The Arthropologist

Some enchanted evening: Three Houston actresses trade day jobs for nighttime stage magic

Some enchanted evening: Three Houston actresses trade day jobs for nighttime stage magic

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Shannon Emerick and Vissarion Belinsky in Main Street Theater's The Coast of Utopia Courtesy of RicOrnelProductions.com
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Eva Laporte and Philip Lehl in the Classical Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya Photo by Blair Knowles
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Carolyn Johnson, from left,  Jim Salners , Jennifer Dean (back) and Karen Ross in Driftwood at Main Street Theater   Courtesy of www.RicOrnelProductions.com
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Shannon Emerick as Hannah in Arcadia by Main Street Theater
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A scene from the Classical Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya with Eva Laporte and Tracie Thomason Photo by Blair Knowles
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From Driftwood, Jennifer Dean, from left, Jim Salners and Karen Ross at Main Street Theater Courtesy of www.RicOrnelProductions.com
News_Nancy_working on both sides of the stage_Shannon Emerick_Vissarion Belinsky_The Coast of Utopia
News_Nancy_working on both sides of the stage_Classical Theatre Company_Uncle Vanya_Eva Laporte_Philip Lehl
News_Nancy_working on both sides of the stage_1_Main Street Theater_Driftwood
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News_Nancy_working on both sides of the stage_1_Main Street Theater_Driftwood

By night, Eva Laporte plays Sonia in Uncle Vanya, one of Chekhov's most compelling heroines, opening this weekend at Classical Theatre Company, through Jan. 22.

"The play and its characters are deliciously complex and simple at the same time," says Laporte. "That's the beauty of Chekhov. All of the characters experience deep, disturbing and disruptive emotions when the family comes to live on Sonia's estate, and there are many love triangles to be negotiated."

By day, life is more straightforward in her job as Stages Repertory Theatre's communication manager.

It's not unusual to have a day job in the theater world, but it's not easy either. Many of the people enchanting us night after night work at desk jobs during the day. It's how it goes in the often double career track of the arts. Laporte, Shannon Emerick and Karen Ross are three of Houston's finest actors who work on both sides of the stage. I knew all of these women in their day job capacities before being wowed by them on stage.

  "I'm terrified and excited," Emerick says. "I love Stoppard, his use of language is incredible, but it's the humanity and depth of emotion in everything he writes that moves me."

I remember my "wait a minute" moment with each. I first saw my Artshound guru Ross belt out some vintage Broadway tunes at Bayou City Concert Musicals. "You sing?" I asked her the next time I saw her.

Ross has appeared in over 25 shows at Main Street Theater (MST) and most recently, she appeared in The Retreat from Moscow at Country Playhouse and the world premiere of Driftwood at MST. During the day time hours, she's the web resources administrator at Houston Arts Alliance.

Laporte proved one loveable Agnes Gooch in Auntie Mame last season, her only role at her home base at Stages. She had a star turn as Karen in the world premiere of Woof at MST. Her resume runs long and deep, with such roles as Lady Capulet at the Shakespeare Globe Center of the Southwest and Cherie in Bus Stop at Texas Repertory Theatre.

I had been working with Emerick for a long time in her role as MST's director of marketing and development before she impressed me in Poor Richard, then made a pitch perfect Gilda in Noel Coward's smart and sassy Design for Living. The Yale grad was singled out for her work in George Bernard Shaw's Candida at Classical Theatre last season, and may be best known for her performances in Tom Stoppard's masterwork Arcadia, where she played as Thomasina in 1996, then more recently, as Hannah in 2010.

Currently, she's steeped in another batch of Stoppard for her role as Natalie Herzen in The Coast Of Utopia Part 2: Shipwreck and Malwida Von Meysenbug in Part 3: Salvage. This will mark the first time she has done two plays in rep at the same time. "I'm terrified and excited," she says. "I love Stoppard, his use of language is incredible, but it's the humanity and depth of emotion in everything he writes that moves me."

Laporte runs in late to a recent gathering I had with Houston's most prominent double dippers. "I was triple dipping," she jokes, as she joins Emerick and Ross. Emerick knows La Porte and Ross well, while Laporte and Ross are meeting for the first time in person. Ross and Laporte have performed under the MST roof, while Emerick has performed in two shows at Stages. 

 

"You have to be a good actor to be in marketing," Emerick insists, getting a big laugh from the other two. "It's about story telling." 

Time is in short supply for these women, so just one mention of "the real world" gets them laughing. They don't have much to spare.

"Sometimes you just want to watch TV without your bra, and don't forget to write that down," jokes Ross, pointing to me.

Each struggle with building a life outside of the job and the theater in different ways. For Emerick, it's about leaving time for her son, while Ross and Laporte need space outside of the all-consuming theater world now and then. All three roll their eyes when I ask, "When do you have time to learn your lines?" It seems life in the impossible lane comes with some mighty feats.

"Is it easier to do a show at your own theater?" I ask Emerick and Laporte. "Yes and no," Emerick offers, touching on the complexity of navigating being in the show for which you are also the press manager. It's not a simple proposition. It may be more convenient, however, the distance of performing in another company's show helps keep the roles separate. 

All three our involved in the public relations arm of the arts. I wondered what crossover there is with acting.

"You have to be a good actor to be in marketing," Emerick insists, getting a big laugh from the other two. "It's about story telling."

Emerick brings up a good point, and it's true, Emerick and La Porte are in fact two of the most animated resourceful press people in town, always quick with an idea and a solution.

"What about financial security, is that a factor in having a day job?" I ask the trio. "We work in the arts," reminds Laporte, with a serious tone. She's right, a job at an arts organization is not the same as a traditional job, especially in this economy.

Yet, each feel lucky that their work cohorts appreciate their talents and intimately know the challenges of being a working artist. "Most of us are creative people at Stages," offers Laporte.

As time went on, the trio forgot that I was there, shooting questions to each other, sharing coping strategies and trading triumphs. Giggles ensued frequently. I may have inadvertently started a double dippers club. I know this for sure when Ross blurts out, "Let's do this again, and we don't need you," pointing at me with a mischievous Cheshire cat grin.

Knowing how precious time is for these three, I promised to keep the meeting under an hour. As I went out to my car, I peeked back at the trio, still chatting a mile a minute and laughing. I slipped away to the merry din of Houston's finest double dippers.