Ocean State Theatre Company producer wears acting hat for 'Lombardi'

Ocean State Theatre Company producer wears acting hat for 'Lombardi'

Joel Kipper

It's been about three years since Joel Kipper, the managing producer at the Ocean State Theatre Company, has been on stage. That show was "The Full Monty," the musical about a group of unemployed steelworkers who put together an all-nude male dance revue.

"This time, I can keep my clothes on," said Kipper.

We took some time to chat recently at the theater's rehearsal space as Kipper and his partner, producing artistic director Amiee Turner, prepared for the next show of their season, "Lombardi."

It's a story about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi - the guy after whom the Super Bowl trophy is named. "It's all pretty tightly wound in one week," says Turner, who's directing the show. It takes place in 1965, when Lombardi was in the prime of his career. "It starts after a Sunday win, and goes to the next Sunday." A reporter has full access to Lombardi for that week, to do a character study to determine why Lombardi wins so much.

Kipper plays the reporter, Mike McCormick. "Mike really is the through-line," says Turner. "We see Lombardi through his perspective."

Kipper wasn't planning to audition. "Amiee mentioned the role to me," he says, and he did read the part at the auditions to help the other actors with their own lines. He was interested in the role, but "with my producing duties, I thought it would be too much."

But when it came time to cast the roles, Turner picked Kipper for the role of the reporter. "This is not a vanity casting. We think it's the right choice," says Turner. "One of the assets this theater company has is a managing producer who's a really good actor. We would do the company a disservice by not taking advantage of that."

So now, Kipper's producing partner is Kipper's acting boss. And that's just fine with him. "She's an awesome director," he says. "She demands more of me than I would have demanded of myself."

And Turner is quick to point out that as a director and an actor, they still have to be partners. "In our partnership as producers, we always understood what each other's role was. 'You take the lead on this, I'll take the lead on that.' It's not too different now."

"In this rehearsal space, I'm not the producer," says Kipper. "I'll see someone come in to talk to Amiee (during rehearsal) and I want to know what's going on, but no... It would be disrespectful to the other actors to wear both hats."

He will of course kick into producer-mode when necessary. Almost on cue, one of the show's assistants interrupts the interview. A stagehand has been injured. Nothing horrible, but he needs a form for the walk-in clinic. Kipper has to excuse himself to retrieve the form from his computer.

When he gets back, I wonder if the other actors have a problem knowing that he's also technically their boss. "You'd have to ask them," says Kipper. "When they found out I was in the show, they all said that will be cool."

"That's what they said out loud," says Turner with a smile.

A truly comfortable partnership.

Ocean State Theatre Company presents "Lombardi," through Sunday, Nov. 24 at its new theater at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick. Call 401-921-6800 or visit www.oceanstatetheatre.org for tickets and details.

Amiee Turner