The Amish Project
“Katherine Michelle Tanner gives an exceptional, nuanced performance, raw and edgy as well as compassionate and delicate. She is fearless and resilient. To travel this play’s arc performance after performance with immersive honesty, facing impending, inevitable death and its misery head on, could drive a lesser actor to despair or madness. Tanner’s performance embodies the play’s over-riding forgiveness theme and leads the audience towards transcendence, tagging along with the free, sweet spirit of a murdered child who visits her parents as they cope with her death’s impact.”
(American Theatre Magazine)
“Katherine Michelle Tanner delivers a magnificent and astonishing performance in the one-woman-show. A thousand words could not do it justice.
(The CV Sentinal)
“Katherine Michelle Tanner expertly plays the numerous characters in this profound drama. Her wonderful skill is plainly evident in her ability to create such definite contrast and individuality between the starkly different personalities of the piece. All the while, Tanner, never once leaves the realm of believability. She jumps between characters as diverse as a concerned professor, an outraged older woman, a small confused child, and even the grieving widow of a broken man gone killer. There is not a single moment out of place or an action not precisely executed. The range of her ability is certainly utilized and her talents are widely showcased. Tanner even plays a pregnant teen Puerto Rican, whose accent she wore with conviction.”
“As all seven characters, Katherine Michelle Tanner’s performance is simply, captivating. She transforms magically into each character, without a moment of hesitation. This is true artistry, of a multi-talented, stage veteran. Miss. Tanner gives a riveting, unforgettable performance, unlike any I have seen in years.”
“I have been writing for more than 35 years and I can’t begin to find the words to pay triubute to your performance last night. It was flawless, moving, haunting, funny, wrenching and mind-boggling. Thank you for the gift of this performace. You will change lives.”
(Sarasota Herald Tribune)
“Heartbreaking, inspiring and compassionate…wonderfully virbrant…In just under 80 minutes Tanner draws you into a different word, gets you involved, and makes you feel all the joys, sorrows and promises that life can present.”
(Sarasota Herald Tribune)
A Doll’s House
“Tanner’s Nora is in many ways the child that society has made her: silly, mischievous, even ignorant, but still capable of laboring behind the scenes to save her husband, and then to pay off the debt that she’s incurred in the process. Some actresses play the early Nora as a proto-feminist, but canny Tanner knows better.”
-Mark E. Leib
“Katherine Michelle Tanner is the Nora in director Seth Gordon’s interpretation of the Ibsen classic at American Stage, and she is utterly, enchantingly right as the girlish housewife and mother in a gilded cage at the start of the play. Tanner also captures the unexpected willfulness that causes Nora to break the law by forging her dead father’s signature on a loan she took out to give her ailing husband an Italian sojourn. Trapped between the unscrupulous lawyer who made her the loan and her small-minded husband, she becomes frantic, dancing a mad tarantella for a Christmas party.”
(Tampa Bay Times)
“Margaret Fuller, may have been one of the most formidable figures among a whole bunch of formidable types known as the Transcendentalists. But in Cahill’s hands – and in the exhilarating performance of actress Katherine Michelle Tanner – Orlando Shakespeare Theater shows Margaret Fuller forging new meanings for a simple word like charm. But Tanner, who played Laura in Orlando Shakespeare’s lovely Glass Menagerie in 2008, makes a transcendent Margaret, a woman who has one leg in the present and another in the future, a woman in love with ideas and yearning to break free. Tanner’s Margaret is never forbidding, even when she informs an opponent that she never follows orders; her love of life, even 19th-century life, is contagious. In effect, Tanner encompasses the qualities that make Margaret’s male acquaintances push her away: She’s too exuberant for Emerson, too forthright for Brownson, too feminine for Thoreau.”
“First among equals is Tanner, who plays Catherine, the daughter of a famous mathematician who went mad in his later years, and whom she cared for during his illness. Tanner until recently was a student at Sarasota’s FSU/Asolo Conservatory, and I had several opportunities to witness her work there and even to review her a few times. But nothing she ever did prepared me for the riveting, definitive performance she gives at American Stage. This Catherine is as complicated as any heroine out of Shakespeare: brilliant, impulsive, angry, sarcastic, subject to depression, worried for her mental health, funny, compassionate, irritable, tender. And that’s just for starters – Tanner’s Katherine is so real, so credibly prismatic, you don’t dare take your eyes off her lest you miss a passing color. This is one of the best performances I’ve seen anywhere in months.”
-Mark E. Leib
The Glass Menagerie
“Tanner is mesmerizing when she hands Jim a tiny unicorn from her glass menagerie and begs him to be careful. When she says, “If you breathe, it breaks,” you can feel the weight of her heart in his hands.”
A Passionate Actor
Like the photojournalist she plays in Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still,” Katherine Michelle Tanner considers herself a passionate storyteller.
By Jay Handelman , Herald-Tribune
In the Banyan Theater Company production, she plays Sarah, who tells stories with images instead of words from danger zones like Iraq, where she was recently injured. But Sarah can’t wait to get back to the war zone, against the wishes of her boyfriend, a writer who is rediscovering the comforts of home.
Tanner tells stories with a playwright’s words and, like Sarah, gets a certain thrill from the challenges and dangers of each new project she tackles.
Even without a regular acting gig, like the resident company members at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Tanner has become one of the more familiar and respected actors in the area through frequent performances at American Stage in St. Petersburg, the Banyan, Florida Studio Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Theater and others in the state.
In fact, since graduating in 2004 from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory in Sarasota, Tanner started finding so many jobs around the state, she never left, unlike most of her fellow graduates.
“It was really the work that made me stay. I was blessed to keep auditioning and getting things that tied me to this area,” she said before a recent rehearsal for “Time Stands Still”. “The stories I like to tell were being told here.”
And directors like to work with her.
“She just has so much honesty on stage, and she’s so spontaneous on stage,” said Todd Olson, the Producing Artistic Director of American Stage, who has collaborated with her frequently. “She’s just a great person to have in the room. She comes in with research. She knows her lines. She’s reliable. She always interacts well with the staff. She’s a win on all levels.”
His words were echoed by Kate Alexander, who has twice directed Tanner at Florida Studio Theatre.
“The first thing I think about her is joy. There’s the given that she’s talented, that she’s skilled. And she has a great approach to the role. But she’s also got a tremendous amount of joy, which makes her a wonderful company person.”
Such praise from those she works with explains why, since her graduation, she has worked steadily in state, starting with FST’s 2004 production of “Metamorphoses,” which she also choreographed.
In the last few years, among other roles, Tanner has returned to FST in “Next Fall,” starred in “Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun” at Banyan and was involved in the development of a new play called “Charm” at Orlando Shakespeare Theater. But she has been busiest at American Stage, where she played multiple roles in the one-woman play “The Amish Project,” Nora in “A Doll’s House,” Ophelia in “Hamlet” and appeared in “August Osage County,” “Suddenly Last Summer” and “Proof.”
Olson said the theater hasn’t “even tapped into everything she can do.”
All this work, including new play development, has given her the kind of opportunities that keep her challenged and excited and not dreaming about moving to a bigger city.
“Some people want to be a star, but I don’t really understand what that means,” Tanner said before a recent rehearsal. “I’m not here to figure that out. I want to work. I want to act.”
Perhaps her attitude can be traced back to the filming of “Grumpy Old Men” in her hometown of Hastings, Minnesota. She got to be on the set.
“I saw Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and they were just working. I saw that work ethic they had. They weren’t acting like ‘stars’. They were doing their work,” she recalled.
It matched the kind of “lovely work ethic” she learned from her parents — her mother was a school teacher and her father a draftsman.
“I don’t care what you’re doing, you just keep going and keep working. The money and fame are byproducts of good quality work,” she said, recalling that someone once told her that fame is a “15-minute thing. Be a star that lasts, not one that flashes by in a second.”
So she focused on building a lasting career. She was a triple major at St. Olaf College with degrees in theater, dance and education. She chose the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for a graduate program because she knew it would help “unravel my process.” She had callbacks at some other schools, but she liked the reputation of the FSU program, and the idea that she’d get to work in a repertory theater program.
“That’s what really drew me to it. What was it like keeping all those plates spinning when you’re doing three different shows at the same time,” she said. “And the mentorship of the older actors, whether individually or just by getting to work with them, was really important.”
During her final year at Asolo Rep, she appeared in “The Road to Ruin,” “The Crucible” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” in which she played Miep.
She took dance classes with the Sarasota Ballet while she was at the conservatory, and found time for private voice lessons.
“Those were things I didn’t want to lose.”
Other than a production of “The Last Five Years” in the Backlot cabaret in Lakewood Ranch, she hasn’t had much opportunity to sing on area stages.
“I don’t always remember that she sings because we haven’t cast in her a musical,” Olson said.
She works on all her skills and talents when she’s not on stage by teaching musical theater, voice, acting, dance, music and film at her studio Tree Fort Productions. It’s part of her commitment to the arts and a way to make a difference with her life.
“Teaching helps to give my life more value,” she said. In addition to working on specific skills with the students, Tanner talks to them about the reality of the profession and how she chooses the roles she wants to pursue.
“I want to find characters that challenge me and do projects that scare me a little bit,” like the multiple roles, men and women, she played in “The Amish Project.”
“Even if it was a flop, even if I took that risk and really went for it and it didn’t work, at least we all went for it. That’s exactly what I want to do.”
That extends to debating with her directors and co-stars about the meaning of the plays, or interpretations of the roles she’s taking on.
She got into a spirited discussion with Jim Sorensen, who plays her writer boyfriend James in “Time Stands Still,” and director Don Walker about what Margulies’ play is about and who the characters are.
What the two main characters share is a passion for the work they do, and the love they have for one another.
“It’s the cost of passion in love and work,” Tanner said of the play.
When James and Sarah return to New York, she spends her time physically healing, and he seems to be healing emotionally. Jim finds he missed the creature comforts of being in a stable city, picking up takeout food or having working electricity, Sorensen said.
“To me, the crux of the story is how they change, how they move on in their separate ways, how events of the world intrude on our loves,” he said. “These people react to horrors we only see on the news, and they philosophize about whether it’s better to live in ignorance or try to change the world, and can we do anything about the problems.”
That kind of passion is what prompts Tanner to closely study her scripts and find outside materials that might better help her understand the character or what she has lived through.
Audiences may not know if she’s read a particular book, looked at photographs or heard news reports, but the preparation gives her a clearer understanding of who Sarah is and how she would react to Jim, beyond what Margulies has written.
The author’s words, however, are precious to her.
“If I’m given the privilege of saying someone’s words, then I need to really think them through,” she said. “It’s not like I’m manic. I can go to sleep at night, but I do want to come at it from all those angles. Sometimes you just want to stand there and speak the truth.”
To do that, the actor has to fully know the character and the world she lives in.
“I think you owe it to that writer and your fellow actors and your audience, to be brave enough to do that work.”
Nothing But The Best
Talking with the talented young actress Katherine Michelle Tanner
When Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories opens this weekend at the Straz Performing Arts Center, local audiences will have a chance to see an actress who in a very short time has established herself as one of this area’s best. Katherine Michelle Tanner appeared in Proof at American Stage just a few months ago, and gave the sort of performance that instantly makes a reputation. As the brilliant but troubled daughter of a great mathematician, she was unpredictable, resentful, sardonic, depressed, funny, compassionate, bad-tempered and fragile. Tanner’s performance was the sort that you don’t dare look away from, lest you miss some sudden but crucial flash of emotion.
When Tanner turned up weeks later in Larry Parr’s Sundew at Sarasota’s Florida Studio Theatre, she gave another top-notch performance, this time as a young woman contemplating the seizure and sale of her mother’s beloved property. Where Proof’s heroine was notable for her mutability, Sundew’s Alice was a sympathetic, loving young woman whose plot against her mother was apparently the first mischief she’d ever contemplated, and who radiated so much goodness that you could almost excuse her experiment in larceny.
With performances like these, it should have come as no surprise when Tanner won Best Actress Best of the Bay issue. She’s an extraordinary performer, and a needed addition to the local scene.
That’s if she decides to stay. I talked with Tanner in Ybor City recently, and one of my first questions was “Do you intend to remain in the area?” I had lots of other questions, too; and as we chatted outside a small deli/restaurant on Eighth Avenue — only a few blocks from where she was rehearsing Collected Stories for Stageworks — I discovered a woman who’s passionate about acting, not the least bit vain and eager to discover where fate will eventually lead her. There was nothing of Proof’s depressive heroine in Tanner, though I found elements of Sundew’s Alice in the actress’ good humor and fundamental optimism. I also found something that, for lack of a better term, might be called “innocence:” the sort of openness to experience that more jaded souls gave up eons ago. It was refreshing to talk with a woman this brightly straightforward; most of the people I interview are much more cautious.
But on the question of where her acting will take her: “I’ll kind of go wherever the work is,” she says. I really want to continue to find quality work,” Tanner says. “And when I mean quality, for myself I really have to able to feel proud of it. And I think that its a challenge to break into films of quality right now, I really do.”
Tanner says that she’s aware of all the actors in that city who fail to advance in the face of massive competition: “When I hear of my friends up in New York, and they can’t get anything, I do feel bad for them. Because, is it worth waiting a table for 11 years to get one audition? … And for me, there’s too much in me to say, or to experience, or to feel, in order to do that.”
If Tanner had a guaranteed role in the Big Apple, she’d go, but would think hard about what her next step would be.
Tanner comes from a family of artists. Her father is a painter and former potter; her mother was an actress before she had children; one of her aunts was a professional actress; and her sister is presently a performer in Chicago. Unlike parents who try to dissuade their children from the perilous, unstructured life of acting, Tanner’s folks support her career choice: “They’re very excited that I’m so artistically happy,” she says, “and they love to come see their daughters …They love to come see who their daughters are going to be that night.”
Tanner is originally from Hastings, Minn. (the town, she points out, where the movie Grumpy Old Men was made), and attended schools in Minnesota before coming south to study at Sarasota’s FSU/Asolo Conservatory in 2001 (she graduated in spring, 2004). She says the conservatory experience was “a whirlwind” that she misses; it helped her “to see where the gaps were” in her technique “and then to work my way through them.”
Tanner’s favorite playwrights are Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Among more contemporary writers, she likes Martin McDonagh because Irish people “say it like it is. They put it out there.”
She’d love to play Nina in The Seagull, Nora in A Doll’s House, or Imogen in Cymbeline. “I really like finding things that kind of scare me a little bit,” she says,” not scare me, but don’t come ready-made, and then how can I maneuver into that. I really like that.”
Other roles that scare her — and that she therefore wants to tackle — are Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and any of the sisters in Chekhov’s Three Sisters. But it’s the parts that attract her, not some idea of fame: “Fame can come from being a criminal,” she says. “Fame is such a weird … thing.”
What matters is putting a respectable effort into a worthy part. Anything less is too little.
Her name is Katherine Michelle Tanner and she has a demanding role in Collected Stories as an ambitious, not entirely scrupulous young author.
For now, she’s one of our best. Let’s hope we can hold onto her.