Jenny German sings, tap dances, juggles and, if the need should arise, could probably shoe a horse, she said. German, the assistant director of the ticket office at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, also is a founding member of the Champaign-Urbana Theater Company. She appeared in CUTC’s first production, “The Music Man,” and will be appearing as the Goddess Asaka in the group’s upcoming production of “Once on This Island.” German also appeared at the Starlight Dinner Theater in Champaign and the Station Theater in Urbana. Theater is a family tradition: German’s great-great-grandmother played piano during silent movies at the Virginia theater, and German’s two children, Paige, 13, and Nick, 12, have appeared in several productions with her.
Tell me about your background.
I was born and raised on a farm near Mahomet, the youngest of four children, and that definitely brought out the theatrical side of me. My siblings were all older, and when they left home there was nobody around to play with. My dad, who was a farrier, passed away in 1987, when I was a senior in high school.
My brother, Tim, was a kidney donor for our dad. I’ve lost two siblings – a sister to leukemia and a brother to lymphoma, so I’m a die-hard advocate of stem-cell donation. I was a donor for my brother, Chris, about 1 1/2 years ago before he died. Tim and his remaining kidney are healthy and live in Phoenix with his wife and three daughters. My mom was on MSNBC and CNN a few weeks ago when the apartment complex that she owns in Florida got hit by a tornado. She jokes that she’s more famous than I am now.
Tell me about your acting career.
My sister, Mindy Harrington, who died five years ago, got me into theater. I performed in school plays while growing up in Mahomet and got all the goofy character parts, such as Mama in ‘Bye-Bye Birdie.’
My first professional part was in ‘Wiley and the Hairy Man’ at the Station Theater. With CUTC, I had the female lead in ‘Crazy for You,’ and that was one of my favorite shows, because it was Gershwin and I had to learn to tap-dance – or at least fake it well. I was also the lead in ‘Peter Pan,’ which was lots of fun. Not very often do you get to sing and fly at the same time. Most recently, I portrayed Cherry Barnum in ‘Barnum.’
I absolutely adore singing, but apparently I do it too much, because when I sing around the house my kids just tell me to shut up.
What makes some roles your favorites?
Peter Pan was a challenge; it was difficult to act like a 13-year-old boy and move around and dance with a harness on. When I went outside after the performance there were all these kids who thought that I was really Peter Pan. That was quite a rush.
The tap-dancing in ‘Crazy for You’ was really hard. I lost a lot of weight rehearsing. Every spare minute we had, the choreographer and I were out in my garage dancing. ‘Barnum’ also was challenging because I had to learn to juggle for my death scene. This past summer, the understudy for the role of Nancy in ‘Oliver!’ dropped out, and I filled in with only three weeks to learn all the choreography, music and lines – with no time for a full rehearsal. During the performance where the understudies performed all the roles, I had my friend Heather, who had the role of Nancy, sit in the wings and give me stage directions before each scene. I lived every actor’s nightmare: no rehearsals, and not sure what I was doing on stage, but I made it.
When did you start working at Krannert?
Five years ago, Beth Dickson, who is now the director of the ticket office, was in ‘Crazy for You’ with me and encouraged me to apply. Several of us in the office are close friends and very active in the theater community. I’m proud to work in such an amazing environment with wonderful co-workers.
We have about a dozen students and five or six supervisors who work with us. People joke that we are the face of KCPA because patrons call us for all kinds of information besides ticket sales. KCPA is very patron-driven. Beth and I recently attended a ticketing conference in Houston, and listening to colleagues from other venues we realized how great KCPA treats its patrons. During the recent blizzard, I called patrons from my home to tell them a performance had been canceled.