Varied journeys, singular purpose

Mar. 02, 2013 @ 11:31 AM

Theater arts students and other acting enthusiasts who are part of the upcoming Vance-Granville Community College production of “Our Town” are finding a journey together that builds their friendships, sharpens their acting skills and further opens up the excitement of stage life.

There were many roads to “Our Town” for actors Rachel Pottern, Spencer Nunn, Lauren Elliott and Joy Chalmers.

They are typical of their fellow actors, 20 in all for the production. Most are students working on a theater appreciation program or an associate degree, either with a vision for making stage acting their career or for honing the skill simply to enjoy a favorite hobby.

Pottern, who plays Mrs. Webb, said she is aiming for a degree in the theater from William Peace University in Raleigh followed by a career on stage, specifically Broadway.

“This is more than just a hobby for me,” Pottern said. “The stage is really where my passion is. I enjoy the magic of live theater.”

Nunn, who is George Gibbs in the play, said he is working on an associate in art degree now, with credits transferring to a major in theater, looking at UNC Wilmington, as part of an acting career path.

Nunn said that he envisions his professional involvement to include both stage roles and teaching theater.

“This is definitely more than just a hobby for me,” Nunn said. “I really enjoy being on stage. When you step out on an opening night, there’s no other feeling like it — go out there, and you see the whole audience there.”

Elliott, Our Town’s Mrs. Gibbs, completed a theater program at VGCC and is now a receptionist there and continues on stage for the fun and thrill of it.

“It’s a hobby,” Elliott said. “I act more for the fun of it. I never want to lose the meaning of why I became one.”

Chalmers, who takes the “Our Town” stage in a leading way as “Stage Manager,” with the role of narrator and director of several “interactions” with several staged members of the audience, said acting for her is an avocation.

“I would like to do it as a side thing,” Chalmers said. “There are other things I would like to pursue.”

She hopes to gain a degree in commercial art or art therapy, continuing an involvement with live theater locally wherever she ends up living.

Getting into acting on stage was a challenge for each of them that included overcoming some amount of fear, sometimes even feelings of terror.

Nunn said the actor’s mind has to concentrate on details of scripted performance while feeling the examining eyes of an audience that should be focused on every detail on stage.

“If you’re not nervous, then you are doing something wrong,” he said. “You are in the moment. You have to work through the feeling of being terrified.”

He added that the breakthrough for him was rising from the illness form of fear to a more welcome sense of rush. It stays with him. While some may sit and relax backstage between acts, he holds on to that rush.

“I don’t get sick-to-my-stomach nervous now, I get excited nervous instead,” Nunn said. “While others are sitting backstage, I’m pacing. I’ve got that adrenaline.”

Pottern said she’s focused while on stage, thankful for a lifetime of acting out her interests, doing her own little plays as a child, then growing up with opportunities to channel that interest toward greater and greater theater opportunities.

“I guess I have been interested in theater all my life,” she said.

Elliott chose the theater program at VGCC so she could conquer her stage fright and do what she knew she loved, to overcome the fright that kept her for many years from the stage and what she knew was so meaningful to her.

“When I was growing up, I had such stage fright, but I wanted to break that barrier,” she said. “I would audition, then not sign up. My fear would get the best of me. I wanted to break that barrier, and now I get very comfortable getting up there.”

Chalmers said her first stage performance at age 9 in a local production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” left her too stressed to try it again for years.

“I was really scared, so I shut the idea out,” she said.

Nunn said that a good theater group will set aside any conceit and welcome new actors — some of the best friendship opportunities and potentially great actors walk through the door “green” at some point.

“You should be a role model for newcomers,” he said. “Theater is a really good opportunity for getting connected and close to people.”

Nunn added that the “Our Town” play with its 20 roles is one of those larger casts that present the best opportunities for new actors to try out a theatrical interest.

“A play with a large cast can bring in new actors,” Nunn said. “That’s a good opportunity to get involved.”

Whether as a career path or just for fun, either way, all 20 actors in the “Our Town” play deal with Director Betsy Henderson, also the VGCC drama instructor, as she seeks to open each one up to their stage character so they inhabit an authentic life when viewed on stage by an audience.

Any aspiring actor can count on her and the veterans in her troupe to help lead them to a life on stage, all the way to “Our Town.”

The VGCC production of “Our Town” is scheduled for performances at the VGCC theater auditorium April 25 and 26.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.