Barbara Krajkowski has had a long and storied career in the theater arts, starting long before she founded Parsippany's .
“I’ve been doing theater most of my life, she said. "I started in Brooklyn when I was a child; I was always around theater. When I came back to New Jersey, I started looking for theaters. I’ve been here for 45 years and I’ve always been in a theater.”
Krajkowski’s stops have included Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she earned degrees in theater arts, William Paterson University, where she has taught for 30 years, and the Barn Theatre in Montville.
What inspired her to establish the Women’s Theater Company, though, in 1993?
“I was sitting with a couple of ladies and said, ‘Let’s start a theater company that offers women a safe place to come and direct, produce and practice their craft,’” she explained. “When we decided to come here, I had already been a stage mother and had my degrees, so it just seemed like a natural place for me to go, to start my own little professional company.”
Since then, Krajkowski has never looked back and has enjoyed every opportunity to direct the company, up to and including its who meet, live together and, eventually, get married. The play runs at Parsippany Playhouse through May 20.
“I said, ‘Here’s a play that really relates to society where it is now,’" she said. "It’s an older population; both these people are widows, they’re older and their children are out on their own now. One has grandchildren, and it’s just like, ‘What do we do with ourselves for the rest of our lives?’
“These two hooked up, and we watch the process of them meeting, knowing, staying and eventually getting married, the problems they have, and how it ends.”
So far, reviews of the show have been positive since its May 4 opening.
“The audience is just loving that process," said Krajkowski. "They’re right here, like they’re in someone’s living room and they’re just watching it happen. People are doing more when they’re older; they’re not sitting around and saying, ‘OK, I’m old, I’m going to sit in the corner.’ These people aren’t, and I like that. I like showing that they have full lives and they think about all the things that we all think about in a relationship.”
A healthy dose of realism has gone into the process of creating the company’s incarnation of “Southern Comforts," a process Krajkowski said she enjoys with each production.
“I love directing. I love working with the professional actors," she said. "There’s a satisfaction: You read the play or you see the play somewhere, and you take it from absolute scratch when you come into this environment and say, ‘How am I going to do it?’ Then it happens, and you go, ‘Wow! That was the most fun.'
“I very rarely watch [a production] after it’s opened, because my fun is the whole producing and directing process. Seeing the actors develop into their characters, seeing the setting come alive and all these people come in having and the lights come alive (is fun). All of a sudden, you’ve created this mini-world right here.”
That love of creating has carried on to her family’s next generation.
Theatre and performing arts have been huge in the lives of Krajkowski and her family, and perhaps no one was impacted more by her parents’ love of theatre than Krajkowski daughter, "30 Rock" and Tony-winning stage actor Jane Krakowski.
Jane got her break as a little girl, alongside fellow actress Sarah Jessica Parker and 10 other little girls, in a production where all girls who got a part earned automatic membership into the Actors’ Equity Union. From there, Krajkowski says, her daughter was hooked, even with the rigorous process that actors often have to endure when they are starting their careers.
“She got to work with very, very famous people," the proud mom recalled. "She was in Broadway chorus lines and had to sing a song. Then we said, ‘OK, we’ll keep it up as long as you want to,’” Krajkowski said. “Jane really wanted to. You go in two, three times a week for auditions. You do commercials, you do movies and you do TV. She did a lot of that.”
Eventually, Jane got her big break at age 18, starring on Broadway in "Starlight Express" before stints starring in stage productions of "Grand Hotel" and "Guys and Dolls" and, perhaps more famously, television stints on sitcoms like "Ally McBeal" and, now, "30 Rock."
“Jane’s had a really great career," said Krajkowski. "It’s been fun for us. She’s very open with us. She shares with us. We’ve had the fun on going on the different sets and going to watch her rehearse the different shows. It’s been a great experience, I think because Jane has allowed us to be a part of it because we were stage parents.”
Krajkowski told Patch that, despite Jane’s success, her daughter has stayed grounded and is willing to give back to the community. Jane will occasionally stop by the Women’s Theater Company for fundraising events, which are ever important for any theater company in a fickle economy.
“Granting has just come to a halt,” Krajkowski said. “A couple companies have gone just within the past couple years with the economy and everything.”
Still, though, Women’s Theater Company sees plenty of local and regional support to keep it up and running to put on professional productions in its intimate setting.
“This town has been so supportive,” Krajkowski said. “They’ve been really nice to us.”