It's a few days before rehearsals begin for "Shirley Valentine," the one-woman play she is starring in, and a mere three weeks to opening night.
But between bites of her sandwich and frequent interruptions from assorted well-wishers, Karyl Lynn Burns is calmly discussing a life so hectic it would drive many to drink--doubles.
For those who don't know, Burns is executive director of the Ventura Chamber Music Festival, owner of State of the Arts public relations and consulting firm, co-founder of Ventura's Rubicon Theatre Company and a much lauded actor.
"Oh, I'm also janitor at all of the above," she says, laughing. "I want my business card to read Queen and Janitor."
Those who have dealt with Burns--a one-woman tornado who blew into town a few years ago and helped change the cultural face of Ventura--have learned to appreciate her easy and infectious giggle and her remarkable organizational skills. Burns juggles every detail of an event--from handling performers to designing playbills to picking up the petits fours--all while wielding the occasional mop.
What most people in these parts don't know is that Burns has the credentials to be both janitor and royal, at least on stage. She is an accomplished actor who has won three Drama-Logue awards over the years. She studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and has performed in dramas, comedies and musicals with companies including Santa Barbara's Ensemble Theatre, Santa Barbara Repertory, Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera and San Jose Civic Light Opera.
Now, with Rubicon, the company Burns founded with husband Jim O'Neil, Ventura County audiences can see her on the stage, not lurking behind it or selling tickets in front of it. She is bringing "Shirley Valentine" to the renovated Laurel Theater in downtown Ventura for nine shows, starting March 13. The play is the first of three productions that Rubicon is doing for its "Season of Special Events."
"We did the show in Santa Barbara at the Center Stage Theatre five years ago, and then took it on a short tour," she says, "so I have some experience with this play."
Anyone taking on a play--one that is essentially an extended monologue--six weeks before kicking off a chamber festival must be spiking her soda pop with Prozac, right?
"Well, it is definitely hard," she says, her signature giggle bubbling up. "But it is also a lot of fun and very rewarding. The play is in March and then the chamber festival follows from April 29 to May 9. In fact, I'm going to have to finish the brochure copy for the festival this afternoon."
Knowing Burns, she is probably also installing lights or rebuilding the stage at the Laurel. At least "Shirley Valentine" is a play she has done before, so you figure the lines have been committed to memory.
"Oh no," she says. "I have to relearn them. I have very good short-term memory and bad long-term memory. I usually learn the lines right before because if I learn them earlier, I won't retain them.
"You know, I did the show before with the same director, Greg Lee," Burns says. "When I first signed on, I had only seen the movie version of the play, so I thought it was a show with a lot of other characters. Then I cracked open the script and started turning pages and I thought, 'This is an awfully long first monologue.' Once I realized it was a one-woman show, I called Greg and tried to back out."
All the way to opening night, Burns looked like a deer in the headlights.
Valentine is a bored suburban housewife who spends a lot of time in the kitchen before breaking out of her rut and heading off to discover Greece, accidentally rediscovering life.
"She cooks through the entire first act," says Burns, "and that was probably the most terrifying thing, since I don't know how to cook."
Which is another part of the Burns method. You take a leap of faith, knowing the ground is somewhere below.
Considering she is launching her theater company in a town that has demonstrated only modest interest in community theater, this might seem, well, sort of nuts.
"My interest in doing this came out of my experience with the musical festival," Burns says. "As executive director over the past three years, I have seen how much the community has embraced chamber music. I think the festival, as the signature cultural event in the community, has paved the way for people who might not otherwise have had a great interest in the arts.
"It has created an appetite for more."
Burns is well suited to feed that appetite.
"People in Ventura know me as an arts organizer and people in Santa Barbara know me as an actor," she says. "Funnily enough, I've always done both, even as a child.
"My mother reminded me recently that I used to put on shows for all the kids in the neighborhood."
What her mother didn't know was that Burns was charging admission.
"When she found out, she made me use the money to take all the kids to the circus. She wanted to teach me a lesson, and it did, but not the one she intended. I loved taking them.
"After that, I kept producing my own shows, charging admission and then taking the kids to various events. I guess I'm still doing it."
Times staff writer Wendy Miller can be reached at email@example.com.