Jeff Willard has fun playing a loveable jerk

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The Hartland Players Mainstage production of “Rumors” by Neil Simon will be entertaining the community Feb. 23 & 24 and March 2 & 3 at the Hartland Music Hall, 3619 Avon Street, Hartland. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, and Saturday, March 2, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, and Sunday, March 3.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors and are available at the Cromaine Library or online at www.hartlandplayers.org. Tickets are also available at the door 30-minutes before showtime if the show is not sold out.

Until opening night, we’ll introduce you to the main members of the production.

Jeff Willard was born and raised in Bay City, and he has lived in Hartland for seven years with his wife, Amy, daughter, Ella, and son, Aidan.  He has worked in the IT industry since graduating from SVSU in 1993, and he currently works in Howell as an IT business intelligence engineer.

How did you get involved with this production?
It all started about 5 years ago when my daughter got involved in the Hartland Players Encore Youth Theater.  The parents do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, from costumes to set design, and I really enjoyed it.  This past year Hartland Players did “Annie” with an all-ages cast, so I thought I would try performing on stage as well.  It was a great experience as I got to perform with my daughter and a bunch of amazing people. That led me to audition for “Rumors” where I was cast in the role of Leonard Ganz.

Have you been in any other theatrical productions? If so, what roles did you play?
“Annie” was my first and only production. I was cast in a couple of ensemble roles and was fortunately surrounded by great singers. I also had the role of cabinet member Harold Ickes. In that case I had to sing by myself, but the role called for a bad singer, so I was cast perfectly!

Who is/are your inspiration?
My daughter Ella.  I still remember how proud I was watching her first audition. It takes a lot of courage at 10 years old to stand on a huge stage in front of people and perform a monologue and song. I also look to my fellow cast members — it’s great working out ideas with them.

Favorite part of being in the production?
I really enjoy the process. From the first table read to opening night. To see the evolution as we go from learning our lines to refining our interactions on stage. Every rehearsal gives us a chance to build off what know and try new things. I also like using the creative side of my brain. It’s a nice change from the sometimes black-and-white world of IT data analysis.

What can the audience members expect when they see the show?
It is fast-paced and there should be lots of laughs, like watching a sit-com.

What are the high points/challenges of your role?
The range of emotions I have to convey, from caring to sarcastic to sobbing to screaming. I have a feeling most people will think my character is kind of a jerk, but hopefully a loveable jerk.

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