All too often, we only hear about actresses once they “made it big” in blockbuster films and their faces are plastered all over billboards. Naturally, we begin to wonder, where were they before they became seasoned professionals? How did they break into the industry, and how many of them got their start in this city we call home?
Some young starlets were privileged to grow up in the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” but others, like 22-year-old aspiring actress Chelsea Clark of New Albany, Ohio, journeyed to New York in pursuit of their childhood dreams.
When I talked to Chelsea this week, only days after performing in her first off-off-Broadway performance of the XYZ Files, it became obvious that her acting aspirations were nothing new – but now they are stronger than ever.
“I’ve been acting since I was about three,” Chelsea said. “My mom put me in acting in Ohio where I did many, many plays. I first really wanted to become an actress when I was five, but really didn’t start pursuing it until I was 15.”
In 2005, Chelsea decided to expand her acting talent beyond the little farming town of New Albany — which she says is now “sub-urbanized” — and attended the School for Film and Television (SFT) in NYC. Attending SFT was a long-time goal for Chelsea, as she traveled to NYC to attend their summer program twice during her high school years.
After graduating from SFT in 2007, Chelsea’s appetite for the Big Apple and its numerous theater opportunities all but simmered down. Chelsea is now entering her last year at St. Francis College in downtown Brooklyn, where she studies communication arts.
Since the fall of 2009, Chelsea served as the president of the Troupers, a small group of student actors at St. Francis, and performed in an eclectic mix of shows – Plaza Suite, Tartuffe, and Polaroid Stories. The students in the Troupers became very close, and Chelsea values this tight-knit community in the big city.
“I like feeling like I’m a part of something – who doesn’t? – and acting with the Troupers really feels like being with family,” Chelsea said. “I like that we are close.”
Outside of the Troupers, Chelsea took advantage of other acting opportunities in New York, including some student films and independent films. This summer, Chelsea made her premier appearance on the stage of the Roy Arias Theatre in the heart of NYC’s theater district – clad in a housedress and speaking in a squeaky falsetto.
Chelsea found The XYZ Files, a spoof off the old TV series The X-Files, on New York Castings, was called in for an audition, and landed the role as “the little old lady.” She enjoyed every moment of the show, and allowed her inner zaniness to come out on stage.
“When I got the part, I honestly had no idea what to do with it,” Chelsea said. “I decided to be as crazy as I could. I can be quite goofy at times.”
Chelsea enjoys exposing her unique personality to the audience, and hopes one day to be like her acting role model, Johnny Depp, who she calls “original in everything he does.”
In the short term, Chelsea may have an independent film to do in August, and she will definitely participate in the Troupers’ fall semester show, which hasn’t been decided on yet.
Chelsea’s long-term goals remain optimistic and carry the same confidence she exuded during her initial transition from a small town girl to a big-city young woman with a dream of stardom.
“In ten years I’ll hopefully be making enough money as an actress to live on,” Chelsea said. “I think it’s possible.”
For a 20-year-old college student, Catherine Amore has quite a repertoire of acting experience – and she has her musical family, her proximity to NYC, and her own passion for the stage to owe it to.
Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, only an hour train ride from Manhattan’s theater district, Catherine developed a love for theater at a very young age. She saw her first Broadway show, Cats – the Musical, at eight years old, and since then, she has seen many more. She also became infatuated with several classical films.
“I grew up on films such as West Side Story, The Sound of Music and the taping of Cats that they did for the London show, and I would watch them nonstop,” Catherine said.
Her earliest acting memories were when she played a goat in a pre-kindergarten production, and a kindergarten performance of Stone Soup when she had to put an ingredient in the pot.
Catherine discovered her vocal talent at a young age as well – she sang in her church choir since she was five years old. In an eighth grade Christmas pageant, she played an orphan and sang a few songs from Oliver.
In high school, Catherine moved on to more demanding roles, and her real passion – and gift – for acting began to emerge. She acted in many plays at Xaverian High School, an all-boys school in Bay Ridge that often recruited girls from surrounding schools to participate in their fall and spring productions.
In the spring 2005 musical, Tommy, Catherine received a small part and an ensemble role. In fall 2005, she took on her first lead role, playing Sarah Jane Moore in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. She considered this play an eye-opening experience, because she finally appreciated the beauty of “becoming” a character – which she now considers her greatest strength as an actress.
“At this point, as a 15-year-old girl playing a crazy middle-aged soccer mom who tried to shoot a president, I had very little idea what I was doing,” Catherine said. “However, my director, Joe Appel, worked with each of us individually to find our character through the words, music and the lines. It was the first time I really realized how amazing theater is – how one can transform oneself onstage and have an audience believe that what you’re doing is not you but the character.”
Today, Catherine considers herself a “character actress” – one who can play numerous types of roles and does not fit into any specific one, rather than a “type-casted” actress – one who can play only one type of role.
Now, Catherine is entering her junior year at New York University, where she majors in educational theater. She decided that she doesn’t want to do strictly acting – partly because of the low pay — but she took two semesters of acting during her freshman year that helped her to blossom on stage.
“For my acting class, I did a scene from August Osage County and I was Viola, the cranky old grandmother,” Catherine said. “I think I was cast as that part as I am, or so I think, a very mature actress and out of everyone in the class, I was best fit to that part. There were some similarities between her and I – our sense of morals, our willingness to love as a family, and the cranky aspect, yeah, I get that too.”
This summer, Catherine is stage managing a production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. She enjoys stage managing, but finds that it lacks the creative side that comes with acting.
Catherine’s career remains uncertain at the moment, but she knows that she will remain connected to the theater world.
“Maybe [I’ll be] teaching in a theater in the city somewhere,” Catherine said. “Maybe creating my own community theater shows back in Brooklyn. I do know that theater will be a part of my life in some way, shape or form even if it’s just saving up some money to go see a Broadway show a couple times a year.”
New York City, the home of the Broadway shows that inspired Catherine from a very young age, will always remain a part of her life.
“I can’t imagine any place that I would rather be,” Catherine said. “I have lived here my whole life and do not plan on moving anywhere else. There is so much culture here, so much theater, and I have so much love for my city.”