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Elaine Stueve, always the curious type, wondered. And that wonder quickly turned to doubt. Then, like clockwork, doubt manifested itself in fear and intimidation.

Could the University of Nebraska-Lincoln junior theater major hold her own on stage with seasoned professional actors? Was she really worthy of playing one of the leads in Nebraska Repertory Theatre’s season-opening production, “The Legend of Georgia McBride”?

That feeling isn't unusual, said Steve Scott, who directed the play.

"All actors have the same fears," he said. "It's just that when you're young, you seem to have more of them."

At 20, it's safe to call Stueve a young actress, which explained her state of mind in the early days of the cast coming together.

“I remember being so scared that first rehearsal,” said the Bellevue East High School graduate who plays Jo, the wife to a struggling Elvis impersonator turned on-stage drag queen in the show that will end its two-week run this weekend on the Lied Center’s Johnny Carson Theatre stage.

The fears were somewhat warranted. Stueve had never been cast into the limelight. Not in high school. Not even in grade school. With the exception of a sizable role last year in a small production of “Stupid (Effing) Bird,” Stueve has always been a dependable supporting cast member, but never the star.

That changed last spring when she auditioned for a part in one of the Nebraska Rep's productions this year.

She went through the obligatory reading of a monologue, thinking it would be good experience for a future she hopes will someday center around professional acting.

“I didn’t expect to get a callback, but I did,” she said. "I went back in and did a scene from the show.”

That was in April, just before the rush of finals and the excitement of the upcoming summer, which would include a month in London for an acting course. She had left campus and was back at her family’s home in Papillion when the phone rang in early May.

She’d gotten the part.

“I was by myself in the kitchen,” she said. “My family was all at work and I was alone. I didn’t know how to feel. I was very happy. For a second, I didn’t believe it. I thought this could be a mistake. I cried a little. I was really happy.

“All the work I had done was somehow paying off. It was affirmation. I was finally doing something.”

Her mind began to race. She needed the script. She had to know her lines. All of them. ASAP. 

“I was going to be ready,” she said.

She was more than prepared, Scott said. 

"She came in ready to go," he said. "She might not have a lot of experience, but she's really good. She's an instinctive actor and kept growing, especially as we got an audience."

The experience of working with professionals, it turns out, has only ignited her passion for the stage.

“They’ve raised my level,” she said last Friday, hours before the opening-night curtain would be raised. “You can’t go out there as a college actor, which I know am. But when you have someone who is pushing you, you have to be better."

Scott said she made the professionals better, too, with "the innocence that she brought to the room. It seemed to energize everyone."

Colin Sphar, a Sacramento native on loan from Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, plays Casey, who leads a happy-go-lucky, love-will-find-a-way existence despite the rent check being late and his Elvis act being replaced by a drag-queen parade at the run-down Florida Panhandle dive bar that employs him.

Jo is far more pragmatic and responsible when it comes to paying and making ends meet. There is strife, but she is his rock, urging him to continue chasing his dream, consequences be damned. What we find is that they love each other, but sometimes, that isn’t always enough.

“They got married on the fly and you get to see the reality of things setting in,” Stueve said. “You can tell they’re having some issues. I’m a believer that if you’re in a relationship or have been in a relationship, when you see this show, you will relate to one of them.”

Jo is on a voyage of finding herself, as well as discovering her ability to take a supporting role in someone else’s quest for happiness -- no matter how destructive it might be.

“Jo goes on a journey of figuring out how to accept things you don’t understand and how to support other people’s dreams that you might not understand,” Stueve said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7391 or psangimino@journalstar.com. On Twitter @psangimino.

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