Drama Queen

The amazing Jodi Kellogg changes her parts more often than most people change their socks. Who is she this time?

Asking an actor to explain her craft can be like asking a fish how to breathe underwater: Understanding the mechanics isn't the same as performing the act. "I don't really do the Method acting thing where you imagine what the character had for breakfast," she says. "I don't care what anyone had for breakfast. I'm asking, 'What are they going through at that moment?'" Once I figure out where a character needs to be, it's actually quite easy to get there. It's not some trick of acting. It's just about being there in the character's mind, spirit, and body. To be a good actor, you need to experience emotions like a child. If you have to feel grief, you have to go somewhere very painful."

Kellogg's particular talent for selling herself onstage is widely recognized. Less so, however, is her longevity. "What's great about Jodi," says Tim Lee, who directed her in Outward Spiral's Unidentified Human Remains, "is that she always finds something new in every role. Like in my play, she was playing this psychic dominatrix and she had the idea of lighting candles onstage and then blowing them out each time a character dies. Most actors don't think like that. And actors who have been around as long as she [has] usually get lazy."

"Nonunion acting is a different world," continues Lee. "It's hard just keeping a roof over your head and you never make much money. Jodi is one of a small group of actors who take their acting jobs first and their day jobs second."

A woman for all seasons: The relentlessly prolific Jodi Kellogg in a handful of roles with Park Square Theatre
A woman for all seasons: The relentlessly prolific Jodi Kellogg in a handful of roles with Park Square Theatre

Indeed, actors who don't snare equity contracts with the few larger companies like the Guthrie rarely make a livable wage for what amounts to more than a full-time job. Most take part-time work during the day. Many give up. For actresses, the competition to land an equity role can be especially fierce. "There are just fewer parts for women," Kellogg explains. "Dramatic literature happens to be really male-heavy." Although she says she would probably take a contract if offered one, she is also concerned that it might limit her choice of roles.

Kellogg holds a part-time office job at a small St. Paul asset-management company but still has trouble making the rent and sometimes finds herself looking around her south Minneapolis apartment for furniture that she might be able to sell. For her theater work, she earns around $500 a show, and somewhere between $5,000 and $7,500 annually--by a rough calculation, around the same sum that Julia Roberts gets paid to blink.

No actor goes into her profession expecting indigence and anonymity as a reward for her troubles. And indeed, Kellogg grew up with eyes full of the romance and easy dreams of Hollywood. Kellogg's mother was a devotee of the silver screen, and particularly Vivien Leigh. She'd even planned to name her baby after the film belle, but while she was unconscious in the maternity ward, her husband, a television engineer and apparently less of a fan, vetoed the idea. Growing up in Milwaukee in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Kellogg gravitated from Hollywood's beautiful leading ladies to brassy comedians like Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. She grew to admire, in particular, Burnett's gift for caricature. With Burnett and Lucy to guide her, Kellogg grew up as something of a ham, sandwiched between her mother's infatuation with the romance of Hollywood and her father's technical bent. Her stage debut was an acting stretch: She played a boy in a local Christmas pageant.

Kellogg eventually happened back upon the stage during college. During a perfunctory premed career, she decided to do another play for kicks. "I hate to think how horrible it was. But being onstage...I know it was exciting. I've never had stage fright, so I wasn't nervous. I knew people would believe the character rather than thinking it was just Jodi."

After bouncing around the country for a few years and getting a degree in theater and classical studies, Kellogg moved to the Twin Cities in 1985. Though she moved on a whim and the advice of an ex-boyfriend, she was also following some practical concerns. There has never been much money in regional theater, but she also realized that for a nonequity actor there were more choices in a smaller market.

Steady work has also taken a toll. "It's a big part of the problems in my relationships," Kellogg explains. "Most of it takes place in the evening and you end up missing a lot of things. Like I missed my brother's wedding because I had to do a show....You have a responsibility to the cast and the audience, but it's hard to get people you love to understand that.

"There were years that I drew back to make room for other things, but I realized I was miserable making other people happy. The last five years, I've been very serious about it...after my third husband left me." Kellogg's voice tightens a bit, and it is briefly possible to hear a trace of the dissembling and disillusioned Catherine Sloper. The moment passes quickly, though; Kellogg is finished with this character.

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