Picketwire's fall play opens this Thursday

Picketwire Players are pleased to present “Agnes of God” as their 2017 fall play. We are excited that three of our most accomplished actresses are starring in “Agnes.” We recently posed some questions to all three and found out a little more about them. Some of their responses could be used for a master class in theater.

No stranger to La Junta audiences – both on and off the stage – is the director and star, KELLY JO SMITH. Kelly’s theater roots started at a very young age – third grade to be exact, and she continued her passion with a B.S.E. in Theatre from Truman University and an MA in English from Adams State. She was allowed to write and direct her first play in fifth grade – imagine that, a playwright at the age of 10.

We asked Kelly Jo what inspired her in the way she approached a character. “I think I look for the character's motivation – what can be shaped from the character's past or education or family. What does the character want and how can I find the truth in the performance? I begin with the playwright and break the script into beats to find the changes or arc in the character.”

The list of plays Kelly Jo starred in is long. She named her favorites: “I have to list 'Mame' since I did it twice. The second time I performed in it was the first time I shared stage time with my daughter, Hannah. It was a thrill to get to be on stage with her again in "Into The Woods." That is what is wonderful about community theater. It can be a family affair.” She performed with fellow Agnes star, Jeannie Larsen in “Mame,” " Grace and Glorie" and "Arsenic and Old Lace." The nun theme ran through Kelly Jo and Jeannie’s acting career as the two previously did all of the “Nunsense” plays for Picketwire. She labeled those as “pure fun.”

Directing "1776" was a labor of love for Kelly. “It was wonderful filling the stage with that many talented men. Lots of phone calls and begging to cast that show, but they were powerful to watch.”

Because the three of them have worked together so many times, they have developed a sense of rhythm, comfort and trust among them while on stage. Kelly Jo explained, “It is just fun to work with such talented actresses. The last play we all did together was" Mame" and Desiree played an Agnes in that show as well!”

Jeannie Larsen describes it this way: “Working with veterans of the stage has its many advantages. For example, when one of us thinks of an idea, chances are the other two just thought of it, as well! Blocking a scene is typically easier, too; stage movement becomes somewhat second nature after years of experience. There is definitely a sense of ease and fun during rehearsals. Helping and supporting each other, while we bring this show to life, is very important to all three of us."

Of course, Desiree Goheen, the youngest of this trio, had this to say: “Arsenic and Old Lace” was my first opportunity to work with Kelly Jo and Jeannie. I was still very nervous and new to Picketwire and they were very welcoming and kind. I remember feeling intimidated by their stage presence and feeling lucky to be in a show with them.

“Being in a show with an accomplished colleague is very intimidating, but extremely rewarding. It makes you want to invest all your energy to rise to their performance level. Every night there is discussion on what a line may mean or how it is delivered, how a character would react, or changes in their behavior and how it affects the mood of the show. Every night I leave with a new goal or idea and deep appreciation for their dedication to the arts.”


Introducing JEANNIE LARSEN seems redundant as she has graced the Picketwire stage so often. She holds a bachelor’s in Theatre Arts from the University of Northern Colorado (Greeley). Her first Picketwire show was “South Pacific” in 1978. She was a junior in college and was “thrilled to have the opportunity to wash my hair on stage every night as Nellie Forebush. We had a very large cast with tons of talent—including Matt Conditt, Grant Elliott, and Dave Howard—and packed the house seven nights in a row. I will be forever grateful to Mickie Miller for this memorable experience.”

In 1980, Picketwire produced the stage premier of “Mary Poppins.” Jeannie, of course, played Mary with her “newly-acquired husband, George, playing Burt. (What a way to start off what is now a 37-year marriage!)” After obtaining permission from P. L. Travers, Jeff Church (now the artistic director of The Coterie Theatre in Kansas City) wrote the stage adaptation. The production was historic, and Jeannie will “never forget having tea on the “ceiling” with Uncle Albert (Grant Elliott).”

She also has fond memories of the summer musicals with director Anthoney Sandoval, including “Bye Bye Birdie” where she played Rosie and danced the show-stopping number; “Little Shop of Horrors” (Mr. Mushnik) and “State Fair” (where she played Melissa Frake). She also danced her way through the “Nunsense” musicals as Sister Leo. “So many dedicated hours by so many volunteers over the years! Memories I will forever cherish.”

The stage escapades of Jeannie and Kelly Jo intertwined often and wonderfully. The last play they did together (until now) was in 2003 in the two-woman show, “Grace and Glorie.” “This dramedy, humorous yet deeply touching, was a truly unbelievable experience I’ll never forget. Many thanks to Kelly for sharing the stage—and her talents—with me!”

DESIREE GOHEEN started her theater education under Bonnie Grossen at Swink High School. She was Laurie Huntington in “The Little Dog Laughed,” Roberta the Robot in “Lost in Space” and Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She learned basic stage direction, set construction, costuming and make-up while in school.

On Picketwire’s stage, Desiree played Mae in the 2005 production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed by the late Ken Schroll. She worked with Kelly Jo Smith and Jeanie Larsen in “Arsenic and Old Lace” playing the jittery newlywed Elaine Harper and as Agnes Gooch in “Mame.” Her most physical role was as the feisty mutt in “Sylvia.” In “Into the Woods,” she “fulfilled a childhood dream to become a princess as Rapunzel. The added bonus was that my husband, Scott, played my prince charming.”

All the ladies have worn many hats for Picketwire as board members, choreographers, technicians, directors and even backstage management. Desiree said she has learned the most about the workings of a production from being Tracey Salzbrenner's assistant director for shows like “The Producers,” “9 to 5” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”

The three of them would love to work together again. Kelly Jo thought “Mamma Mia” would be a good fit since it’s about three friends. Helping and supporting each other, they could bring any show to life. Perhaps they could find another play with a character by the name of Agnes.

“Agnes of God” runs Sept. 14 (Thursday) through Sept. 16 (Saturday). All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 per person. You may purchase tickets online at www.picketwireplayers.org or by calling 384-8320.