Kim Monroe is talking on her cell phone, sitting in a car, from a remote area in Arkansas where she and her husband are having a cabin built. The thermostat in the car is registering 93 degrees, she reports only after we’re finished with the interview.
But that’s the thing about actors, it’s “chin up and on with the show.”
For 16 years, Monroe has been involved with the Iberia Performing Arts League, better known as IPAL, not only entertaining the community, but also doing her part to enrich the lives of a vibrant community.
The New Iberia native got the acting bug when she was a student of New Iberia Senior High and enjoyed a class on Musical Productions. “I loved to sing and was hooked,” Monroe says enthusiastically. She reminisces about her first performances. She was 15 years old in the musical “Cinderella” and then she played Irene Malloy in “Hello Dolly,” both, at the time, directed by Helen Hodge.
Years later, Monroe would land her first audition at IPAL for the role of…..Irene Malloy in “Hello Dolly.” A twist of fate had it that she would be reunited with Helen Hodge, the show’s musical director.
A long-time regular on the IPAL stage, Monroe has performed in some 25 musicals, either acting or singing. Patrons remember her as Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors,” Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls,” Nellie in “South Pacific,” and the Lady of the Lake in “Spamalot,” a spin-off of “Monty Python,” among many others. In July, she branched out with the Christian Community Theatre in Lafayette, playing Tonya in “Momma Mia.”
Being part of the acting family is just one of the reasons Monroe cherishes her parts. “I love the community theater because it is 100 percent community, bringing an eclectic group of people with all different skills and talents together to create a very rewarding product. IPAL brings entertainment, joy, culture and pride to our beautiful downtown New Iberia. I personally have friends and family that travel from Arkansas and Texas to see our shows and I know my fellow actors have people that travel from farther than that.”
he former Louisiana Cotton Festival Queen and Miss New Iberia (both in 1986) says she’s had the opportunity to play some “amazing leading ladies.” When pressed to share her favorite role she smiles, “Miss Mona Stangley in “Best Little Whorehouse;” she’s sassy, very confident and opinionated, all the things that I think I am - most of the time. But she also has a soft side.”
Monroe’s persona evidently came through in that role, earning her an Essie Award for “Best Actress in a Musical” and Greater Lafayette Theatre’s “Rosie” Award.
As for what her dream role would be, she thinks for a minute and replies, “I am a huge Marilyn Monroe fan, so “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” would be fun!”
Currently in the midst of a break from her last play, Monroe is busy getting ready for the premiere of an upcoming fundraiser that will aid in putting on the city’s annual, and much anticipated, “Beneath the Balconies.” The series of short theatrical presentations and musical performances are held beneath balconies along New Iberia's Main Street in the fall.
In hopes to bring the public an even better “Balconies” event this year, the Essanee will present “Encore at the Essanee” on September 19, which will feature a favorite song from every show that has been performed at IPAL, starting with “Oliver” from 2004 and continuing on to cover some 15 plays. Monroe, who is the entertainment chairperson, says while some of the songs will be performed by the original actors and actresses, a few of whom are traveling from out of town, viewers can expect some changes. “Some men will be singing songs originally performed by women and vice versa; there will be duets; and some of the songs are even choreographed. This will be a special treat for our IPAL patrons because most of them have seen these shows- hence the reference to Encore.”
Monroe can honestly say she worked her way up the ranks at IPAL admitting, “I vacuumed, ran sound and light boards, painted sets…you name it.” But it was as IPAL’s president, from 2015-2017, who she felt she may have made her most important contributions, among them: encouraging youth involvement in the theatre through IPAL’s summer workshops.
“It’s a beautiful journey to watch a child being introduced to theatre for the first time,” Monroe says. “Some are born for the stage, while others may be very shy. It’s amazing that after a week at one of our summer workshops all of the children feel at home onstage. They learn valuable life skills like communication, patience, imagination, morals and are very likely to form friendships that will last a lifetime. Our world can be a tough place for kids so it’s enlightening to bring something positive to our future generations.”
The woman who has sang and acted her way across the stage is more low-key in her off time than you might think. For 20 years, Monroe has made keepsake jewelry and rosaries out of her home; the line, Bayeux Baubles, can be found on Facebook. The rosaries are unique in that they are made with rose petals and other flowers, brought by customers, that are dried and painstakingly put inside small filigree beads. Monroe started making rosaries when a friend, who had just lost a loved one, asked her to create one as a special keepsake.
Monroe and her husband (of 20 years in November) have a daughter who is a firefighter and EMT. The couple is celebrating their anniversary with the construction of a vacation home, a cabin situated 30 miles west of Hot Springs in a little town called Caddo Gap. “Population: less than 100,” Monroe laughs. The land is less than a mile from a childhood friend of Monroe’s who they have visited for years. She describes it as “a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle, with beautiful views of the Ouachita Mountains. It’s nice to lie in my hammock; we go on nature trails on our four-wheeler. One day we hope to make it our retirement home.”