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Creation Story: Jill Bari Steinberg

actress and producer

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Where you can see her work: A one-woman show that she is co-producing with director Keri Wormald called “The Syringa Tree,” running Friday, Jan. 9 through Feb. 1, at Theatre IV’s Theatre Gym. It’s an emotional story set in apartheid-era South Africa. “I play 24 different characters of different races and backgrounds, and all different ages,” Steinberg says. “The youngest character is 2 years old, the oldest is 90. The narrator is 6 years old at the beginning, and the play follows her into her 40s.” Steinberg also must sing.

Why she took on this project: The script, which started as an acting exercise for playwright Pamela Gien, was the principle draw for Steinberg. “Anyone who loves acting and who reads this script would feel lucky to be able to do it,” she explains. “It’s an incredible script and a beautiful play. Also, I’m a masochist.”

How she prepares for such a challenging show: “I’m constantly running over lines in my head,” Steinberg says. “I hear the songs over and over. I can’t sit and watch TV anymore because there’s too much going on in my head. I wake up thinking about [the play] and go to sleep thinking about it. And the lines are the easy part of all this. It’s after I learn the lines that the work really begins.”

Steinberg is also doing some intense work with a dialect coach. “Africa is a melting pot just like America, and the accents of these characters are amazing,” Steinberg says. “Afrikaans are mostly of Dutch descent but then there are some of British descent who sound almost Australian.” She also has had to do research on several different African tribes including the Zulus and the Xhosa, whose language is punctuated by glottal clicks. “There’s a song in the play in the ‘click’ language and I have to be clicking like crazy,” Steinberg says.

How Steinberg got started in acting: “My father is a rabbi but is also a bit of a frustrated actor. He has a recording of me singing Gilbert and Sullivan when I was 5 years old. My mom said that dance classes were cheaper than a babysitter, so I was taking tap, jazz, ballet, piano, violin and acting classes. I ended up just doing theater.”

Why she doesn’t go looking for fame and fortune in New York or Los Angeles: “I don’t feel the need to go anywhere else. I would never get the chance to do what I do here if I went to New York. I don’t care where I do theater as long as I get to do it. If I’m showing theater to someone who has never seen it before, that’s as thrilling to me as being on Broadway.”

How she deals with stage fright: Even after dozens of leading roles, Steinberg still says she gets anxious before going out on stage: “You’re backstage going, ‘Why did I do this? I hate myself! I hate myself!’ Then the second you get on stage, you’re not thinking about anything. You’re just being, you’re just doing. It’s always the anticipation about doing something that causes the anxiety … just like real life.” — D.L. Hintz

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