Studio visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with actress and director Jodi Prosser.
Q: I noticed you were crying when you took your bow on the last night of "Next to Normal" at the Station Theatre. Why?
A: We rehearsed the show longer that we normally do because the music is incredibly difficult. So we were together as a cast for four months. We got pretty tight. And because I was so much older than everyone else, I became the mom. It felt like empty-nesting again, like losing my kids again. I don't know how this will sound, but I really connected with my character, Diana Goodman. It was not like I was playing her, but she was like someone I knew. It was hard to let her go. It just hit me on closing night that it would be the last time I would do it.
Q: You mention the message of the show. What do you think it is?
A: In the first act, there's all this buildup. The first act is depressing. She's trying to commit suicide, and she's on these drugs. In the second act, there is light. There is hope for the future. She sings in the last song, "And you find out you don't have to be happy at all. ... To be happy to be alive."
Q: So was Diana Goodman the biggest, most intense role of your life?
A: Easily. It's very hard to find a meaty role like this for a middle-aged woman, especially in musicals. I had to do so much research. My script is so marked up because I had to write in at any given point which medications she was on and what kind of side effects they would have. I don't even take Tylenol, for goodness sake.
Q: What's next?
A: I plan to teach camps for the church where I work: St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Champaign. We always do a summer theater program where we do musical theater, storybook theater, and the other thing we're doing this summer are puppets.
Q: Are you going to direct any community theater?
A: I just directed for Danville Light Opera "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," which I directed here at the Station in 2009. Other than that, I don't have any other big directing plans. My life has gotten busy and crazy. I wouldn't have done "Next to Normal," but I had to.
A: Several reasons. I'm a big Alice Ripley fan, and she's the one who made this role famous on Broadway. She won a Tony for it in '09. I kind of like dark, more haunting, more makes-you-think kind of musicals. Not that other musicals don't have their place and are not entertaining. I had never been in a rock musical before, so that was exciting and very challenging vocally. I like doing things at the Station. I like the intimacy of the space. You feel like the audience becomes part of the experience. They're right there with you. Another thing that drew me to this role is that Alex (Zelck) was the music director. I would do anything he's directing. He's incredible.
Q: Did you do any other roles that you've really liked?
A: Yes. I've played Lily in "The Secret Garden" twice. Before "Next to Normal," I would say I could play Lily forever. She's the dead mother of Colin and the late wife of Archibald Craven. It's a beautiful show, another haunting, ethereal type of show. I've directed it and been in it three times. I played Rose once and Lily twice.
Q: When did you start acting?
A: When I was 8.
Q: What do you like about theater?
A: I just got hooked at a really early age. I did some cheesy school musical called "Our House," and I was the mother and had this big solo. It was like getting addicted to something. The fact I was presenting something and people were applauding — it was kind of an ego thing for a kid. Anymore, it's become such a passion for me. Singing and acting are like air to me. I can't imagine my life without them.