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Five professional actors share their stories

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Posted on April 23, 2018 |
By Elsie Lynn Parini



These five actors are only a handful of the many professional players in Vermont. They are all members of Middlebury Actors Workshop (MAW) — a professional theater company that produces plays locally. Like, for example, "The Christians" (click here to read the review), which runs April 26-29 at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury.

MAW hires the best actors, directors and designers available, from Vermont and elsewhere, in pursuing their goal of bringing local audiences an experience that rivals anything that can be seen anywhere.

Here are a few snapshots of what life is like for our local pro actors. 

— Elsie Lynn Parini

 

Andy Butterfield

Empathetic. Energetic. Intentional.

Acting wasn’t always in the cards for Butterfield. In fact, he was prepared to go to law school when he auditioned on a whim and was accepted into the coveted MFA program at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. During his third year, he was pulled out of the training program to join the professional company associated with the conservatory, received my MFA in Acting on schedule, and thus began his career.

Most recently, this Hinesburg resident was in MAW’s “Metromaniacs” last fall. He will also perform in “The Christians.”

“I believe the elemental qualities found in a professional actor include a high level of spatial awareness, body-mind-heart connectedness, emotional vulnerability, a tuned vocal instrument, vibrational connectedness to other performers and the audience, an insatiable creative spirit, a natural curiosity for the unknown, the ability to fully understand and activate the pursuit of an objective, and to put authentic thought into action,” Butterfield said. 

But that said, he also recognizes that getting paid doesn’t necessarily denote the quality of the work performed.

When attending a professional production, Butterfield said that “audiences should expect to trust they’re being taken care of by the performance to the point they can fully commit themselves, without distraction, to one of the last collective, live experience opportunities available; to be engrossed, thought-provoked, compelled and thoroughly entertained.”

When not on the stage, Butterfield works in sales at Motherly, an international media and lifestyle brand, freelances as a digital marketing consultant for theater companies, designs and builds sets, teaches for the Vermont Arts Council, and is a soccer referee. He is also the proud father of his 15-month-old daughter, Thea.

 

Molly Pietz Walsh

Sensitive. Emotional. Strong.

Walsh said she never really “became an actor,” She just seemed to be one of those people that was born knowing that that’s what they wanted to do.

“I was lucky in a lot of ways because it meant that I could spend my time, as I grew up, always studying, focusing and getting as much experience as I could toward my career as an actor,” she said. 

Last year, Walsh performed in “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” at the Lake Winnipesaukee Playhouse in Meredith, N.H., “Barefoot in the Park” at Vermont Stage’s BakeOff, and “A Midsummer Nights Dream” at the new Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro. She’s looking forward to her next role as Malvolio in “Twelfth Night” this summer at the Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier. 

“In my opinion, what separates professional actors is training,” she said. “Professional actors spend years studying their crafts. And that encompasses a lot of different aspects — it’s movement, it’s voice, it’s scene study, theater history, it’s the business of acting, it’s dialects, it’s playwriting, it’s dance. It is your work, it is your job and your responsibility to do it well and in a professional way. It’s not just a hobby, or something you like to do.”

Walsh counts herself lucky that she’s always been able to support herself as a professional actor. For almost 20 years she worked full-time in acting companies. Since moving to Vermont in 2009, she and her husband have raised their twin 9-year-old daughters, Marin and Briar, at their home in Shelburne. 

We love Vermont,” she said. “There are several fantastic theaters here and we’re very lucky to have access to this level of quality theater here.”

 

Craig Maravich

Patient. Resilient. Thoughtful.

Maravich took to the stage about 20 years ago, while he was still an undergrad in Washington, D.C., studying acting, He booked my first job in Eugene O’Neill’s epic (and rarely produced) “Nine Act play: Strange Interlude” at Washington Shakespeare Company. 

The now Monkton resident was in the Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble’s “Othello” last summer.

“On the most basic of levels, professional actors get paid and we are a part of a professional union,” Maravich explained. “I do, however, think it goes a little deeper than that. . . A commitment to craft and technique is necessary for a professional actor. This often means extensive training and a willingness to continue to grow and develop as an artist. I was a professional actor for several years before I got my MFA, but that level of training had a major impact on my technique. Growth also happens for actors by working on challenging material, roles that are outside of your comfort zone, and working with other professionals that inspire and push you to do better work.”

But actors aren’t the only ones with expectations; audiences have those too.

“People go to the theatre for so many different reasons,” he said. “Some people go to have their ideas challenged, to be entertained, to fall in love, to laugh. . . I suppose the quality of artists working on a professional production from director, designers, actors, stage management, writer, etc., should ideally get people closer to having that shared communal experience only the theatre can provide.”

Maravich has balanced several gigs to forge a career as a professional theatre artist. He is a visiting professor of theatre at Middlebury College, the co-founder of Courageous Stage (a new division of Town Hall Theater), and a member of the Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble and faculty artist. When he’s not on stage, Maravich spends time with his wife and 8-month-old daughter. 

 

Chris Caswell

Stubborn. Cowardly / Courageous. 

Chris Caswell went “pro” when she was 15. 

“I played Cinderella at a children’s theater in Baltimore,” she remembered. “My boyfriend played Prince Charming and a costumer who regularly worked on John Waters movies made our costumes — we were so fabulously trashy! It was awesome.”

In high school, Caswell got a chance to work on a PBS special opposite Jada Pinkett Smith. “She taught me a lot about being professional,” Caswell said. “She was poised, prepared, kind and had a raging fire in her eyes for the work.”

Caswell became a member of Screen Actors Guild? (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) in her early 20s, but still loves to work on new, low-budget, original plays. The last show she was in was Vermont Stage’s production of “Doublewide,” Before that she was in “Metromaniacs” with Middlebury Actors Workshop.

What does it mean to Caswell to be a professional actor? “Hard work, complete commitment and a good attitude,” she said. “I think it means that you show up as ready as you can be, you treat everyone with respect, you value all members of the team, you try to figure out what you can do better, and you make every effort to get better. . . If you have a crappy show or rehearsal, you shake it off, pump yourself up, and do it again. And when someone says, ‘good job,’ you learn to say, ‘thank you.’”

Audiences can expect “a play that is greater than the sum of its parts” from professionals, she said. “You should be able to hold it close and smell it and feel its heartbeat.”

When not acting, the Burlington resident works as admin support at the University of Vermont. For fun, she loves to giggle uncontrollably with friends and family, sleep, dress up, go dancing, pluck the banjo, run, bike and swim.

 

Melissa Lourie

Energetic. Thoughtful. Engaged.

OK, so in all honesty Melissa Lourie (who’s also the artistic director for MAW) has transitioned to producer/director for the most part, but she was a professional actor.

After doing theater in high school and the local community theater at a young age, she was pretty much hooked. In college she majored in theater and then went to graduate school at The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco — “a thrilling experience.” 

After school she acted in regional theater around California and Arizona before returning to the East Coast.  Eventually she moved up to the Hudson Valley, got married and founded the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival with a good friend from New York City.  After seven years as Producing Director, she and her husband moved to Vermont to raise our two children in Weybridge.

Other than MAW, the last professional show Lourie was in was at Vermont Stage Co. where she played the wife in “Sylvia,” directed by Mark Nash. She was also in Jay Craven’s movie, “A Stranger In The Kingdom,” and some other Vermont-based films.

“I believe there are lots of actors with talent, both in community and professional theater,” Lourie said. “What separates a professional is someone who has spent a good deal of time training their ‘instrument’ i.e.  your body, voice, mind, etc., to the skills that an actor needs to succeed in a very competitive profession. . . A professional is someone who people will gladly pay for their services.”

Lourie hopes professional productions will have “a unity of artistic vision,” This unity of vision will be expressed in the set, costumes, lighting and sound. 

“A professional production should be seamless and take the audience for a ride into the heart of a story,” Lourie explained. “It should never feel boring or jarring.  Every element onstage should belong in that world.”

Lourie taught acting at the University of Vermont for more than 20 years. Now she directs and teaches around Middlebury, works with Courageous Stage at Town Hall Theater, and at the Middle School as drama club director. Off stage, she loves to play tennis, read, walk with friends, hang out at home and enjoy the beauty of Vermont.

 

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