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Fellowship gives actor Kate Eifrig a break from day jobs

Kate Eifrig, you’ve just been awarded a McKnight Theater Artist Fellowship for 2008-2009. What are you going to do? Read more…
By Ed Huyck

Kate Eifrig, right, in her role as the innkeeper's wife in "The Government Inspector," now playing at the Guthrie. Phyllis Wright portrays a servant.
Photo by Michal Daniel
Kate Eifrig, right, in her role as the innkeeper’s wife in “The Government Inspector,” now playing at the Guthrie. Phyllis Wright portrays a servant.

Kate Eifrig, you’ve just been awarded a McKnight Theater Artist Fellowship for 2008-2009. What are you going to do?

“Well, I’m going to get a tooth fixed.”

Ah, welcome to the world of the actor, where even steady day employment as a bookkeeper can still leave some seemingly essential tasks on the shelf. And when Actors’ Equity drops dental insurance from its health plan for members, well, a fellowship comes in handy to take care of life’s nuisances.

Enter the McKnight Foundation fellowships, which offer $25,000 grants to artists in a dozen fields. In theater arts, three professionals are honored each year (there is a separate category for playwrights).

Eifrig is thrilled to be a recipient. “It’s a really competitive field and you just keep applying year after year. There are a lot of great applicants,” she says.

The windfall doesn’t mean she is sitting out for the year. You can see her on stage now at the Guthrie Theater playing the wives of the mayor and the innkeeper in “The Government Inspector,” Jeffrey Hatcher‘s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol‘s famous farce. “Audiences have loved it,” she says. “Jeffrey Hatcher is really a whiz at comedy and his script is just constantly funny.”

A different path
Eifrig didn’t set out to be an actor. She was an English major in college who hadn’t acted until she started trying out for plays. Her interest grew from there, leading to her present career.

“Every role is different,” she says. “I don’t have any formal theater training so I don’t prepare with any set method.”

There are fundamentals, however. “I loved the nature of live performance. I’ve played cello my entire life and I love the quality of live performance – how it is gone once it is done. It’s something that only the performers and the audience share.”

She settled in the Twin Cities. “I thought I would be here for a year or two, but I’ve stayed for 13,” she says.

The fertile local theater community not only gives Eifrig a chance to work, but also to grow as a performer.

“I get to work with these amazing performers all the time,” she says. For example, even though her roles in “The Government Inspector” are small, she gets to share the stage with the likes of Broadway veteran Hunter Foster and Peter Michael Goetz.

In the show “my roles are really small, but you have to raise your game when you are performing with actors that are that good.”

After ‘Inspector’
Even in the topsy-turvy theater world, Eifrig has a good idea of what is on the horizon. After “The Government Inspector,” she’ll work with Ten Thousand Things on “Twelfth Night.” The production, directed by Michelle Hensley, features a seven-woman ensemble (including the likes of Sally Wingert and Barbara Kingsley). Eifrig follows that up with more Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with Park Square Theatre’s Youth Program. This spring she portrayed nine Iraqi women in the one-actor “9 Parts of Desire” at the Guthrie.

Of course, dental work isn’t the only use for the fellowship for Eifrig. She plans to visit London, Dublin and New York City to watch and study theater.

In the end, it’s the chance to dedicate herself more to her craft. “It means I won’t have to work a day job and then learn my lines at night before rehearsals.”

What: The Government Inspector
Where: Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
When: Through Aug. 24
Cost: $34-$59
Phone: 612-377-2224