For 27 years in theater, Sherry Jackson saw herself in one only role: that of an actress.
But that started to change when she was asked to be a costume designer for the School for Creative and Performing Arts' production of 42nd St. and, later, Lafayette High School's production of The Addams Family.
"I just started to realize I had picked up a lot of skills from being onstage so long," says Jackson, who was asked to step into yet another new role as the director of Balagula Theatre's production of Harold and Maude.
The play is based on Colin Higgins' screenplay of the iconic 1971 Hal Ashby film about a 19-year-old boy obsessed with death and his unlikely friendship and eventual romance with the free-spirited 79-year-old Maude.
Jackson originally had considered auditioning for the show when a conversation with Balagula artistic director Rachel Rogers, whom she met while playing one of the Pigeon sisters in The Woodford Theatre's production of The Odd Couple, took a surprising turn.
"Before the process of director selection had really even begun, I was discussing the script with her one day," Rogers says. "I was absolutely bowled over by her passion for this story and her insight into the characters both as a woman and a mother. I said, 'Sherry, you need to direct this. This is your show!' And it just clicked. She has proven herself the perfect choice for the job."
Jackson's transition to director came with a specific challenge: to differentiate Balagula's Harold and Maude from the film.
"I really purposefully wanted it to be light," Jackson says. "It was important to me that it not be dark. If people have it in their head that it is about this angst-ridden, depressed guy, if that's something they didn't like about the movie, they'll think, 'meh, life's too short.'"
Jackson turned to Wes Anderson films for her inspiration, focusing on a quirky tone and style that highlighted the show's more humorous and hopeful elements.
"It's not a show about suicide," Jackson says. "He's not suicidal at all. He fakes them, but it's not a show about a suicidal guy."
Alex Maddox, who plays the "not suicidal" Harold, has a record of putting his own spin on iconic film roles. He played the young Ben Braddock in Studio Players' production of The Graduate, which also features an unlikely romance between an older woman and a younger man.
Maddox says that having been through the similar process uniquely prepared him to play Harold. He had never seen the movie until this week, and that also worked in his favor.
"What made it a lot easier this go-around is that I didn't have Bud Cort in the back of my head. I was solely looking at it from my own perspective," Maddox says.
"Alex has been terrific. He's delightful to work with," says Missy Johnston, who plays colorful, vibrant Maude.
Johnston is decades younger than Maude, but she decided to play the character with emphasis on the spirit and personality of Maude rather than trying to physically emulate her age.
"I haven't concentrated so much on her age as her attitude toward life," Johnston says. "I didn't want to concentrate on aging the character; I wanted to concentrate on her personality.
"I tried putting a gray streak in my hair, which looked kind of yellow," says Johnston, "and Harold says several times in the play that you don't look like you're 80; you look like you could live forever. I think about my mom when she was 80 and she was really kickin it."
Jackson says she has learned a lot in her debut as a director, including that actors can bring a unique sensitivity to the process.
"I feel like I maybe have a little empathy there that some people might not if they haven't been on stage as much."