Blog Less Traveled: Jimmy Janowski, Buffalo’s living legend
blog by Scott Behrend • April 05, 2012 @ 7:00am
This week, I enjoy a lively Q+A with one of Western New York’s most affable and well-loved theatre personalities, Jimmy Janowski.
A three-time Artie Award winner, Jimmy is practically a local legend. Best known for his bubbly, sassy and often gender-bending comedic turns (such as his evocation of Tippi Hedren in last summer’s hit spin of DuMaurier and Hitchcock’s The Birds) , he is also admired for his more sober dramatic roles (he was revelatory in Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife in 2005). Jimmy has appeared in over 30 Buffalo United Artist (BUA) productions and currently stars in the dark and engrossing Secrets Of The Trade alongside Lisa Ludwig, Matthew Crehan Higgins, David Granville and Jonathan Young.
Jimmy starred in Road Less Traveled Production’s Mighty Taco commercial last year (to much acclaim) and is the honorary chairperson for this years Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, a fundraiser for Crisis Services of Buffalo.
Blog Less Traveled: How did you get started in the theatre?
Jimmy Janowski: Although I loved to perform all my life, I came to the stage rather late in life, in my 30s. My major at Buffalo State was English and Theater but I certainly didn’t have the confidence to portray someone else on stage—I was still learning who I was.
My first real”production was on the stage at Buffalo State several years after I had graduated and had returned from a five-year sojourn in New York City. Todd Warfield (who would years later direct The Birds Attack) was directing his senior thesis—Oh Dad, Poor Dad—and wanted me to play the lead, Madame Rosepetal, traditionally a female role. Now, I have too much respect for the theater to do something that would merely be a gimmick, but Todd’s view of the show and the show itself lent itself for this interpretation. I’d like to think it was a success—I remember it was fabulous to look at.
BLT: Secrets of the Trade marks one of your all-too-rare forays into more-or-less “serious” (though definitely not humorless) drama. I think true Jimmy Janowski fans appreciate roles like Martin Kerner and Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf every bit as much as your more frequent comedic roles. Do you similarly yearn to play more dramatic roles? Or do you prefer most often performing in broader and/more Camp material?
JJ: You know, you always hear that the comic longs to play the dramatic roles—that’s a crock! There is simply no greater joy than to be able to make someone laugh. It is truly the sweetest sound.
BLT: What were the challenges (if any) of playing this complex and conflicted character? Conversely, what’s the most rewarding part of being Martin on stage? Did you base this character on anyone in particular?
JJ: The greatest challenges of Martin Kerner are his contradictions. Here is a character who must be imperious in confidence and knowledge, selfish, vain, self-pitying and conceited, all wrapped up in a box of charm and a bow of style. He is my Jean Brody—glamorous and deadly, and, ultimately like all human beings, a bit ridiculous.
BLT: Your Martin Kerner in Secrets of the Trade nearly meets his match in Andy Lipman, ably played by newcomer Jonathan Young. As a veteran actor, what kind of experiences were you able to share (directly or indirectly) with Jonathan?
JJ: OK, I have this feeling that my legacy will be a footnote in the glorious career of Jonathan Young. And you know what? That would be fine. He is a joy to be on stage with—always present 100 percent and the soul of a much more seasoned performer. Always willing to sprinkle salt on the scenery before I chew it. What could I possibly teach him? He knows all my lines, to boot! Only such a young actor could be so fearless.
BLT: Though you’re best-loved for your work onstage, you’ve also been recognized (with an Artie Award, even!) for your work as a playwright. Give us a sneak preview on what you’re developing now—any chance of you giving Johnny Guitar the same treatment you gave The Birds?)
JJ: I’m crazy for Johnny Guitar, and I’m ready to get my Joan Crawford on.
So I was seriously working on an adaptation of Strait-Jacket—that was until Todd Warfield found a more suitable vehicle for our Summer Camp series—get ready for Jimmy Janowski as Mommie Queerest! Ah, that sweet sound.