy playing a different Eleanor. Concurrent with Sense and Sensibility, Iowa Stage in Des Moines is presenting The Lion in Winter, with Skram in a leading role!

A Sense of Winter

Kerry Lion in WinterIn The Lion in Winter, Skram plays Eleanor of Aquitaine, reigning over a scheming brood and royal intrigue. Although the story is fictionalized, The Lion in Winter is based upon real people in the time of the Crusades and upheaval among the English and French monarchy. Despite having to miss her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, Skram has dug into the part of Eleanor of Aquitaine with relish, as strong female parts are important to her.

“I think the biggest surprise for me is that as a woman, she had so much power in that time. First of all, she kept the Aquitaine after she annulled her marriage to King Louis to marry Henry II. She participated in the Crusades. Did she try to kill Henry? Did she poison his mistress, Rosamund? It was a hard and fierce time, and Eleanor held her own.”

Skram has learned to hold her own very well. In the past year or so she’s created a one-act in response to the #MeToo movement, and performed it at a gathering that included a panel discussion of the issues involved. “The #MeToo movement hit me hard. Like most women, I’ve experienced sexual harassment and discrimination. I’m still stunned when it happens and, unfortunately, I still didn’t say anything in the moment because I’m so stunned. Writing the one-act and having that incredible panel of women allowed us as a community to talk about it. It was therapeutic.”

Kerry MeTooShe later performed a one-woman show called Natural Shocks, about the hazards of gun violence in our society. “I haven’t experienced that, thank God, but it scares the hell out of me and it’s an epidemic in this country. I’m raising two teenage boys and, first of all, they know that women are their equals and that all people deserve kindness and respect (‘kindness and respect’ is a phrase that is often repeated in our house).”

“Secondly, I don’t want them to look back someday and think their mom stood idly by while crazy things were happening and people were being abused. I’m an actor and a writer, and this is the way I can be active in our community and hopefully help people. It’s very important to me that they see that. We all have a way we can help.”

Sense and Sensibility and The Lion in Winter both open on Friday, February 22 and run for two weekends. Tickets for Sense and Sensibility are available from the Iowa State Center Ticket Office, any Ticketmaster, or at the Fisher Theatre box office before performances. The Lion in Winter tickets are available through the Iowa Stage website, and also at the door (but they have sold out before, so it might be better to get tickets early).

ISU Theatre Iowa Stage Kerry Skram James Serpento