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Knowing whose shoulders you stand on

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Anyone brave enough to get on a stage and portray a legendary entertainer knows the deal: go big or go home.

Kathryn Kates and Mary Bridget Davies will both take on icons for the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts.

The latter was nominated for a Tony Award for her Broadway role as Janis Joplin, one of the most widely known rock, soul and blues singers of the 1960s.

She will again pick up the mantle for her performance here.

Meanwhile, Kates, a veteran actress whose résumé includes roles on Seinfeld and Orange is the New Black, will transform into Maria Callas, one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century.

Lifestyle spoke with them both.

Q: What are the physical challenges of portraying a legendary icon?

Kathryn Kates: The physical challenges of portraying a legendary icon are rather enormous. As an actor, I am used to creating a character — how this character looks, feels, sounds, what sort of perfume she might wear. But, when faced with a real person, someone most of the world knows, I believe the challenge is to create someone very like the person we know; who speaks in a similar manner, who holds herself and presents herself in a similar way.

This is my first time playing an actual person and I have spent many hours listening to Callas, reading about her, trying to bring her to life within me.

Mary Bridget Davies: The physical challenges of playing Janis Joplin exist on an almost cellular level. She poured herself into each performance as if it were her last and I always embrace pushing myself past my personal comfort zone to get into that astral plane where she performed from. It is a thrill and it is exhausting, but so much fun and a way to process my own emotions through her music.

Q: Do you feel an obligation to protect or present a certain image?

KK: Yes, I feel a great responsibility to portray Callas as we all knew her, but my only obligation is to present truth. So, protecting an image? No, I do not feel that I must protect her image. I want to present her as a real human — flaws, faults and all.

MBD: I always say in order to play Janis Joplin, you can't live like Janis Joplin.

There was a time when I was younger on the road trying to keep up with the boys, so I have a place of true recall of being the only woman in a band, fronting the band and partying with them, etc, but I am here to continue her musical legacy and tell her story.

Many people think of Janis as this tableau of a biker chick, boot-stompin' loudmouth, but there was so much more to her so yes, I feel an obligation to protect her image!

Q: Why do you think the portrayal of such legendary artists is relevant today?

KK: There is a generation alive today that is less familiar with classical music, less familiar with opera stars. I'm not certain how relevant their knowing legendary artists might be to their lives today but Callas is an enormous part of our musical history.

Any serious student of history, art, theatre, music should know whose shoulders they stand upon.

MBD: If you notice on all of these musical reality shows, if any singer has a bit of grit or extra fire, a judge will say, “You have a Janis Joplin thing going there”.

She passed away in 1970. There haven't been many artists after her to capture her fire and we as a collective community all seem to still be searching for her in other artists.

It is an honour to play her and to be able to bring memories back for the crowd or to be the conduit for those who weren't able to catch Janis live before she passed away.

Remember, she was only famous for three years and was a young woman.

Everyone thought they would have a chance to see her eventually, but sadly, she was gone too soon. I strive to give people a glimmer of what they missed.

• Mary Bridget Davies: A Tribute to Janis Joplin runs February 8 and 9 at 7.30pm at Earl Cameron Theatre. Kathryn Kates as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's Master Class runs March 8 and 9 at 7.30pm at Earl Cameron Theatre. Tickets are available at

Facing the challenge: Kathryn Kates will perform as opera singer Maria Callas (Photograph submitted)
An obligation: Mary Bridget Davies

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Published December 17, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated December 17, 2018 at 1:53 pm)

Knowing whose shoulders you stand on

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