Award-winning radio journalist takes to the stage as Sister Jean
You're a playwright, a journalist, an actress, a seamstress--what else? Do you have other hidden talents you haven't told us about?
Let's see… I'm also a dancer of sorts. I take ballet twice a week – one of those days on pointe and I even have a ballet recital in June. I also do English country dance – the formalized moves they do in all the Jane Austen movies. You never know when they're going to ask me to dance with Colin Firth in some upcoming film. I am also working on my second novel for middle school readers--a mystery set on Capitol Hill. And I am reviving as a podcast something I used to do back when I had a radio show. It's a book club for middle school students--BookClubforKids.org.
Which of these pursuits do you find the most rewarding? And which were the most frustrating?
They all have their share of joy and frustration. Back when I was freelancing, when my plays were rejected, I used to say that I was really a journalist. And when somebody gave me a hard time as a reporter, I would say that's all right because I'm really a playwright.
You had been a long-time host of “Talk of the City” in Pasadena. Tell me about that gig. Who was the strangest guest you had on the show?
I'll tell you who the hardest interview was: Terry Gross! She who asks great questions gave one word answers. The weirdest situation was when I went to a fancy pants hotel to interview Jeremy Irons. I was wearing this fabulous 60s inspired coat dress that I had made. And the first thing that Jeremy Irons said to me was “Wouldn't you like to take your coat off?”
Seriously? Jeremy Irons wanted you to strip?
I wish I could say yes, but I think it was a misunderstanding about fashion - the nature of a coat dress. He thought it was just a coat.
How exactly does one progress from a featured role on 'General Hospital' to a public radio talk show host?
Blame the Dodgers.
I got enough work as an actress in my 20s and early 30s, but then the roles started drying up. The local radio station that had the Dodgers also had a sports talk show where 99% of the listeners were guys. They wanted to attract female listeners so some bright young things decided the way to do that was to find a female voice for the sports talk show. They had a contest to find a female sports talk host. Guys complained that it was discrimination, so they opened it up to boys as well. 2000 people applied – including me. I didn't win, but I was one of the 10 finalists. And I thought – if I knew what I was doing, I bet I could get work in radio. I took a sportscasting class at the local community college and started volunteering, doing sports stories, for my local public radio station. That led to a reporting job which led to covering court cases which led to covering the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which led to an invitation to host an afternoon talk show in Pasadena.
After the talk show, I was looking for something challenging to do at the station as a reporter. We had to come to Washington to do a week of remote shows and I fell in love with the city. I convinced the station to open its own Washington bureau. That was six years ago.
How did covering Capitol Hill compare to your previous lives?
I always describe Capitol Hill as Catholic school for grown-ups. In other words, there's a dress code of sorts – ugly flat shoes and dull colored grown-up clothes. There are tons of rules that you find yourself breaking every other day because nobody ever told you that it was forbidden to bring a purse to the Speakers Lobby. And you address all the lawmakers as Sir or Ma'am.
But the US Capitol is truly the most beautiful office building in the world.
So who is the most entertaining member of Congress?
Can I say the entire California delegation? Californians are so different from anybody else on Capitol Hill – and not just because they dare to wear colors as opposed to dull grays. They don't take themselves too seriously, and the treats they have in their offices from their districts are certainly much better than most. Chocolate milk in David Valadao's office, home-made California Mexican food in Grace Napolitano's office, and wads of raisins and almonds in the offices of members whose districts include those kinds of farms.
Democrat Linda Sanchez is fun because she's the only woman to play in the congressional baseball game every year. Interestingly enough, Al Franken is one of the most boring members of Congress. It's like he has to work really hard not to say funny things in Judiciary hearings. Sometimes he slips, but that is extremely rare.
But more importantly, what form of madness possessed you to dive back into acting after so many years in journalism?
Acting was my first love – long before journalism, long before playwriting, way long before English country dancing. But because of the unpredictability of the news business, I couldn't guarantee that I could show up for rehearsals or even a performance. When I got news that they were closing down the D.C. bureau, practically the first thing I did was get cast in a production of "The Vagina Monologues." And now I get to appear in this wonderful play "Salvation Road."
What attracted you to the role of Sister Jean? We know it's not the pay.
I love Sister Jean! I know exactly who she is. I was a post Vatican II kid, with 12 years of Catholic school, surrounded by feminist nuns who fought with the cardinal about everything. I identify with that struggle with authority. When it came time for me to choose my confirmation name, I told him I wouldn't go through with it unless they let me take the name of Damien. I loved the stories about Damien the leper in Hawaii. He also fought with church authorities. My own church authorities didn't like the idea that I was picking a male name or picking a guy who at that time was not even on the road to sainthood. I even had a great aunt who was a nun. And ironically enough, as an adult, I went back to the Church, where I met my husband. Just as my mother told me it would happen.
Do you have any personal experience with cults or controlling groups like the fellowship depicted in the play?
I'm from California. Everybody I knew was affiliated with some kind of cultish group at some time or another. I always found that if you waited it out, folks would usually come up for air and grow out of it.
You're not a closet Scientologist are you?
NOT ME. In LA, during a particular period of time, it seems like every other actor was a Scientologist. I just liked the fact that they would buy old buildings and keep them rather than knocking them down.
So what’s next for Kitty Felde?
My two big acting goals are to snag roles on both "Veep" and "House of Cards." Both cast roles in my age range and certainly I have enough experience to play a reporter or a politician. I’m still following politicians around on Capitol Hill, freelancing for a pair of public radio stations in Northern California. My aspiration for the year is to find a way to get to Melbourne Australia to see the Phryne Fisher costume exhibit. She is my new obsession. I even bought a Phryne hat at the Smithsonian craft fair!