Acting Out: Four Local Thespians Share Their Love of the Stage
You can't blame Rachael Jacobs for having a nightly identity crisis. That's because she has roles in the Chesapeake Shakespeare Co
.’s "Romeo and Juliet" and "Pride and Prejudice," which are both now running in rotating repertory on a stage outside the stabilized ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute. Its hilly site high above the historic district of Ellicott City remains cool even on a hot night.
Jacobs is one of many actors in Greater Baltimore who live to be on stage. Whether they make a living from this often-precarious profession or have day jobs and act on the side, they love expressing themselves by becoming somebody else in a play.
Baltimore's diverse theater scene provides a lot of acting outlets for local performers, several of whom share their own stories below. Here are profiles of four actors who perform in Greater Baltimore.
RACHAEL JACOBS, Chesapeake Shakespeare Co.
As for playing Shakespeare's Juliet, who is not quite 14, and also 16-year-old Lydia Bennet in a theatrical adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Jacobs, 25, has this to say:
"Part of my thing is that I look young. I'm playing teenagers all summer, but they could not be more different. I find each character brings out a different side of me. As an actor it's imperative to develop a world for the character you play."
In terms of the challenge of playing outdoors, where actors often find themselves competing with everything from crickets to airplanes, Jacobs observes that her main concern is whether the actors' voices will project in such an open space.
"The number one thing is volume. There's nothing to bounce your voice back off of. Your voice comes out to the abyss. Even if you have a lot of voice training, it's something I can never stop thinking about."
Jacobs, who studied acting at New York University, has a full-time job as a marketing associate, but loves the region’s "thriving" theater scene and looks forward to auditioning for more roles.
And she’ll have more opportunities in the city. The theater troupe is moving from Howard County
to downtown Baltimore's Mercantile Trust Building in 2014.
BILL PHEIL, Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre
Actors on stage obviously need to remain within the world inhabited by their characters, but they can't be blamed for looking out at the auditorium to see how many of its seats are occupied. Bill Pheil, 70, has more reason than most actors to check out the house, because this frequent performer at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre
is also its board president.
"We bring them near-professional shows year after year," Pheil says proudly of a summer theater company enjoying its 40th season at the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus.
Besides drawing a faithful audience, Cockpit in Court has its share of local actors returning there every summer. "It's a very strong family as far as the actors are concerned," Pheil observes.
Among the familiar faces on stage is Pheil, who this summer plays supporting roles in two large-cast musicals, "The King and I" and "Sunset Boulevard."
Pheil, who works as the registrar at Boys' Latin School in North Baltimore, also has found time over the years to appear at other Baltimore-area theaters including Dundalk Community Theater, Suburban Players, Phoenix Festival Theater, Joseph Eubank Ensemble and Friendship Players.
The Lutherville resident says of the roles in which he gets cast: "I play character and older roles. I don't see myself as a romantic lead, but more as the father type."
JESSICA GARRETT, Single Carrot Theatre
Most actors audition for specific roles at various theaters around town, but that's not the case for the actors appearing in all of the plays at Single Carrot Theatre
. This cohesive ensemble is like a family.
When the theater troupe formed by recent graduates of the University of Colorado relocated from Boulder to Baltimore in 2007, it followed extensive consideration of what an assortment of American cities had to offer. The company members felt that Baltimore's funky and affordable arts scene would be a good fit for its movement-oriented, cutting-edge performance style.
Company member Jessica Garrett, 29, co-wrote its recent tightly choreographed examination of male-female courtship, "Foot of Water," in which extensive movement and sporadic words occurred in and around a foot-deep pool of
Seated besides that pool, Garrett says this is the kind of theater she loves to do: ""Pounding the pavement for roles never interested me." - Jessica Garrett, Single Carrot Theatre
This is what I want. I've known these people [at Single Carrot] for 10 years.”
The amount of trust helps in the development of productions that typically rely on extensive collaboration.
"I'm also interested in the small-business aspects of running a company like this,” Garrett adds. Indeed, Garrett handles this small company's marketing. The Harwood resident, who also does stand-up comedy on the side, is applying her people skills to the company's search for a new space in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.
MATTHEW SCHLEIGH, Everyman Theatre
When patrons bought tickets for Everyman Theatre
's production of "You Can't Take It With You" this past spring, it's quite likely that the box office employee selling those tickets was Matthew Schleigh. He also had a role in the play, so he got to sell tickets to his own show.
Schleigh, 28, who has been a part-time box office employee at Everyman since 2007, is an example of a young actor whose determination to make it is paying off. At Everyman, where his previous roles were in "Our Town," and "Much Ado About Nothing," Schleigh received his Actors Equity card with "You Can't Take It With You." Equity membership officially certifies his professional status and comes with a higher salary and health benefits.
For this Elkridge resident, who graduated from Catholic University in Washington and studied at the London Dramatic Academy, it's the latest advance in his career. Much of his early acting experience was at the Toby's Dinner Theatre locations in Columbia and Baltimore, where his roles included the lead in "The Buddy Holly Story." Because dinner theater actors double as waiters, he notes that "in the middle you serve drinks in costume."
He's also appeared at theaters including Olney Theatre Center and the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, and he belongs to an alt rock trio called The Tryads.
Schleigh says that the most important thing for a young actor is "tenacity. You need to stick with it assiduously, because there is a long run to this career.""You need to stick with it assiduously, because there is a long run to this career." - Matthew Schleigh, Everyman Theatre
Although he initially worried about being "pigeonholed" for certain types of roles, he realizes that it's important to "understand what your type is and play to your strengths. It took me awhile to embrace and look for the type I am."
Namely, as with his role in "You Can't Take It With You," the lanky actor is well suited to play light romantic leads. It seems likely that he'll now take this attribute with him as a professional actor.
Michael Giuliano is an arts journalist in Baltimore and an assistant professor of film at Howard Community College in Columbia. He reviews movies and theater for Patuxent Publishing.
Bill Pheil as Phra Alack in "The King and I" at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre at CCBC-Essex. (Photo by Steve Ruark)
Matthew Schleigh, right, with Brianna Letourneau in "You Can't Take it With You" at Everyman Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Everyman Theatre)
Jessica Garrett, center. (Photo by Chris Hartlove / Courtesy of Single Carrot Theatre)
Rachael Jacobs, center, with Molly Moores and Frank Moorman in "Romeo and Juliet" at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. (Photo by Teresa Castracane / Courtesy of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company)