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A&E SEASON PREVIEW: Clutch hitters guarantee a good time

September 3, 2011
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Claire Wilcher and Paul Hansen are among the handful of local actors who consistently can make a bad show watchable and elevate a good production to greatness. (IBJ photo/Perry Reichanadter)

In baseball, a clutch hitter is someone who can be counted on to come up with the big hit. On stage—at least, in my view—a clutch hitter is someone who can be counted on to elevate the quality of whatever they are in. That could mean carrying a one-person show or turning a small part into an unforgettable one. It could mean making a mediocre show watchable or a good one great.

So allow me to introduce you to a subjective short-list of seven of Indy’s clutch hitters, all of whom have created magic in the past and will be seen on Indy stages this season.



Milicent Wright

Coming up: Calpurnia in “Julius Caesar” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

Favorite roles: Miss Pat in “The Colored Museum” at Human Race Theatre in Dayton. “In Indianapolis, my first noted role was in ‘Julius Caesar’ as Portia many years ago. That’s when I hit my stride.” Also at the IRT, she scored playing Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Madame C.J. Walker in “The Power of One,” which led to one-woman stints in “Neat” and “Pretty Fire.”

Why Indiana: “Because it’s home.” Although born in Michigan and attending high school in Minnesota, Wright’s family was from Indiana. While working in Chicago, she was invited to audition for “Tales from the Arabian Nights” at the IRT and stuck around.

On acting in Indy: “I could not be here as an actor without doing the other things that I do [She’s manager of artistic outreach for the IRT]. If you go out to Chicago or New York or bigger markets and make a splash, then you can live regionally because you have directors pulling you in.

Someone cast me in: “…‘Hamlet.’ Before I leave this world, I would love to play Gertrude. And I would like to do an August Wilson play. My favorite is most people’s favorite, ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.’ ”
 



Scot Greenwell

Coming up: “Night of the Living Dead” with newcomer Acting Up Productions at the Indy Fringe Building.

Favorite roles: Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Children’s Museum (“The first time I was paid to act.”), the Telegram Delivery Boy in “Octopus” at the Phoenix Theatre, and Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” for Bobdirex at the Atheneaum.

Why Indiana? Born in southern Indiana, Greenwell moved to Indy to work for the New Harmony Project. After about a year in town, he decided to try acting and has been landing parts ever since.

On acting in Indy: “I’m an Actors Equity candidate, earning points to become a member—although it’s quite beneficial to not be an Equity actor in this town because you are basically cheaper labor for producers. You can get smaller roles that are kind of awesome but only be onstage for 10 minutes of the play. On the other hand, it would be nice to be an Equity actor—the pay, the benefits, and, in larger markets, it’s easier if you are already an Equity member. You get looked at more seriously automatically.”

Someone cast me in: “…an Arthur Miller play, please. Or a British farce. I’m pretty sure I could pull that off. And ‘Cabaret.’ I’d like to be The Emcee at some point.”
 



Diane Kondrat

Coming up: Starring as journalists Molly Ivins in “Red Hot Patriot” at Cardinal Stage in Bloomington. “And there’s a little play called ‘August: Osage County’ at the Phoenix Theatre,” she adds.

Favorite roles: Diane in Steve Tesich’s “Square One,” which she played at the Phoenix Theatre and in Bloomington and Chicago. Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” at the Phoenix and in Chicago. And Bella in “Lost in Yonkers” at Brown County Playhouse.

Why Indiana: Born in Newark, N.J., she moved to Bloomington from Norfolk, Va., in 1987. “The man I’ve been married to for so many years, the writer Tony Ardizzone, teaches writing at IU.”

On acting in Indy: “We have a joke [in Bloomington]—especially those who work at Cardinal Stage—that the road from Bloomington to Indy is 60 miles…and the road from Indianapolis to Bloomington is 160 miles. I’m amazed that it’s so much more difficult for people to get from Indy to Bloomington then it is from Bloomington to Indy. For me, I learn my lines in the car. I put them on CD, so I’m often the first one off book, which can make people angry at me.”

Someone cast me in: “… ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe.’ I’m tired of waiting for that.”
 



Claire Wilcher

Coming up: In light of the success of “School House Wrong” at the Indy Fringe festival, Wilcher is committing time to continuing development of that show and others with Three Dollar Bill, the sketch comedy group she anchors. She’s also part of a group that stages a once-a-month late-night event at the White Rabbit Cabaret called “Noise!” “A bunch of us from around the theater scene have an open mic, karaoke, pianoke, whatever you want to call it. I love doing that and it’s something we want to develop a lot more in the coming year.”

Favorite roles: Aldonza in “Man of LaMancha” at Footlite Musicals. And multiple parts, including Trekkie Monster, in “Avenue Q” at the Phoenix Theatre. “And any of the work I do with ComedySportz and Three Dollar Bill. It’s all meshed into one lump of funny love for me.”

Why Indiana: Born in Tell City, she moved to Indy after graduating from IU to take a job at The Children’s Museum.

On acting in Indy: “When I tell people that I’m an actor in Indianapolis, I get the ‘Oh. I hope that I’m happy for you’ look. And I quickly follow up with ‘Don’t worry, I do other things, too.’ I don’t want them to think I’m some poor, starving artist. Even though I am.”

Someone cast me in: “… ‘Sweeney Todd.’ I want to be Mrs. Lovett. I think she can be a little young, a little frisky. And in 20 years, ‘Hello Dolly!’ And ‘Mame.’ I’ll do all the old broads.”



Paul Hansen

Coming up: Man in Chair in “The Drowsy Chaperone” for the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre (formerly Indianapolis Civic Theatre).

Favorite roles: The lead in “A Flea in Her Ear” at Civic. “I was running non-stop—and appreciated the weight loss.” Adds Hansen: “I just finished playing a character actor’s dream: Amos in Actors Theatre of Indiana’s ‘Chicago.’ That’s a role I could play for the rest of my life.”

Why Indiana: Hansen moved from Fort Wayne to New York as a teenager. “I was very thin and pretty gaunt…I was always cast as the drug abuse kid or the murder-his-sister kind of kid. They told me I was a young Roddy McDowell.” That led to national tours of “Can-Can” and “The Music Man” as well as international stints in “A Chorus Line” and “West Side Story.” But then he grew out of his type, entered the business world, and work brought him to Indianapolis, where “I found out that I had turned into another type—a pudgy middle-aged character actor with no hair. And I’m working.”

On acting in Indy: “At this point in my life, I don’t care if it’s a paying acting job or not. I go for the roles. I’m lucky enough to get all of my salary from the arts. I do some commercials and videos and photo shoots—and I’m marketing director for Dance Kaleidsocope—so it feels like all one gig.”

Someone cast me in: “…Pseudolus in ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ And I’d love to play Blanche in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’”
 



Constance Macy

Coming up: A solo stint in “Lost,” another season in “A Christmas Carol,” and a lead in “God of Carnage,” all at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

Favorite roles: Becky in “Becky’s New Car” at the IRT, Constanze Mozart in “Amadeus” at Indianapolis Civic Theatre, and the Angel in “Angels in America” at the Phoenix Theatre.

Why Indiana? An Indy native, Macy watched many of her fellow IU students head off to L.A. or New York. “I’m not a big city person,” she says. “I’m a small town person. I always thought ‘Well, I’ll move on.’ But I never did. And I don’t need to justify it to myself anymore. I have a good life.”

On acting in Indy: “It is possible to be a working actor here. You just have to have bullheaded determination. There will be slumps. For me, there were. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll get a job at the mall because apparently my career is over.’ But you get back. There are peaks and valleys. If you are good at what you do, people will seek you out.”

Someone cast me in: “…some big, epic Greek piece. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve never done it.”
 



Jeff Stockberger

Coming up: R.F. Simpson, the studio chief, in “Singin’ in the Rain” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. At B&B, he’ll also play Uncle Billy in “Wonderful Life” and Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” then play straight man in “Jack Milo’s Baggypants Burlesque.”

Favorite roles: Luther Billis in “South Pacific,” Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” and Charlie in “The Foreigner,” all at Beef and Boards. “And,” he adds, “I had a blast doing ‘Forbidden Broadway’ with Actors Theatre of Indiana.”

Why Indiana: “I had been living in New York and right after 9/11 things weren’t so great anymore.” Stockberger had worked as an actor at Beef & Boards and stopped by on his way back to St. Louis to live with his parents (“for as short a time as possible.”). A staff position at B&B happened to be open. “I said, ‘I won’t act for a year. I’ll be your back stage guy’—and I think I was in four shows in that year.”

On acting in Indy: “It’s good to have a strong relationship with at least one theater. It keeps me from having to look for outside work too much.” It also allows Stockberger to take smaller, more interesting parts when they come along. “There are certainly actors who look at line count or worry about having a bigger role. But I played every tiny role and was just so happy to be working. Maybe that comes across. I’d rather be doing that than asking, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”

Someone cast me in: “…‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.’ The Steve Martin/Norbert Leo Butz role is something I want to do.”•

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