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Jillian Kates

Idaho Shakespeare Festival's 'fair lady'


Jillian Kates is preparing to "dance all night;" then do it again and again. In fact, she'll dance her nights away all summer as Eliza Doolittle in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of My Fair Lady, running Friday, July 1 through Friday, Aug. 26.

The Oklahoma City native remembers how, as a young girl, she would leap on stage after watching a performance at the neighborhood theater.

"I'd run out on that stage as they were sweeping up and they couldn't get me to leave," she said.

Professional voice lessons followed, leading to countless high school and college productions and a bachelor of arts in music from Baldwin Wallace University. Today, Kates is a New York City-based actress with her sights set on Broadway. But this summer, she's ISF's "fair lady."

I'm not sure how you got this part, but my sense is that your performance as Lily in last summer's ISF production of The Secret Garden was as close to an audition as it gets. You knocked it out of the park, quite literally, with your high notes.

I feel as if many of my roles led me to this moment.

Roles such as...

Marian in The Music Man, Reno in Anything Goes and, of course, Glinda in Wicked [Kates was part of the national touring production of the Broadway blockbuster].

Eliza Doolittle may be one of the most recognizable parts in musical theater, yet she's still a bit of an enigma.

Eliza, [first created by George Bernard Shaw in Pygmalion] has to be one of the most complex, interesting, bawdy, bold human beings ever written. What do you think motivates her?

She's a common working girl and she sees socialites walk by every day. She peers through flower shop windows and dreams of being inside that shop someday.

Shaw saw Eliza as the definition of a working girl.

Yet she becomes the ultimate definition of glamour.

Have you deconstructed her relationship with Professor Higgins?

We're exploring Shaw's original intent: not a romantic notion, but rather a magnetic pull to one another. They both teach each other something invaluable.

I hope you can appreciate audiences desperately wanting My Fair Lady to be a love story.

It still is. A love of speech. A love of learning. A love for a fellow human being.

Talk to me about My Fair Lady's costumes. In most productions, the costumes are practically a character unto themselves.

Our costume designer, Charlotte Yetman, is a genius. The colors and fabric will definitely help tell the story. At first, I appear with a lot of bold colors but as I begin to be dressed by Professor Higgins, the colors begin to fade. By the time of the big ballroom scene, I'll be all in white. As Eliza finds her true self again, the colors being to reemerge.

I'm presuming young boys and girls approach you after a show and tell you they want your life.

I love kids and I love time to listen to them about their lives. I was on tour with Wicked and my last city was my hometown of Oklahoma City. There I was, walking through the same stage door where I had stood outside as a little girl. And then there they were, these beautiful kids. It was quite a moment.

What advice might you give your younger self?

Be fearless. Be prepared that not everyone may like you. It's a pretty hard lesson. By nature, we want everyone to love us—on stage and off. That can be a bit dangerous, but everyone's different. Believe it or not, not everyone is going to love mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Not love mint chocolate chip? How is that possible?

I know, right?