Watching actress Megan Anderson on stage is like watching a kite loop about the sky in a brisk wind.
When that scrap of brightly colored paper zooms through the air and twists in unexpected directions, the scene is as joyful as it is unpredictable. Like the kite, Anderson only appears to be untethered. In reality, she's anchored firmly to the ground.
Anderson's particular patch of turf is Baltimore. The city is where she was born, went to school, married actor Kyle Prue and is raising their 6-year-old daughter, Zoe. It's in Baltimore where Anderson mourned the death of her beloved father, and where she eats dinner every Sunday with her extended family.
And Baltimore is where Anderson found her performing home — she's a member of the Everyman Theatre ensemble, which she joined right out of college. She also played the recurring role of Baltimore first lady Jennifer Carcetti in the HBO series, "The Wire."
"When I was younger, being on stage was about getting attention," Anderson says. "But now it's about the work. When I'm performing, all my senses turn up a notch. I'm hyper-aware."
Tonight , Anderson tackles one of the most challenging roles of her career, that of the badly maimed and desperate young heroine of David Harrower's "Blackbird." (Everyman officials emphasize that "Blackbird's" adult subject matter makes the show unsuitable for children.)
"I thought I knew what Megan could do," says Vincent Lancisi, Everyman's artistic director. "And then I saw 'Blackbird's' final dress rehearsal. Megan was crazy good, even by her standards. The audience won't know what hit them."
Though she's been performing professionally for 11 years, Anderson is just 32 years old.
"Megan has a gift," says Everyman ensemble member Carl Schurr. "There are well-trained actors who are disciplined and can muddle through a play. Megan works hard. But she seems to have been born knowing what to do."
If Anderson wanted to see her name on a Broadway marquee, she probably could make that happen. But the actress seems happiest honing her craft in her hometown. She tells a funny story about her foray into the New York performing world that includes a characteristic joke at her own expense.
A few years ago, Anderson scraped together the train fare and made an appointment to audition for an agent in the Big Apple.
"The agent said she loved me and that I was talented," Anderson says."But she basically told me that if I wanted to go anywhere with my career, I'd have to stuff chicken cutlets in my bra.
"I couldn't get back to Baltimore fast enough."
Despite the actress' reference to her purported lack of curves, she exudes comfort with her physical self. As one of five siblings and the only girl among triplets, she grew up playing sports and climbing trees. Perhaps the actress' tomboy past gives her both a sense of ease in her own skin and ready access to her emotions – which, after all, are somatically based.
Lancisi easily recalls Anderson's initial audition for the troupe in 1999 — a day when the actress' life changed direction as abruptly as a kite hitting a wind shear.
The troupe was seeking an ingenue to play a Jewish Southern debutante, circa 1939, in Alfred Uhry's "The Last Night at Ballyhoo." A colleague who taught at Towson University recommended Anderson, his most gifted student.
The fledgling actress was so green that she came to the audition without having read the script.
"Megan was wearing jeans and lace-up boots, which was woefully inappropriate for the role she was auditioning for," Lancisi says.
"Then, she opened her mouth and blew us all away. She put up no barriers. She seemed to have a direct pool of emotions that she could draw on, channeling them when she needed them, and controlling them when she didn't. We were all smitten, and I asked her to be part of the company less than a year later."
The director expected Anderson to perform with Everyman for a year or so, get some seasoning and move on.
"I was watching all that raw talent take shape before my eyes, and I thought, 'Oh, she's not going to be around here long,' " Lancisi says. "I thought, 'She'll be here for a year, and then she'll be gone.'
"Thank God, Kyle stopped that."
That audition didn't just set Anderson's career in motion. It introduced her to her future husband, who portrayed her character's romantic interest in "Ballyhoo."
"Kyle was so good-looking, and so smart and so kind," the actress recalls. "It was clear we had a lot of chemistry. It got so that I couldn't wait for him to show up at rehearsal. I had to fall in love with him for the show, but it wasn't that hard to do."
At the time, both Anderson and Prue were involved in long-term relationships. As a veteran performer, Prue knew how confusing acting can be for the performers, who must fool themselves into developing genuine feelings for a make-believe world.