Behind the scenes, actress shares secret to success

Ann Kopecky

Ann Kopecky

Sitting in the driver’s seat of a classic ’57, L’il Bit adjusts the rear view mirror, snaps her seat belt on and tries to find the right radio station.

Memories of her driving coach, intimate friend and uncle, Peck, float through her head as she starts the ignition.

From the beginning of the play to the end, the audience hangs on to each word, emotion and action of the young woman with curly red hair, a tight blue cardigan and a nervous, excited disposition.

“It’s been her secret and I don’t think that would be easy to tell anyone,” Callie Jacobsen says. “At the same time I can’t help but feel sorry for Uncle Peck. They both truly care for each other.”

This past weekend audience members watched Jacobsen play the role of L’il Bit in the South Dakota State University production, “How I Learned to Drive” by Paula Vogel. The production will continue this week with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Onstage she’s L’il Bit, a young southern gal with naivety, charm and sarcasm, but who is Callie Jacobsen offstage?

Jacobsen, a junior theatre major from Dubuque, Iowa, began her acting career in eighth grade. Theater was in her blood, Jacobsen explains. Her grandmother and father were both active in productions and the tradition carried on to her in the next generation.

Her first performance was Bea Shacter in “Up the Down Staircase.” Jacobsen says she experienced “a whole surge of nervousness and excitement” during the performance.

“It was an exciting feeling and I didn’t want it to go away,” Jacobsen says as she leans back in her chair at Jack’s Place. “No matter what you do you always take something away about that person.”

Dressed in a gray sweater and jeans with her red hair in two braids tucked under a navy blue New York Yankees baseball hat, Jacobsen begins to list the performances she’s been in since the eighth grade play.

In high school, she starred in “Flowers for Algernon,” “Voices 2000,” “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night,” “The Secret Garden,” “All I Need to Know About Life I Learned in Kindergarten,” “All in Americaland” and during her senior year, she restarred in “Up the Down Staircase,” this time capturing the lead. Jacobsen also took part in small and large group theater during high school.

At SDSU, she’s starred in “Equus,” “And a Nightingale Sang,” “Boys Next Door,” “Tartuffe” and “Foreigner.”

When Jacobsen doesn’t have a role, she takes part in the technical aspects of productions.

“That’s the best part of the program,” Jacobsen says. “You learn how to perform as well as do technical.”

Jacobsen hopes to graduate next May. After SDSU, she plans to apply to Emerson College in Boston where she will seek her master’s degree in theater education. Jacobsen credits her professors for her interest in teaching.

“They all push us to succeed,” Jacobsen says. “Because of this faculty, I know I want to teach it.”

Since she arrived at SDSU, Jacobsen has also learned a few secret techniques to her performance. Her first technique is to carry her lucky objects, her pictures of her parents, grandparents, three sisters, boyfriend and friends, with her.

“I look at all the pictures to take them all out of my mind. So my personal feelings for everyone are set aside,” Jacobsen explains. “I start thinking about the character and recite monologues. By the time I step on stage I’ve lost everything about me.”

Jacobsen also carries her lucky script with her everywhere. She pulls out her copy of the script to “How I Learned to Drive.” A bent yellow pamphlet with rips, tears, tape and highlights, the script is Jacobsen’s right-hand man.

“When learning my lines, it’s always in my back right pocket,” Jacobsen says. “I lose pages after having it for three days.”

With four more performances to go, Jacobsen still has some expectations for the production.

“I just hope people come to the show,” Jacobsen says. “I think it’s a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard. Hopefully they’ll enjoy it and appreciate it.”