Q & A with Q. Smith of ‘A Night with Janis Joplin’
Kristen Montag, Broadway World Minneapolis 3/29/16
While the title of the show is A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN, other divas take the stage in the latest production at Saint Paul’s Ordway Center for Performing Arts, too. Imagine getting to see Aretha Franklin on stage. Or Nina Simone. These queens of music may not be in this show, but Q. Smith will portray them and other characters who were part of the life of Janis Joplin. But don’t expect impressions from this singer/actress — Smith will bring her own talents to the musical numbers that she hopes will tell part of the story of the life of Janis Joplin that many audience members likely don’t know. Get to know a little more about this actress before heading to the theatre in this 6 Questions & a Plug.
Let’s start with A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN – can you tell BroadwayWorld readers about the show, including if this is more of a retrospective, concert or is it more of a story of her life? ?And, why should audiences come see this show now?
A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN, I think, is the best kind of marriage for musical theatre, storytelling and a concert piece, all in one. Mary Bridget Davies does a phenomenal job as Janis. She IS Janis. It’s unbelievable to see her in action. She is a force of nature. There is a live band on stage and four “Joplinaires” that sing backup for Janis as well as play Janis’ musical influences. There is a lot about Janis (that) the audience, I’m sure, never knew about. The story of her life is told beautifully and assisted with the best of her songs throughout her career. It’s a must see! One of the most fun shows I’ve ever been a part of.
You play multiple roles, including Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone; what is it like playing these superstars of music? And, do you try to do impressions of them or are you playing their essence as you sing their songs?
Great question! I sound nothing like these two ladies. Lol. I wish I did. I sound like me. I initially tried to impersonate them, but to no avail. It didn’t service me nor the audience. There is no one on earth that sounds like them, which is why they are icons. As an artist, it is not my job to “be them.” It is my job to create a space for them within my warehouse, channel them, and create space for their essence to shine through. Since I’ll never get to meet Nina Simone, it’s really lovely getting to know her intimately in this way. Aretha, the Queen of Soul, is so much fun!! I can’t wait to meet her one day, God willing. She is fearless. They both were. I think I am strong, but now I am stronger after having this opportunity to play them.
Which musical number is closest to your heart from this show?
That’s like asking me what my favorite food is… I love food! It’s almost impossible to choose, but if I must, I’d say the song “I Shall Be Released”. It’s sung by the four Joplinaires, and it is powerful. The strength of these women’s voices, the staging, and the lyrics come together in a way that just moves me.
You have an impressive biography with a range of Broadway and other singing roles – what has been your favorite experience on stage and your most memorable moment in your career?
Thank you! My most favorite experience on stage was hearing my mother gasp in the audience at MARY POPPINS on Broadway. I surprised both of my parents with the news of my first principle role on Broadway by getting them tickets to see my best friend on Broadway, but not telling them they were about to see me, as well! I came out asQueen Victoria and I heard my mother screech in the audience. They laughed and cried for about a week after that. I love surprises. My most memorable moment in my career was being a part of President Obama’s Inaugural ceremonies. I represented the State of Nebraska’s Democratic party by singing two songs. I got to attend the Inauguration and everything. I cried for at least a week!
When did you realize you wanted to make a career in musical theatre?
I knew in about 11th grade, maybe 12th. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t take it seriously until then. By the time I decided to go to school for it, I was still pretty green. I didn’t have a lot of experience. I didn’t get accepted into any of my choice schools right away. I auditioned for three years trying to get into a BFA program. I didn’t give up. I finally got into Ithaca College and my life changed.
What is your dream role that you have not played yet but hope to someday?
I’m not sure it has been created yet. There are definitely roles currently that would be awesome to play, like Carlotta in PHANTOM, Mrs. Lovette, Madam Thernardier, The Witch. I am looking to create a role that tells the best kind of story, that can help change lives or make people see or feel things differently.
What’s next for you on stage and off?
After more than 10 years, I am trying to complete my book, “Queens of the Theatre,” based on interviews with women of color in theatre, television, and film. Looking for a publisher! I am connected with a new theatre company called Transcendence Theatre Company in Sonoma, Calif., and they do amazing work — not just for the audience, but for the artist. They are into feeding the artist so that we can pour out into the community. It’s life changing. Big UPS to them! After that work is complete in July, I am beginning rehearsals in August at the Ford’s Theatre in D.C. for a new show (slated for B’way in 2017) called COME FROM AWAY, based on true events that took place during 9/11. This has been a dream show to work on this past year. It is unselfish and tells such a rich story of hope during a tragedy that rocked our world. The cast and creative team is unbelievable. Lastly, I am constantly working on my curriculum, “Rehabilitative and Restorative Art Therapy,” which in short is designed to help students retain their curriculum through arts education.