This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB’s "Red Hot Mama"

Theater is other passion of WBFO’s Kelli Bocock-Natale

Published: March 24, 2005

Reporter Contributor

While it's no surprise that UB faculty and staff members are devoted to their jobs at the university, many are known to exercise other talents in their spare time as well.

For Kelli Bocock-Natale, community relations and publicity associate for WBFO 88.7 FM, her other passion is acting and directing in Buffalo's theater community. Bocock-Natale recently ended a run starring as Sophie Tucker in MusicalFare Theatre's production of "Sophie Tucker: Last of the Red Hot Mamas." And like Sophie, Bocock-Natale is a bundle of energy—gregarious and full of life.


"We are both strong women—Sophie and I—very outgoing, enjoy people, never like to be alone, life of the party, like to be in the thick of it," she says.

Bocock-Natale found the script for the one-woman musical and approached MusicalFare about producing the show, which featured just Bocock-Natale and a pianist on stage. The audience response to the show was so great that the company extended the run an extra week, with the final performances running through Dec. 12.

Bocock-Natale agrees that like her job at WBFO, UB's National Public Radio affiliate, playing Sophie was a lot of work, but a different kind of work.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever done physically and emotionally," the veteran actress said of her role as Sophie. "You are in front of 150 people all by yourself with a lot to memorize. The voice, my body, my work and Sophie are all I'd done for the past few months."

The story is an autobiography of sorts, performed in 24 songs by Sophie herself. She tells the tales of certain times in her life via a nightclub act, reminiscent of her later contributions to music and theater. Tucker lived until she was 88 and performed in New York City until she was 59. She was one of the first white women to sing in Harlem, and she never conformed to the rules of society. Bocock-Natale admits that Sophie was always a character she wanted to play.

"She was way ahead of her time in the Vaudeville era," she points out. "She's similar to Bette Midler—out there, witty, but not crass—always dressed to the nines. I learned about her in graduate school. She smoke, drank, gambled, married three times and bragged about it, and supported her entire family."

But like any human being, Sophie was not without flaws, Bocock-Natale notes.

"I don't like that she abandoned her son," she says. "She left him with her parents and supported him all that time, but she wasn't any good at seeing him or being a mom."

Bocock-Natale has been acting since she was 4 years old, and received both her bachelor's and master's degrees in theater from Binghamton University. After graduate school, she moved to New York City to try and "make it," but found that she hated it.

"It's a whole other world," she says of the life of a struggling actor in New York. "I didn't have that intense drive. I like to eat and be able to pay my bills."

After leaving New York, Bocock-Natale spent a summer working with her mother, who was the general manager of WYRK, a Buffalo radio station. She decided to try her luck at Studio Arena, and began her theater career acting and directing.

"It's a wonderful theater community," she said. "So much talent. People are easy to know and be known."

And it's wonderful that the community keeps evolving, she notes.

"There have been huge changes in the theater" since she started working in the late 1980s, she said. "No one was doing musical theater when I came here, then MusicalFare started in 1992. Now, we have the Irish Classical Theatre, Buffalo United Artists (BUA), HAG, the New Phoenix—five professional theater companies I can think of have started since then. And talented people are staying. If you are lucky enough, you can work a good job and do theater. Many places can now pay their casts and staff full-time pay. Young people are staying here to get their sea legs as well."

But regardless of how many other personalities she must take on, her job at WBFO remains her top priority. Bocock-Natale handles all publicity for the station, as well as contributing story ideas to the news department and helping to produce the Meet the Author book discussion series. She does marketing, helps produce the annual fund drive, handles special events like live broadcasts, initiates listener parties and goes wherever WBFO needs to be represented. She joined the WBFO staff two years ago after working as the director of marketing for the Center for the Arts for about seven years. She expressed her love of the experience of working for both places.

"The CFA was a great place to work for and WBFO just has a great team here," she said. "They (station staff) are very talented, creative, all about the listener and always trying to improve. Like the theater, we work as an ensemble in different roles. It's a very creative feeling and a lot of fun to be in that atmosphere."

Like Sophie, Bocock-Natale loves people, so her favorite part of her job is the event work.

"I'm out there with people, doing everything from menus to electric," she said. "I love being out there meeting listeners and I enjoy meeting the NPR community."

But Bocock-Natale never strays too far from the theater. She is directing "A...My Name is Alice" for the BUA, which will open tomorrow, and "Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" for the Irish Classical Theatre Company, which will open June 3. She says acting is "very fulfilling," but that directing is where she gets to be "most creative."

"I love collaborating with other actors and artists to see a project from beginning to end," she says.

Bocock-Natale also notes that while directing is a tough job, acting is much more intense.

"'Sophie' was grueling," she said. "It is a rare thing for a professional theater to produce a one-person show because you have to rely so much on the actor to produce and maintain a certain performance level for at least five shows a week. It was humbling and really scary that the director (Randy Kramer) put so much faith in me."

But regardless of the trials and tribulations of the stage and her work with WBFO, she finds a satisfying balance within the arts.

"(Theater) makes me whole," she says. "I'm able to express myself. I couldn't walk away from it."