Lead singer Meghan Kreidler is thrashing her way through the song “Bully,” during rehearsal with her band, Kiss the Tiger.
“Every once in a while you think what it would be like to be someone else,” she shouts, struggling against two guitars, bass and drum in a 12- by 10-foot muffled room.
In the heat and noise, the lyric seems to be the question facing Kreidler.
A striking, versatile and hardworking actor, she might be named Emerging Artist of the Year at next Monday’s Ivey Awards for Twin Cities theater. But Kiss the Tiger went on a summer tour that ended up playing a packed Lower Manhattan club at 1 a.m.
That’s a little intoxicating and Kreidler — who is playing Aldonza in Theater Latté Da’s new production of “Man of La Mancha” — admitted this might be the time (which comes in everyone’s life, of course) to think about being a rock star.
“It’s turning into a bigger passion of mine,” she said over coffee.
Can she do both? Of course. And she will, probably. But band tours get in the way of steady theater work. It’s a gamble. She gets it. She has two guiding values: to be comfortable with uncertainty and be willing to take risk and failure.
“You put your work out, you try not to get your hopes up too far,” she said. “But it’s so much not in your control.”
From ‘speech nerd’ to star
Kreidler walks into the Latté Da rehearsal hall, straps on a skirt and starts kicking Dan Hopman in the groin, whacking him in the chest with her open hand. Sweating through a scene in which she fights five men, Kreidler gets smacked around, smacks them around and ends up getting cold-cocked.
It’s a workout, trying to navigate the class and gender conflicts that Cervantes stokes in “Don Quixote’s” female character, Aldonza. She sings beautiful ballads from a place of abuse and poverty. How does the actor find the happiness in her life?
“This role undergoes the biggest transformation in the show,” said director Peter Rothstein. “It’s fun to watch her navigate a complicated journey. She’s been really playful in rehearsals.”
Kreidler was a self-described “competitive speech nerd” at Eagan High School. She got up at 6 on Saturdays, competed all day, and went to tournaments across the country. The work shows now in her simple command of the stage and her utility of voice and comfort in performing.
“It might be cool for you to mention my directors,” she wrote in an e-mail. “They were mostly women and they provided me with so much of my early training and confidence building.”
So, Joni Anker, Jodene Wartman and Nancy Owzarek? Meghan Kreidler still remembers you.
Kreidler graduated in the 2013 University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA acting class that included Nathan Barlow, Michael Hanna and Ayesha Kinnunen. She spent a year in the Children’s Theatre apprenticeship program, where she “learned how to work 10 shows a week.”
Penumbra artistic director Sarah Bellamy first saw Kreidler in “Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals” at Theater Mu four years ago.
“She has a formidable stage presence,” Bellamy said. “And that shows as a calmness and steadiness.”
Bellamy hired Kreidler to write a monologue about growing up Asian-American, and read it as part of Penumbra’s Race Workshop Program.
My memory is of China, is how Kreidler begins her monologue. We’re digging a hole to China!
That was the name given to me; A young boy who inscribed my soul with first memories of race.
But I am Korean-American; My mother gave me my Korean half; Robust novel she is;
My eyes are hers; My nose are hers; Things he didn’t realize when he called me China;
But he dug the hole deeper and deeper.
Who is she? And what’s next?
Kreidler turns 27 in December, an age when humans realize, “I thought I knew everything but now I don’t.”
It was only a few years ago that she traveled to Korea with her mother. As a child, she would hear her mother speaking on the phone and singing songs in Korean.
The trip was “a profound experience for her,” said Randy Reyes, artistic director at Theater Mu and a mentor.
Reyes cast Kreidler in “Flower Drum Song,” as Linda Low, the beautiful song-and-dance girl who wants to leave “San Francisco U.S.A.” to become a movie star in L.A.
“Linda Low was her story,” Reyes said. “Meghan connected to Linda immediately. She wants more out of life. She wants to pursue a career.”
Linda’s fear, of course, is that she’ll be playing Asian-American stereotypes if she does become a movie star in L.A.
“How do you scrape out a career in this industry where how you look means so much?” said Reyes.
Dynamic performance style
To brush up her dance technique, she worked with the Flying Foot Forum, whose director, Joe Chvala, wisely cast her in “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie, which he directed last year.
“That was the most nervous I ever felt, being on that stage,” Kreidler said of her performance as Mrs. Cratchit, which she will repeat this year. “It’s a privilege.”
Her favorite play, though, has been “Vietgone,” Qui Nguyen’s excellent play about his South Vietnamese father and mother and the U.S. exit.
Kreidler got to do it all in Mixed Blood’s production last April. She rapped, she played tough, she played hurt, she danced. The combination of styles played to her strength.
“It’s the only kind of theater I want to develop now,” she said. “I felt good about everything I was doing in that show.”
Most remarkably, her performance did not seem impressed with itself, which is a risk in a tour-de-force role. She just confidently did the work.
This is the thing about Kreidler. She has good manners. She’s friendly, curious and intelligent. She has a good gauge for what needs to be taken seriously and what can be dismissed or better enjoyed with humor.
How could you ever be a rocker with that attitude? Where are the trashed motel rooms? The lawn chairs in the pool?
In theater, Kreidler is obliged to slip behind a character and assume an identity. In the band, it’s her, and only her, with no fight coach, director, choreographer to help. It’s freedom, terrible freedom.
“It’s an exaggerated version of myself,” she said. “But it’s me.”
She’s apparently gotten comfortable with slipping into her own character. She’s still savoring the band’s summer tour. “We got a great reception and it added fuel to the fire,” she said.
Now the band is recording a handful of new songs, most of them written by Kreidler’s boyfriend, co-frontman and rhythm guitarist Michael Anderson. Gathered in a crackerbox room to rehearse a few weeks ago, it was clear they were enjoying it. “Sweet solo,” she said to Andrew Berg after a trippy lead guitar part.
“It feels good to play again,” said Anderson.
“Yeah, it does,” she said.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune critic and arts writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.