Her decision to take a class on the art of acting propelled Miriam Alqaisi from a behind-the-scenes job as a technician to a lead role as Katharine in "Taming of the Shrew," which opens Thursday evening at Cal State Bakersfield's Arena Theatre.
"This is my first play," Alqaisi said. "I always did the lights and sound in high school except for one or two walk-on roles."
Apparently, however, the desire to be on stage was always there, tucked away in a corner of her mind.
"I took acting last quarter and my teacher, Mendy McMasters, encouraged me to audition," said Alqaisi. "I did audition and I just got lucky."
And based on a conversation I had with her Sunday, I predict the CSUB junior will do well as the feisty young maiden in the Shakespeare comedy.
"I like Katharine because she knows Petruchio wants her but she makes it hard for him to win," she said. "She tries to make people think she has won."
Although Alqaisi is just getting her feet wet as an actor, Miguel Torres, who plays the arrogant Petruchio, has had more experience.
"Miguel is a beautiful creature,"she said. "He's very helpful and he makes you feel comfortable on stage."
Torres' introduction to Shakespeare came in 2009 with the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria.
"I was Bottom's understudy in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'," said the senior theater arts major. "It is one of my most treasured memories."
The same year he appeared in the Kern Shakespeare Festival as Theseus in "Midsummer" and the King of France in "King Lear."
"Petruchio is my first lead in a Shakespeare (play) and it has proven both a challenge and a gift," the actor said. "He has one of the most loving journeys I've ever had.
"I absolutely love Petruchio," he continued. "He is an intelligent and powerful being; he knows his place in the world, he knows what he wants and is not afraid to fail trying to get it. He's colorful and beautiful and smart and ... well if he were real I'm sure I'd fall I love with him."
His favorite part in the comedy is an exchange with Jacob Brown, who plays the Pedant pretending to be the father of Katharine.
"Jacob Brown is a comedic genius in this scene," Torres said. "Keep an eye out for the details he puts into his character; it'll crack you up.
Like most of Shakespeare's plays, "Shrew" has a universal theme and it has been staged in many different settings since it was first written. CSUB theater faculty member Zoe Saba, director of the show, chose to put it in the American West in the 1880s. The comic lines and double entendres remain the same but are presented in a slightly different manner.
"It lends itself easily to broad comedy so watch out for spit takes, pies in the face and other such nonsense," Saba said. "Roger Upton, our set and costume designer is having great fun with the genre and infusing a bit of steam punk as well."
Alqaisi, who appears as a cowgirl, complete with a holster and pistols, said she has four costume changes during the show.
"In the second act I wear this pretty white wedding dress, then it gets trashed in a fight and when it comes off you can see that underneath I'm wearing a corset and bloomers," she said. "And all I've to cover myself up with is a cloak."
Saba commented that some people feel that "Shrew" is barbaric and outdated, and that it demonstrates that Shakespeare was anti-women and favored male superiority. But she disagrees with that notion.
"What has made this play endure for over 400 years is the relationship of Kate and Petruchio -- two characters, or rather, two forces of nature, whose coming together is assured from the instant of their first meeting," the director said. "The 'raging fire' of their courtship proves as passionate as it is inevitable."
Also in the cast are Emily Candia (Hortensio); Cristina Goyeneche (Baptista); Kevin Lohmann (Lucentio); and Hudson Sanders (Tranio).
'Menopause' at the Fox
Kathy St. George says she feels right at home playing the part of an aging soap opera star in "Menopause -- The Musical," which is slated for three performances this weekend at the Fox Theater.
"I am aging; I just turned 60 and past menopause but I can identify as a soap actress," she said. "For several years I was a stand-in for Susan Lucci on 'All My Children'; I'm about the same size as she is and I would stand in for her in rehearsals."
"Menopause" tells the story of four middle-aged women from different backgrounds who meet while shopping at Bloomingdale's in New York City and find comfort in comparing notes about the so-called change of life.
St. George, who lives in Boston, was in San Jose at the time we spoke. She and the rest of the company are on a three-month California tour that began in January and she definitely enjoys the change in climate.
"I feel like I've hit the lottery," she said. "When they said it would all be in California, I said, 'Say no more.'"
Sets, costumes and all of the sound and lighting paraphernalia needed to put on the show are packed inside a big truck that follows the performers from city to city.
"It's quite ingenious the way they've designed the set," she said. "We've each got our own (onstage) dressing room that we go in and out of."
St. George has been doing the show off and on since 2004 and says "Menopause" "might be the most fun you've ever had in a theater."
"Some women come back to see it over and over, but men love it too," she added. "The first time my husband saw it, he said, ''Honey, every man needs to see this just to see what (women) go through.'"
On a personal level, the scene she enjoys most is her rendition of "I'm Having a Hot Flash," which is a parody of the Irving Berlin tune "Heat Wave," whose most popular rendition perhaps was by a certain blond bombshell in the 1954 film, "There's No Business Like Show Business."
"I do the best Marilyn Monroe imitation that I can," she said.
Also in the cast are Elizabeth Hyde as the Iowa Housewife; Kimberly Harris, the Professional Woman; and Margo Moreland, Earth Mother.
Sister City meeting
A program of traditional Mexican music and dance will be featured during a social hour preceding the Bakersfield Sister City Project Corporation's annual meeting on Tuesday at Mauricio's on Rosedale Highway.
Sue Stone, past president of the organization, said guests will be entertained by the Curran Junior High Mariachi Orchestra and Mexican dancer Mimi Ramos and a partner.
The Bakersfield group is accepting applications from youths in the eighth through 12th grades who would like to take part in the 13th annual Bucheon International Youth Homestay Exchange Program. The trip to South Korea will leave on July 30 and return Aug. 5. Participants must provide the cost of airfare and appending money.
Bakersfield has six sister cities. Wakayama, Japan was the first in 1961. In the 1990s, we became affiliated with Minsk, Belarus and Cixi, China. Three other cities have been added since the start of the 21st century -- Queretaro, Mexico; Bucheon, South Korea; and Amritsar, India.
From time to time members of the local group host international visitors in a variety of ways, such as offering them lodging in their homes, meals and transportation to sites of interests in Kern and neighboring counties.
Those interested in joining the organization should call Stone at 393-2972 or visit its website at bakersfieldsistercity.org.