Pluck, luck blow the lid off her career

Theater

`Stomp': Baltimore's Sheilynn Wactor took a chance, found her rhythm and never looked back, except to marvel at her good fortune.

May 15, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

On a whim in June 1996, Baltimorean Sheilynn Wactor went to an audition for "Stomp." "They were looking for percussionists who could move and dancers who had rhythm, and that doesn't describe me because I'm an actor," she recalled last week. "Then I thought, `What have I got to lose?' that it would be a great first audition experience."

Not only did she get cast in the show -- more about the audition later -- but over the past four years it has taken her to Europe and South America, as well as throughout the United States. Beginning tomorrow, she will play her hometown for the second time when "Stomp" opens a one-week run at the Lyric Opera House.

A 1993 graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts, Wactor, 24, grew up in West Baltimore. She had been in New York only eight months when she auditioned for the wildly popular British percussion show. "I was extremely lucky," she said from Evansville, Ind., where "Stomp" was playing a return engagement.

At the time of the audition, Wactor was between semesters at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and working as a receptionist at the Hard Rock Cafe. About 1,500 people attended the audition, and the excitement of that day remains fresh in her mind. "There were dancers with their legs wrapped around their heads, and there were drummers beating on stuff, and it was amazing," she said. "The energy in the room was incredible and bizarre at the same time."

When her group was called, they were taught routines with brooms, poles and other props. "It was really relaxed and very laid-back," she said. "It was a great experience because everybody's new to that sort of thing, so everybody at some time looked like a fool."

To her surprise, Wactor was called back for two subsequent auditions, where the routines got more difficult, building up to using the trash can lids that have become a "Stomp" trademark.

Told she'd hear within a week if she made the show, her hopes faded after nine days, and she headed to her mother's home in Baltimore. The next day, she got the good news. "I spent the whole day jumping up and down and screaming," she said.

Donald Hicken, head of the drama department at the School for the Arts, wasn't surprised by Wactor's good news. The young actress, whose earliest training was at Arena Players Youtheatre, "wasn't afraid of a challenge and was hungry to learn new techniques, and was one of the hardest-working young actors that we've had here over the years," Hicken said.

Wactor serves as a "swing" in "Stomp," which differs from the classic scenario of a Broadway understudy "where you wait for someone to get hurt to go on." The show is physically taxing, she said, so swings are used as preventive medicine. Each swing performs a minimum of twice a week, and Wactor, who covers half of the show's eight roles, is frequently on stage more than that.

But while she has filled in for injured performers, Wactor has escaped serious injury herself, though she did dislocate two ribs when she was performing in Europe. Next month, she will join the New York company.

The show gives her a chance to learn new skills -- such as working with water coolers and other new props. "That's the beauty of this show," she said. "They add and subtract numbers. It's different every time you see it."

Show times at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., are 8 p.m. tomorrow through Friday, and 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $25-$42.50. Call 410-481-7328.

Quick studies

Playwright David Ives has said he likes things "short and to the point," and that certainly describes the two anthologies of his short plays that have been produced in Baltimore. The latest, "Mere Mortals," is receiving an effervescent Baltimore premiere at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, though the first half of the evening effervesces more than the second.

The first three of Ives' six playlets exemplify his wild flights of fancy, with settings that range from a miniature golf course to a high-rise construction site.

The opener, "Foreplay or: The Art of the Fugue," displays his cleverest writing. Three similarly dressed couples share a miniature golf course, all saying essentially the same things as their words overlap in a kind of fugal "Dating Game" gone wild. The male half of each couple appears to be the same character, trying identical pick-up lines on each woman, only to have the tables turned in the end. Though the entire evening is briskly directed by Alex Willis, this piece, in particular, is enhanced by the fluidly amusing choreography of Binnie Ritchie-Holum.

Ives' comic gems often conceal deeper themes, and mortality is the issue underlying "Time Flies," a two-character piece about a pair of mayflies. Played by an appropriately flighty Marianne Angelella and a shy but lovestruck Dave Gamble, these delightful creatures have their world shattered by the discovery that mayflies live only one day. They summon up the gumption, however, to make the most of their brief existence.

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