Jennie Smith Otterman
1. How did you first get interested in theatre, what was the first play you remember seeing and what was the first play you participated in?
When I was a sophomore at Frankfort High School, my Mom made me audition for the fall musical Oklahoma, directed by Martin Henderson. I was not on the original post of cast members, but later, the girl who had been cast as Dream Laurie dropped out and Martin attended our Puppett practice to select a replacement. I was asked to take on the part. And as they say...the rest is history. My mom loved theatre and had been taking me to see productions at Clowes Hall and Starlight Musicals since I was a little girl.
2. When did you work at the Red Barn? What is your most distinct memory from that time?
I was in the original On Stage company at Frankfort High School in the late sixties and then moved on the be in the original group who helped build The Barn. I have so many fond memories...too many to detail. One of the earliest memories from when we built The Barn was when Chris, my husband, was cleaning out the walls and a baby mouse fall onto his shoulder. I also remember that many of us had stepped on rusty nails as there were countless boards laying across the dirt floor that I and others had been pulling nails out of. So, Martin asked Dr. Flora to come out to give us all Tetnus boosters. We all lined up to receive our inoculations, one after another.
3. What shows do you most remember from your Red Barn days? What moments (on-stage or off) made a specific show memorable?
I was fortunate to have many stellar roles at The Barn. SOME of my favourites include: Butterflies are Free (twice...when young, I played Jill and when older, I played the mother), Chicago, Gypsy, Hot L Baltimore, Crimes of the Heart, Vanities, Lips Together Teeth Apart, Steel Magnolias, The Rainmaker, Black Comedy, How the Other Half Loves, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Rumors, Lost in Yonkers, Summertree, Bus Stop, The Shadow Box, Spoils of War and Rabbit Hope. I remember, during Lips Together, it was a summer of heat with temperatures near 100. We did not have air conditioning in those years and our stage was built up by 4 or so feet so that a “swimming pool” could be created on the set. So, we actors were very close to the lights which made it even hotter. One night, We had just started the show...only maybe 20 minutes into it, and I began to feel very sick and about to pass out. Fortunately, I had “the pool” so I quickly went down, sat near the water and began splashing water over myself. I was able to continue the show and did not miss a line. At intermission, Martin came running backstage to chastise me about altering my blocking. I made it through the show and went to the doctor the next day. He diagnosed that I had heat exhaustion...close to a heart stroke and My water splashing probably saved me. I spent the rest of the run constantly drinking Gatorade and having fans blowing on me whenever I was off stage...and yes, I continued to sit by “the pool” as often as I could...at least until the heat spell broke.
4. What theater, film or backstage experience have you had since you worked at the Red Barn?
I went on to get a degrees in theatre, an undergrad from I.U and a masters in theatre from NorthWestern University. I taught Speech and four levels of Theatre for 30 years at Hamilton Southeastern High School where I directed over 50 plays and was the Speech Team Head Coach for 26 years. Since retirement in 2015, I have become very involved in the Indianapolis Civic Theatre scene, directing shows at Carmel Community Players, The Belfry, Noblesville’s Shakespeare in the Park and Westfield Playhouse where I also reside on the Board of Directors. I have acted at Mud Creek Theatre. I am also a musical’s judge for The Indianapolis Encore Association. And once, I directed at The Barn...the first and ONLY woman to ever direct.
5. Where do you live now and what are you doing career-wise?
I live in South Harbour, Noblesville, Indiana where I have lived for the past 38 years. The above answer gives information on what I am currently doing. Covid wrecked some of my plans, but I am supposed to direct again at The Belfry in the spring of 2021 and at Mud Creek and Westfield in 2022.
6. Would you like to let us know a bit about your family?
I am married to Chris Otterman who was also a very prominent member of the first company and whose brother was very active in the On Stage years of The Barn. Chris acted in countless Red Barn productions and was a former president of The Red Barn Board of Directors. My daughter resides in Los Angeles with her husband and my 3 grand boys. She acted and choreographed for many years in Barn shows and went on to become a professional actress. My son, who also worked at The Barn, is married with a son and daughter and lives in Bloomington Illinois.
8. Anything else you’d like to share about your life or life at the Red Barn?
The Barn was a family in the early years. I met and fell in love with many of the dearest people in my life...including my husband. It shaped me, taught me, loved me and then...it broke my heart.
9. If someone wanted to follow you or get in touch with you, where could they find you? Include any that you are comfortable with:
I am on Facebook under Jennie Smith Otterman