Kelli Karen is noshing on a bowl of fruit in Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre in between rehearsals for “The 39 Steps.”
It’s the show’s first day of rehearsals, which means Karen, FST’s production stage manager, is juggling a lot of new information at once.
It’s a familiar routine: Get acquainted with the actors, learn their dietary needs, their morning beverage requests, their props, their allergies, from which cities they hail, their theater credits …
The list goes on.
Yet Karen doesn’t appear to be harried — only hungry.
“I hope you don’t mind me eating my strawberries in front of you,” she says between bites. “It’s just that my lunch break was the only time I had.”
Karen is a busy woman.
After turning over the musical “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which opened at the theater Nov. 10, Karen immediately went into rehearsals for “The 39 Steps,” a Hitchcock-ian thriller with a four-person cast and 150 characters.
“It’s constant costume changes and a lot of props,” she says. “I’ve got seven people on crew and I’m charge of ’em all. Go me!”
A veteran FST staffer, Karen joined the theater 18 years ago after spotting a FST van at a gas station on Fruitville Road.
A New Jersey native and a trained dancer, Karen was new to Sarasota and looking for work. The van called to her like a giant want-ad on wheels.
She was hired to work in the theater’s education department, where she taught dance to children and ran a community outreach program — Poetry in Motion — which she still runs to this day at the Pines of Sarasota.
She choreographed children’s shows, went on the theater’s Write-A-Play tour and performed in a number of youth productions, including “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Charlotte’s Web.”
She transferred to production stage manager two seasons ago at the urging of Artistic Director Richard Hopkins, who saw management potential in the diligent multitasker.
“In education, Kelli earned the reputation as an ace,” Hopkins says. “She could do anything. She could make it happen, whatever it might be.”
Anyone who has ever seen Karen in action knows what Hopkins means by this. She bounds around the FST campus as if fueled by an infinite energy source. No one can ever guess her age. (Secret: Karen turns 50 on the Fourth of July.)
Her infinite energy source, says Karen, is working out and doing what she loves. As for her ace reputation, she says: “I pay attention to details. I’m a hard worker. I’m honest and people trust me.”
Her straightforward attitude has served her well in the capacity of stage manager. Other than an actor occasionally rolling in late for rehearsal, Karen sees little backstage drama.
“Even the actors who are supposed to be divas aren’t divas,” she says.
She combs her memory for a horror story: a temper tantrum, a mishap, something to upset her otherwise tightly run ship.
“I got one for you,” she exclaims. “During ‘Ruined,’ last year one of the soldiers slipped on a little bit of water on stage. He slid and hit his head on the bar and got a slight concussion.”
Guess who drove the actor to the hospital? Karen, of course. She even filed a report about it for Hopkins that night.
If You Go
“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” runs through Jan. 7, at FST’s Keating Theatre. For tickets, call 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at firstname.lastname@example.org