James and Rose Pickering, who grew up in Delaware, met at Penn State. They were working at a summer theatre in Hartford in 1973, when director Adrian Hall saw them. The encounter led to both being offered jobs at Milwaukee Rep, a dual opportunity that proved irresistible. "We wanted to work together in one place," said James. "[With] so many people, one partner worked in one place, the other in another place. We didn't want to do that."
At the time, the Milwaukee scene was anemic. "The theatre scene really amounted to Milwaukee Rep, which was really the only Equity company in the city, the Skylight Opera, and Theatre X," said James. "It was very small and now it's gigantic."
The size of the Milwaukee Rep ensemble fluctuated over the years, from 6 to 13, but the Pickerings were always part of it. A formidable presence with a small tight mouth and large piercing eyes, she played dozens of roles at the theatre, in both comedies and dramas, including Amanda in The Glass Menagerie, Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible and title roles in Juno and the Paycock, The Matchmaker, Miss Lulu Bett and Mother Courage.
A consummate professional, she was known for preparing carefully for every part and never missing a performance. Her husband directed her twice, in The Nerd and Arsenic and Old Lace. In the former, an absurd Larry Shue comedy, Ms. Pickering got the biggest laugh of the show with her single line, "I….teach….slow….learners."
She once told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she took inspiration from Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. "He is thrilling. He is fearless. He's taking chances. I hold that image. As I am walking on the stage, I reach out and grab Brett Favre."