February 2009: Life Fire, photograph by Bruce Murray
Header image: Life Fire, photograph by Bruce Murray

Featured Artist: Colleen Lavey

From Basketball to Theater: The Passions of Colleen Lavey
by Jessica Hirt

The interests of Colleen Lavey span many different areas, from mother to advertiser, athlete to actor. Her talents are equally distributed in all areas, but her passion for theater is what led her to become the “unofficial”—as she describes it—artistic director for the Chippewa Theater Guild. Lavey had previously served two years on the board and recently resumed board duties after a short hiatus. She is also the Guild’s Vice President. But where did this love of theater begin?

It began with a childhood nanny, Kay, who was an active member of theater. Lavey wanted to be as much like her as possible, and promised herself in the seventh grade that she would take the first opportunity she could to audition for a play. That opportunity didn’t come until she was in high school, where she landed a minor character role through Sault Area High School’s drama program. Though her parents had always encouraged her to pursue athletics, which Lavey enjoys, the moment she hit the stage, she had found her niche. Lavey claims that at the time, she didn’t have any “stage presence,” but the rush she felt when the audience laughed after her first line is something that she never forgot. It was in that moment that her interest in theater changed from trying to be like Kay to her own passion.

Lavey continued to be involved with theater all through high school, and while attending Lake Superior State University, she was a part of Reader’s Theater. While she could have majored in drama, she stated she didn’t “regret not going into theater.” Instead, it has become her “one artistic outlet.”

And she’s good at it.

After graduating from LSSU, Lavey took a ten year break from theater and focused on her career and home life. Returning to the stage reignited her love of acting—which she says is “one thing [she] does outside her family.” Her family is always encouraging, and when she auditioned for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, their support became apparent. Though her original intention was to slowly work her way back into theater, she landed the lead role of Maggie. One of her favorite characters to date, the role was challenging, but Lavey states: “I love to do characters that I don’t think I can do.” Part of being an actor is to learn every time she plays a character.

Since then, Lavey’s other favorite character roles were in the plays Caesar: Death of a Dictator (an adaptation of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare) and The Guys. She enjoyed Caesar: Death of Dictator not only because of the character she played, but because of the people she worked with. The director, the late Keith Knight from Toronto, influenced Lavey in many ways. She felt grateful and honored that he worked with her, and she also appreciated performing with Jennifer Kersley. It was Lavey’s first opportunity to participate in Shakespearean theater, and she hopes to introduce Shakespearean plays to the Chippewa Theater Guild.

Joan, from The Guys, was Lavey’s first non-fictional character. Lavey felt a strong commitment to be authentic. She felt it was her responsibility to play Joan honestly because of the admiration she felt for her. Lavey says that she spent so much time preparing for the characters of Maggie and Joan that she found it hard to let them go.

Though I have never personally seen her in a play, just listening to her talk about the research she does to understand a character and to portray her accurately is inspiring. She describes being an actor as “being a parasite”--an unusual analogy. Her explanation is that being an actor gives a person the chance to create a different persona than his or her own. A rudimentary actor mimics, but acting is more than that. It “is verbal, physical, and emotional.”

Lavey physically creates a different personality; she works from the outside in, figuring out how that character would move. How would she say those words? When would she say them? What is she doing while she is saying those lines? How does the person move in that environment? Does she take short, quick steps or long, fluid ones?

Another way for Lavey to begin to feel comfortable with a character is through smell. For each role, she finds a different cologne; it acts as a trigger, and with the scent of the woman comes her emotions.

Lavey also delves into the character’s background. She wants to know what led up to the moment the play begins. “The trick”, Lavey states, “is to get to the point where you become the character.”

The end result of her hard work is obvious: the enthusiastic response of the crowd. “An audience that enjoys your performance is such a huge high,” Lavey says. Most importantly, Lavey views theater and acting as something similar to basketball. “You’re a team.” That’s what she likes best about theater: “You’re all in it together.”

Colleen Lavey is performing in the Chippewa Theater Guild’s production of Educating Rita, written by Willy Russell. Directed by Jennifer Kersley, it will be the next guild performance. Watch for it.

Jessica Hirt is a SAAC intern from LSSU. This is her fourth FEATURED ARTIST article.

Last updated: February 2, 2009

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