Former Prairie du Chien student enjoying acting career

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Amy Malcom in a scene in “Southern Gothic” with Windy City Playhouse in 2019. (Photo submitted)

 

By Ted Pennekamp

 

A Prairie du Chien High School alumnus has made a nice career for herself in the somewhat unusual vocation of actress, and text and vocal coach. Amy Malcom, a 2004 graduate, said acting is challenging but can also be quite gratifying.

“Acting is a very hard but yet very rewarding career,” said Amy, a Chicago based actress. “Not every gig is fun, not every cast gets along. Remember, it’s still a job. It’s not who you are, but what you do. Find other things you are passionate about and do those as well so you’re not relying on just theatre/acting to fill you up. Because it won’t. It’s a very fickle career. But, those gigs where everything comes into place are just magical and remind you why you keep at it. You will hear so many no’s but that makes the yes’s that much more worth it. Let the no’s drive you towards the yes’s.”

Amy is based in Chicago but has also worked regionally on occasion. Last year, she was in a production that was in Forbes Magazine because of its interesting and unique style of “immersive theatre” that has taken over the theatre scene. An almost fully functional home was built inside the theatre that audiences could walk room to room in as the play was happening in real time. It was about a party gone wrong in Georgia in 1962 called “Southern Gothic.” It recently closed after running at Windy City Playhouse for two years. 

“I was an actor in the production for six months,” said Amy. “After that, I found out I was pregnant and started working behind the scenes as a text and vocal coach for two different Shakespeare productions. These are two other passions of mine. I help actors sound good and be understood in a healthy way.”

Other productions Amy has been involved in include “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Twelfth Night,” “Happy Now?,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Charlotte’s Web,” Loose Knit,” “The Liar,” and many others.

Amy was involved in band and choir throughout middle and high school, and began acting as a freshman in high school as well.

“I always loved going to see theatre but didn’t start performing till freshman year of high school,” she said. “I was given a pretty big part sophomore year and found out how much I love entertaining the audience. I continued doing band/choir and added acting to my schedule. Come senior year, I didn’t want to major in music because I didn’t think I’d make any money and I wanted to keep it as a hobby so I thought, ‘I’ll major in theatre!’ Little did I know what I was getting myself into! I immersed myself pretty heavily in theatre in college. I couldn’t help it. It fulfilled me so much. I knew pretty quickly in college that I wanted to pursue acting as a career.”

Amy attended the University of Wisconsin-Parkside where she majored in theatre with a concentration in acting. “They have a program you audition for to get into and they cap their program at 60 students each year,” she said.

Amy said she has been inspired by other actresses Chicago during her career. “2019 was officially deemed “The Year of Chicago Theatre” but really Chicago is continuing to take the theatre world by storm in 2020,” she said. “So much great work is done here, whether it’s in a tiny little black box with no budget or on big stages like Steppenwolf. I’ve had the privilege of working at both. It’s important to work together as a community which I believe Chicago does. I love that we inspire each other! I’m also a very big fan of Judy Garland. I can’t sing like she can, but the way she captivated her audiences always blows me away. She kept them in the palm of her hand.”

During her career, Amy has done several plays by William Shakespeare and has honed various skills along the way. She has a D3 to C6 range with her singing voice and is also rated as advanced in alto saxophone, and intermediate on soprano sax. She also plays piano and oboe.

In addition, Amy has learned stage combat techniques. She is proficient in single rapier and has intermediate experience in hand-to-hand. She has also learned how to use a broadsword, dagger and quarterstaff.

Stage dialects she has mastered include Cockney, Received Pronunciation (or Standard British), Irish, Southern and New York.

Amy is a self-described Shakespeare nerd, and recently returned to her hometown to help Prairie du Chien students prepare for their spring play, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“I love teaching kids about theatre in general, but coming back to Prairie du Chien was particularly special. I hadn’t seen the new theatre yet so getting to be in there was amazing,” she said. “These kids are so lucky to have that beautiful space! Seeing Mr. Lenz and Mr. Hanson brought back fond memories as well. As for the drama kids themselves, they were so open to the exercises I prepared for them and were ready to try new things. It’s always refreshing to see that in high school students. They weren’t afraid to get up on stage and make a fool of themselves when I asked them to, which you have to be willing to do in not only theatre but in life. It was a fun, chill time. I didn’t feel like I was teaching kids. I felt like I was doing a workshop with fellow actors.”

Amy said she gave the Prairie students some new ideas to think about in doing Shakespeare.

“Tackling Shakespeare is a pretty difficult thing, not matter how old you are or how long you’ve been doing theatre. What’s important is that not only you understand what you are saying but you help the audience understand what you’re saying as well. You have to help the audience out a little bit because the language is foreign to their ears. Much like reading subtitles in a foreign movie, it takes a minute for them to adjust. So we started out playing an interpretation game where a student read a bit of text and their “translator” had to translate what that text meant. The students did not receive the material beforehand, but by the end they were not far off from knowing exactly what the text was trying to say. It’s about breaking the text down for yourself in smaller chunks. It makes it less scary.  Then we did an exercise where, with a monologue from the play they had previously picked out themselves, we worked together finding the important or ‘operative’ words in the speech. Once they found them, I had them perform the speech, increasing the voluming or ‘lifting’ the operative words. It automatically helps the audience understand what is being said.”

Amy said she really enjoyed working with the Prairie du Chien students. “I really appreciated their willingness and trust in trying something new with me for a few hours, on a Friday night no less. I’ve been teaching Shakespeare to ages starting at 9 all the way up to 50 and you’d be surprised how many adults shut down when it comes to tackling hard text. I told them that every role in this play is so much fun and it’s true! Shakespeare can be so intimidating and can seem like it’s in a different language but it’s really about breaking it down and doing your text work. It’s so rewarding in the end when an audience member comes up to you after watching a Shakespearean play and says, ‘I understood what you were saying!’ Participating in workshops like this and doing theatre can benefit everyone, no matter what their career path is or may be. There are tools you learn when doing theatre that will benefit you for a lifetime.”

For the aspiring actors and actresses in Prairie du Chien or anywhere, Amy said, “If you love it, don’t give up. You are enough. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

As for the future of her own career, Amy said, “As I transition into motherhood, I want to continue to pursue what makes me happy. Right now that continues to be acting. My goal this year is to book a top agent in the city and perform in projects that I am passionate about. If that leads to Broadway, television or commercials, so be it. My husband Dylan and I plan on staying in the Chicago area since we love the theatre scene so much, and its television and film scene is growing strong as well. Will you see me win a Tony someday? Who knows? But becoming famous is not my goal as a theatremaker. I am just as happy performing on tiny black box stages as I am on the big ones.”

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