Last season we began our “Actors’ ExPats” series – interviews with folks who once were involved with Actors’ but had since moved away. This year, as we move our 30th Season, we are going to take that idea and expand on it. We are going to be celebrating some of the many, many people who have made this theatre such a success!
So, we’ll be interviewing all kinds of folks, from those that helped start Actors’ in the very beginning to those who are helping out today; people who have moved from West Michigan and those who are active in Grand Rapids theatre now. Our goal is to get to know some of the amazing people who have graced our stage, from acting to directing to everything in between. This is an opportunity to take a look at the past and also look to the future – and why Actors’ Theatre has been a passion for so many.
Our first interviewee is the talented actress, writer, director and producer Teresa Thome.
Teresa, tell us a little about your history with Grand Rapids community theatre. What drew you to community theatre?
I started as a student at Grand Rapids Junior College, (yes, I am “dating” myself.) I took a few theatre classes with Fred Sebulske and loved it so much I ended up becoming a theatre assistant at the College.
I went to JC for a few years before heading off to Grand Valley. In addition to taking general courses, I focused on theatre. I have a Certificate in Theatre from JC. I was featured in a brochure for GRJC in their “JC for Me” advertising era. Well, if by featured one means, you can see my hair, back and shoulder in an ad where I am looking at Patrick Ziegler’s recognizable face as he stands on a stage!
I wound up on the Board of Actors’ for a time in the 90’s and returned for a very brief stint recently. I performed years ago in a show Reckless and then recently in the show Well. I was a member of Actors’ Workshop – a life changing experience – and went on to take a Directing Internship with Michael Page (offered by Actors’). That led to my work as a director. I was able to direct about a half dozen shows. I miss directing something fierce and hope to be back at it some day.
What were some of your favorite Actors’ Theatre shows, memories or stories you can share?
One of the first shows I saw was Agnes of God with Pegeen Jefchak, Jeralyn Pinsky and Earlene Helderman. It was and continues to be one of the most impressive pieces of theatre I have ever experienced. I remember, as a young theatre assistant, watching those women go through their process, finding character and owning that intimate space and every soul in it. It was absolutely inspiring. There are so many other shows and individual performances that rival any Broadway / Off-Broadway experiences I’ve had (and I have had the privilege to be exposed to some pretty great theatre). To list them all would take too much room. Seriously, that many! (But I do have to mention the Grand Award winning performance by my wonderful hubby – Fred Stella). I have a flood of other great memories – beyond the stage… working the crazy box office with the half swing door in tiny cramped quarters, meeting Rodney Vaccaro for the first time (and that’s a funny story I won’t put here, but will share with anybody who asks), running lights for March of The Falsettos, watching Jim Camenga walk through his life in an Actors’ Workshop exercise, being on the receiving end of Fred Sebulske direction, directing my first production Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune, seeing Shelly Urbane’s directing work in Mr. Marmalade and thinking how wonderful to see someone come in to their own, hanging at the Cottage Bar with so many colorful, courageous people… on and on it goes.
Teresa, what do you think you gained from doing community theatre in Grand Rapids?
Without a doubt, I actually like the person I have become (for the most part) and that is due to theatre – and Actors’ in particular. Being exposed in my early college years to theatre, its people and content has profoundly shaped my views of the world. Directing taught me leadership, acting and improv taught me how to respond to any situation, the content of the shows exposes me to new thoughts and ideas and challenges my own belief system and the people make me laugh and show me how to be loyal. We have had some pretty rough times as a community… losing a loved one, someone experiencing a physical or mental challenge and time and time again I see people rise to the occasion – opening homes, feeding friends, stepping in as a massive support system. Last year I asked people via my Facebook status update if they would send my husband some good vibes as he was struggling getting over a cold. Within hours I had half a dozen responses from theatre people, not only offering to send good vibes, but asking what else he and I needed. I realized in that moment that as long as I have theatre and this theatre community in my life I will never be alone.
Actors’ at its best provides thought provoking theatre by talented people. Its mission is critical to contributing to a more engaged and interesting community. I hope that it will continue to reflect on what it can do and should do to serve the greater community. I think it should not allow Fred Sebulske and Jean Reed Bahle to sleep in on Saturday mornings. There are many actors and directors who would love to take their workshops, Actors’ means nurturing talent and I hope to see more of that again. (Nudge Nudge Fred and Jean. Puh-leeeeeze.)
What are you up to now?
I am President of Enthusiastic Productions, a production company that produces the award-winning children’s television show Come On Over! I received a regional Emmy award and a national daytime Emmy nomination for my work on that project. I have other projects in development with Enthusiastic Productions and I spend Wednesday nights at Bistro Bella Vita sipping on one Bombay Sapphire Dirty Gin Martini and writing, visioning and planning a creative future with my closest and dearest friend, Patrick Ziegler.