20Q: Catching up with theater maven Jim Tropp


Angela Major

Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.

Jim Tropp

In the world of local theater, it's hard to believe anyone wouldn't be familiar with the name Jim Tropp.

For almost 30 years, Tropp has produced musical theater, mostly in Rock County, and he is soon closing in on his 100th production. Along with serving as artistic director of the Rock River Repertory Theatre Company, Tropp also heads annual musical performances presented by Janesville high school students. Professionally, he is a customer-care specialist for RockMED Pharmacy, a long-term care pharmacy in Edgerton.

A Janesville native, Tropp grew up in the Fourth Ward and went to Wilson Elementary School, Franklin Middle School and Parker High before attending UW-Rock County and UW-Whitewater. One of eight children (brothers Peter, John, Paul, William and Jude, sister Mary and twin sister Jeanne), Tropp and his wife, Jennifer, live in Beloit with their two cats, Izzy and Tripp.

Tropp's current project, the Parker High School production of “Mary Poppins,” premiers this weekend at the school, 3125 Mineral Point Ave., Janesville. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Nov. 11-12 and 18-19, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 13 and 20.

1. What first drew you to directing theater productions? I was working as a technical director on a musical, and the director decided to quit the show two weeks before opening. They were going to cancel the show, so I stepped in. With a lot of help from the actors and other directors, we were able to have the show ready to go for opening night. I learned that when you have great people around you, you can do some wonderful things.

2. Name one thing theater provides for students that classes don't: Confidence.

3. Do you have a pet peeve? Actors who don't read the script and learn their lines before the first rehearsal.

4. Have you had any brushes with greatness during your career? I sat next to Hugh Jackman at a performance of “Relatively Speaking” on Broadway.

5. Ever sung karaoke? No, but if I ever do, you can bet the song would be from a musical.

6. What is the best/worst thing about directing high school actors/actresses? The best thing about directing high school actors/actresses is parents. The worst thing about directing high school actors/actresses is parents.

7. Name a skill you wish you had. I wish I could read music. It would make my prep work go a lot smoother.

8. If you could see live theater anywhere in the world, where would it be? I would have LOVED to experience Karen Olivo's performance as Anita and Cecilia Bartoli as Maria in “West Side Story” in Salzburg, Austria, this past summer.

9. Share your worst/funniest experience on stage: I was directing a musical. On opening night, one of the lead actors could not perform, and we had to cancel the show. It ended up the actor could not perform at any of the performances. We were fortunate enough to find another actor who had performed the part a few months earlier. Instead of having an opening night, we had a rehearsal for this actor and blocked him into the show. It took over eight hours. Our first performance with the new actor was the next day. I followed the actor backstage during the performance. Scene to scene everything was going great; he was doing an incredible job. Late in the second act, when I was with him in the wings waiting for the lights to come up so he could make his entrance, I said to him, “Are you ready for this scene?” He said, “What scene is this?” I said, “It's Scene 5.” He said, “OK.” The lights came up, he started to make his entrance and then he abruptly stopped and turned around and looked at me and said, “We never did this scene.”

10. Have you ever had to tell someone he or she just didn't have “it”? Honestly, no; I have not told someone that they don't have “it.” I have told actors they were not right for a part.

11. Who was the best cast member ever from “Saturday Night Live?” John Belushi.

12. Modern theater would not exist were it not for: The WRITERS. Without the writers you don't have modern theater. They are the core; the story starts with them.

13. Name that tune and show: “I always get what I aim for, and you heart'n soul is what I came for”: “Whatever Lola Wants” from Damn Yankees.

14. Have you ever been to a movie so bad you walked out before it was over? Yes. “Evita: The Movie.”

15. In your opinion, what is the best film adaptation of a musical, or vice versa? “Chicago.”

16. You get free tickets to your choice of “Godspell,” “Oklahoma,” “Rent,” “Little Shop of Horrors” or “Avenue Q.” To which show would you go? “Rent.”

17. Favorite type of cheese? Cream cheese.

18. Name someone in modern theater who not many people have heard of, but should learn more about. Lighting designer Ken Billington. Ken has designed nearly 100 Broadway productions including “Act One,” “Chaplin,” “Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway,” “The Scottsboro Boys,” “Sondheim on Sondheim,” “[Title of Show],” “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” starring Lily Tomlin, “Footloose,” “Candide” (1997), “Annie” (1997), “Annie Warbucks,” “Inherit the Wind,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” “The Red Shoes,” “Fiddler on the Roof” (1976, '81, '90), “Lettice and Lovage,” “Tru,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “On the 20th Century,” “Side by Side by Sondheim” among others. He has been honored with seven Tony Award nominations and received the 1997 Tony Award for his work on “Chicago.” His Tony nominations include “Sunday in the Park with George” (2008), “The Drowsy Chaperone” (2006), “End of the World” (1984), “Foxfire” (1982), “Sweeney Todd” (1979), “Working” (1978) and “The Visit” (1973).

19. If you had to choose between actors with talent or actors with passion, which would you choose? Actors with passion. They work harder.

20. Why would anyone want to “break a leg”? Because they would get paid. In the days of Vaudeville, companies would book more performers than could possibly make it onstage—but they would only pay those who performed. Since the Renaissance, legs (curtains) have been used as part of the masking in proscenium theaters, which remain the most popular style of theater to this day. Thus, to make it on stage, one had to enter the line of sight of the audience or “break a leg” to be paid.

Know someone involved in the local arts/entertainment community you think would be a great subject for 20Q? Email kicks Editor Greg Little at glittle@gazettextra.com.

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