Behind the Scenes with A Night with Janis Joplin

Lisa Condit spoke with Mary Bridget Davies, who plays Janis Joplin in A Night with Janis Joplin. This performance comes to The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts Sunday, September 15 for two shows only. Read on for highlights from the interview or listen to the full interview below, then tune in to WCRN 830 AM Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.

Lisa: Is this every woman’s dream come true to play the queen of rock and roll, or what?

Mary: Oh, it’s mine, for sure. I used to listen to her records. Just that unbridled passion that she had and command of the stage and everything. You really get to flex your own emotional range and demons because she’s a perfect vessel and perfect conduit for it. And you’re just up there really tearing the whole crowd down from the rafters for a couple hours. And then, boom, we went to Broadway, and then I was nominated for a Tony® for best lead actress in a musical for the role. 

Lisa: The music is amazing.

Mary: It’s my parent’s music. They’re baby boomers. It’s totally their jam. So while I was rocking out to my pop stuff and dance class music, I’d come home and they’d be listening to John Lee Hooker, and the Allman Brothers and Janis Joplin. It’s literally just in my DNA.

Lisa: What were some of the things that you discovered in your work with this musical that surprised you?

Mary: It wasn’t that it surprised me as much as what I learned about her absolute respect that she had for all the black artists that came before her… Etta James, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Bessie Smith, Odetta, and we have different wonderful actresses in this show that portray these women as Janis is telling the story.

Our show, A Night with Janis Joplin, is literally just that… if Janis could just put together a knock down concert for you one last time and tell you about herself. We don’t really dive into the drug addiction, the alcohol or her sexual preferences, or any of that. We don’t really have time. It’s about the music, and it’s about how it saved her as an artist, and that it was so important to her that everybody know about these women that came before her and what absolute pioneers they were for her. And it’s made me appreciate her so much more. Because 27 years old, you think about that, she was only famous for about three years total, not even. 

Lisa: Have you had the opportunity to talk to any of her musical influences?

Mary: Well I actually toured with her band, Big Brother and the Holy Company, so I’ve been in the living rooms of some of her best friends and the guys she traveled from the University of Texas to San Francisco with the first time. I was sitting there in a guitar circle playing acoustic guitar with them in San Francisco on Powell Avenue while Bill Han was doing his oil and water light show projection, doing a private show for us. Now this was the guy that would do all those hippie dances at the Avalon Ballroom and all the other venues in San Fransisco. Here I am just sitting in her life basically.

Lisa: What’s your favorite part of the tour or the experience? What would you say is the number one thing that keeps you going and gets you excited to get out on the stage?

Mary: The audience, because it’s different every night, but it does the same thing to everyone every night if we do it right. That’s when lights are going and the house is a little bit light and I can see what’s going on and it’s melting the years away from her original fans and blowing the minds of the younger ones, and you look out and they’re all the same thing. I mean I saw a dude with a walker and at the end of act one he was holding it up and shaking it.