In the Spotlight: Donna Littlepage on Japanese TV shows, Carl Stewart and South City Theatre’s ‘Wild Women of Winedale’

Donna Littlepage.

Donna Littlepage has been delighting Birmingham theater audiences for 25 years now, excelling in comedies and bringing much laughter to audiences at theaters around town.

She’s back on stage April 19-27 in South City Theatre’s “The Wild Women of Winedale.”

Here, she tells us about that show, some other theater highlights for her and, hysterically, the filming of a Japanese TV show that should be a play itself.

Tell me about your theater background.

My theater training began in 3rd grade in a classroom production of “Cinderella” and continued through high school. I had some wonderful public-school teachers who encouraged my love for all things that involved a spotlight or stage. Theater was my home at Huffman High School.

I was also the kid who was called in to do my Ruth Buzzi telephone operator impression or K-Mart shopper vignettes for my mother and friends drinking coffee in the kitchen. After high school, I married, moved to Sarasota, Florida, had two wonderful children and didn’t think about theater again until, back in Birmingham, I went to a Birmingham Festival Theatre production in 1997 and thought, “Hmmm, maybe I can perform again?”

I was cast as Truvy in “Steel Magnolias” in 1998 (I still give thanks to the very talented actor/singer/Hoover High School theater teacher, Nancy Malone, for casting me) I have had the most wonderful opportunities to work in many local theaters, including Terrific New Theatre, Birmingham Festival Theatre, The Virginia Samford Theatre, Theatre Downtown, ACTA and South City Theatre.
From the moment I took hesitant steps into the house for my first open audition, over 25 years ago, I have felt welcomed in the smallest of theater companies to one of the largest.

I have learned something about how to be a better actor in every show I have been a part of. My involvement has rewarded me with so many lifelong friends that I met along the way and so many memories and stories that often make me laugh and warm my heart. I often refer to these folks as “a part of my theater family” because that is truly what they are to me.

 You took a little break, right?

I did take a break and then came Covid. Two of my favorite theaters to work with, TNT and Theatre Downtown, lost their performance spaces. More time passed and I began to wonder if I’d ever be on stage again.

Donna Littlepage, right, and Sharon Morgan in “Covering Dish” at South City Theatre. They now star in “The Wild Women of Winedale.”

Last summer, South City Theatre was in rehearsal for a wonderfully funny play, “Covering Dish,” written by my friend and local playwright, David Garrett. A cast member had to leave due to illness and David reached out to me about taking the role. With a little encouragement from friends and family, I stepped in. It was great fun and the house rang with laughter on opening night. Unfortunately, Covid had also snuck in, so the show opened and closed on the same night.

I’m happy to say that I’m back at South City Theatre in rehearsal for another great Jones Hope Wooten show, “The Wild Women of Winedale.” This writing trio specializes in laugh-out-loud comedies and strong roles for women.  This is a joyful yet touching play that focuses on three women at a crossroads in their lives. My character is a grudge-bearing, stress-filled woman who often uses dry wit and sarcasm as a well-worn but razor-sharp tool when dealing with life. So, of course, I’m having great fun with it! In the play I share the stage with two very talented and funny ladies. Sharon Morgan plays my sister, the matriarch of the family, and my quirky sister-in-law is played by Robin Wallace. Throughout are some wonderfully insightful monologues from women in different walks of life. Directed by Rachael Pike Upton, “The Wild Women of Winedale” is sure to be a crowd-pleaser!

What’s your favorite role you’ve played or show you’ve been in?      

Scared witless, I hung onto a friend’s coattails and auditioned for Terrific New Theatre’s production of Del Shore’s “Sordid Lives.” Carl Stewart cast me in the role of Latrelle. I played that role in three separate productions at TNT, and the memories of each and every moment spent rehearsing and performing that show with my “Sordid” theater family and Carl still warm my heart. Except for that one rehearsal night when Carl “encouraged” me for about 20 minutes to learn how to complete an onstage circle. I’m pretty sure I never got it right!

Who is your favorite playwright?

Del Shores.

What’s a performance (on stage or screen) that sticks out to you as an audience member?

In 2004, I saw a production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Birmingham Festival Theatre, starring Tony Roach as Hedwig and Nancy Malone as Yitzhak.

This high-powered rock musical performed in this intimate space was mesmerizing. The incredible duo Roach and Malone in these roles created a breathtaking visual and musical experience that had the audience captivated from beginning to end. I saw it twice!

What is a role you wish you will or could have played?

I’ve performed in “Steel Magnolias” in three different productions. I know some actors dislike doing a show more than once but I’m all about these wonderful characters in this much-loved show! I’ve played Truvy, M’Lynn and Ouiser. I would dearly love to perform in “Steel Magnolias” just one more time as Claree.

Any great advice you’ve been given by a director or anyone else about being on stage?

FINISH YOUR CIRCLE!

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

Pre-show jitters are universal.

I love for the cast and crew to gather pre-show, holding hands in a circle. Someone says, “We have been blessed and gifted not only with the talent but with the desire to tell our stories on stage to an audience who has paid good money to see us and to enjoy a night at the theater. We’ve got a show to do and we’ve got all we need in this circle.” Then, a cast member chooses a favorite word from the script; we put our hands together in the center and raise them in celebration as we say our chosen word.

My dear friend Saxon Murrell introduced me to this one, and it always helps to relieve any doubts or fears. And I always channel his sweet spirit and energy when we do it!

Tell me about a time something went wrong on stage.

In “Moon Over Buffalo,” performed at Theatre Downtown, I played Charlotte and my good friend Kathleen Jensen played my mother, Ethel. There is a hilarious scene with the entire cast running across the stage, in and out of doors and upstairs and downstairs. Of course, timing of entrances and exits are crucial. At one point, I enter from a stage left door and the door comes off the hinges and falls onto the stage. My elderly mother enters, we take one look at each other and, in character, she picks up one end of the door and I take the other, we prop it against a flat and continue the scene. We never missed a beat and the audience thought it was part of the script!

Tell me something people might be surprised to know about you. 

I was cast as the lead in a segment of a Nippon Television Show, “That’s Astonishing.” It was all very exciting. I went to a cattle call here in Birmingham and the place was packed with talent. I was thrilled when I got the call that I had been cast!

This was a Japanese TV show, filmed in Clanton, Alabama. My segment was about a French woman who was wrongly accused of poisoning 11 family members.
So, yes, it was a Japanese television show about a French witch filmed in Clanton, Alabama.

I later saw a photo of the woman I was portraying and she was ugly as sin. The assistant director, who spoke broken English, said, “See, you have same glasses, look alike”.  Ah, well….

The director didn’t speak English so the AD translated. This was a “re-enactment” type show so none of us were actually heard on film. However, since we were filming about a French family, and we were told that the Japanese were excellent at reading lips, we had to use “French words” while filming conversations. Well, we were taught some phrases but by the third scene of the French witch sitting around the dining table talking about the last family member out of 11 that had died , it just became a butchered French free for all. ”OUI! OUI! CHIFFEROBBE! Croissant, Croissant!” I even threw in a “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?”

I was given a costume for the prison scene. It was from Party City; a black and white striped shirt and pants that came with the black PLASTIC ball and chain. The AD told me that the Japanese loved to see women in prison. Hey, you can’t make this up….

The courtroom scene was filmed in the Clanton courtroom and an actual Clanton judge presided.  When I entered the courtroom and he called out, “AWNTRAY VOO, MAHREE,” I almost lost it.

And it was a paying gig! I got $600 for two-day shoot but I would have paid THEM if I had to because it was just too much fun!

What’s next for you?

Does anyone need a Claree for “Steel Magnolias”?

“The Wild Women of Winedale,” at South City Theatre April 19-27.

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