Embracing the spotlight
Preparation is a key component for success in most occupations, especially
when your job is performing under the bright lights of the stage. For students
in Northern Arizona University’s Theatre Department, accommodating the rapid
turnaround of auditions, rehearsals, and performances, all while balancing
education and classroom obligations, can be simultaneously exhausting and
rewarding. Just ask Chelsea Hightower, a sophomore theatre major who was cast
in the lead of the university’s newest production, Mother Hicks, a Susan Zeder-penned period production that touches
on themes of prejudice during the Great Depression.
While most students were acclimating to life back on campus
following summer break, Hightower was auditioning for the role of Girl, one of Mother Hicks’ three main characters.
had auditions for this season the second or the third day of school,” Hightower
says. “Callbacks were a day after that. The day we found out who was cast in Mother Hicks, we started rehearsal that
night. We’ve had four weeks to get this show from the page to the stage.”
Pursuing a lifelong passion
Despite her dedication to her craft, Hightower
originally intended to pursue a degree in biomedical sciences in order to help
people deal with various health issues. However, it didn’t take long for her to
realize she needed to change direction.
“When I was growing up, I always had a passion
for theatre,” Hightower says. “I’ve been dancing for fifteen years, and I
figured if I didn’t go where my heart was telling me to, I would be really
upset with myself later on.”
Although the accelerated pace of performing at
the university level can be daunting, Hightower cites the high degree of faculty
attention as instrumental in helping her to adjust and reach her potential. She
believes the guidance she’s received thus far has given her the courage to
perform at any level.
“You get a lot of intimate attention,” Hightower
says. “The professors are going to know you all four years. Once you tell them
what you want to do and where your focus is, they really help you to put
perspective on that focus and help steer you in the right direction towards
what’s going to be most beneficial to you. At the same time, they are not
hesitant to put underclassmen up on stage because they know the only way you
can learn is through experience.”
Lights, camera, action
preparation for the lead in Mother Hicks
began long before her audition; her experience acting throughout the years has
contributed to the performer she is today.
freshman year, Hightower was cast as a chorus member in a musical version of Shakespeare’s
The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Since
then, she has participated in numerous productions both on and off the stage;
Hightower has played bit roles in Miscast
and New Works, and worked behind the
scenes on the university’s productions of Nickel
and Dimed and Dancing at Lughnasa.
Getting a view of all aspects of the production process, Hightower says, has
been helpful to her stage career.
“I think it’s
not a bad place to start doing things behind the curtain,” Hightower says. “It
gives you a better feel for how things work when you’re onstage.”
prepares to take center stage in Mother
Hicks, Hightower feels she is ready for the responsibility. While adjusting
the demands of a lead role isn’t easy, Hightower says the increased shift in
workload will help her hone the skills necessary to grow as an actress and,
hopefully, one day open her own production company. She is grateful for the
opportunity, and believes her work on Mother
Hicks has given her a clear look at the “real” world of acting.
“The closer we get to learning skills that are
going to be the same as in the professional world, the more it’s going to
benefit us long-term,” Hightower says. “If we get babied by the professors,
it’s not going to help us. If we get pushed really hard and understand how hard
we have to work, especially here, then it’s going to be an easier transition
into the professional world.”