Artfully Edmonds profile: Funny Girl of The Phoenix Theatre

Melanie Calderwood
Melanie Calderwood

The Phoenix Theatre
9673 Firdale Ave.

“Expressing Willie”
by Rachel Crothers, directed by Christine Mosere
Opens Friday, Dec. 4
8 p.m.

This month My Edmonds News (MEN) welcomes Melanie Calderwood (MC) to the Profile stage.

Melanie, thank you so much for joining us, along with our  readers. We realize that you have a role to prepare for in The Phoenix Theatre’s upcoming production, “Expressing Willie” and appreciate the time you’re taking for this interview.

Artfully Edmonds has a set of questions intended to reveal the woman behind one of Edmonds’ funniest on stage comediennes. So! Let’s get started:

AE: I’ve sat in the audience at The Phoenix Theatre listening as the audience anticipates your entrance. During most productions the audience actually interrupts the show to applaud your arrival. What is going through your mind in those moments?

MC: The first time they reacted it was surprising, then a little embarrassing. I didn’t want to appear as a diva to the other actors.  However, I am always flattered. I did a play for the Edge of the World and they applauded every night until about the third weekend.  By that time my reaction was “Hello, I’m here.”

At The Phoenix I’m told after the production that there was a reaction to my arrival on stage, but I don’t usually hear it.

– – –

AE: Probably most of the season ticket holders of The Phoenix Theatre have heard how you got started in theatre; but remind us for readers who have not yet discovered the fun and frivolity of The Phoenix.

MC: I wasn’t involved in theater in high school or college, but after nursing school in Cleveland someone talked me into auditioning for “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds”. Part of the audition was to read a monologue on stage in front of everyone else that was auditioning. While I was reading I took a misstep and almost fell into the orchestra pit. Although the play was not a comedy I got the part of the oldest daughter. I played a 12-year-old when I was 24.

At the time I didn’t even know theater terminology. A stage direction such as “stage right” was always followed by, “Melanie, that’s by the window”.  However, from then on I had the acting bug.

– – –

AE: In what ways do you coach new members of The Phoenix troupe?

MC: We usually have a very talented group of actors at the Phoenix, so our real job is to make them feel supported and comfortable.  They really don’t need much actual coaching from me.  Managing director Christine Mosere does that and she’s very good at it. We try to make the actors and crewmembers feel like part of The Phoenix family.

Recently a couple of crewmembers decided to take a break from theater because of their busy schedules. However, one has already come back and the other is coming back in January because she said that she misses us.

Sometimes actors get down on themselves if they do something that they feel wasn’t their best. I have told them (in the words of Walt Disney) to “Let it go” and it will be better next time. Since I’ve had years of experience as a nurse, when they are really worried or upset about something that went wrong I’ve told them that at least no one died, so that was good.

– – –

AE: Do the regular cast members see each other “off set”?

MC: Many of the actors see each other “off set”; especially while a show is running or during rehearsals. Many casts become very close and want to stay in touch after the play is over.

However, sometimes it’s difficult since everyone goes off to be in another play at another theater and their time is then taken up by rehearsals at that venue.

One does develop long-term friendships, of course.  Some of my best friends are people whom I’ve met in the theater.  For instance, Christine Mosere and I met while doing the last play of the Edge of the World Theater.

– – –

AE: Melanie, is your funny bone the result of family genes? Maybe you were the subject of older brother teasing? What makes you so brazenly willing to stumble across the stage, look cross-eyed, stutter and otherwise poke fun at the fragilities of humanity?

MC:   I come from a family of “funny people.” When I was little my cousin married a man who was very shy and quiet.  I remember the adults wondering how he was going to survive in our family.  However, in a few months he was as crazy as everyone else.  I was also the only child, only grandchild, youngest niece, so everything I did was the cutest, funniest thing any little kid had ever done.  First grade was rude awakening, since I suddenly wasn’t the center of attention. I guess theater is a way to recapture that attention.

– – –

AE: Is there a female comedienne whose work you pattern your style after?

MC: Although I in no way consider myself in their class, I’ve always admired Carol Burnett and of course, Lucille Ball. I also think that Melissa McCarthy is very talented. I don’t really copy any style. I try to bring out the comedy according to each character with the help of the director. At The Phoenix I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best directors in the Seattle area.

– – –

AE: How have you studied the technique of Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball or Melissa McCarthy?

MC: I haven’t really studied either one of them per se, but I’ve probably seen every single production of The Carol Burnett Show several times. I remember watching an episode and literally falling out of my chair laughing. I guess that’s a way of studying her work. I enjoy watching and doing physical comedy.

– – –

AE: It seems like you are uber-involved in The Phoenix. Do you have other outlets, hobbies?

MC: I have several pets, which take up a lot of my time. I didn’t grow up having dogs or cats so I’m making up for lost time. I have two dogs, two cats and four Pygmy Goats. I have taken the goats to goat shows  (and even won a blue ribbon). Both the goats and I found that just too stressful, so now we all just hang out in the back yard.

Also, I volunteered at PAWS this past summer. I was in the wildlife section so I wasn’t tempted to bring any of the animals home with me.

In the past I’ve been on bowling leagues. I enjoy cross-country skiing; although some years I don’t have time to go, and I’ve been doing Crossfit about three to four times a week for the last couple of years. I also like watching TV;  it’s a way to relax.

– – –

AE: Does your family think you are as funny as we do?

MC:   My biological family lives in Pennsylvania where everyone is funny.  My mother, who was very funny, enjoyed coming to my plays. My Seattle “family” usually thinks that I’m funny, or I hope that they do. I practice my lines in front of the animals and they sometimes look at me as if they aren’t sure if they should be worried or not. They get especially concerned when I do a lot of yelling and running around while practicing my lines.

– – – –

If we can imagine anyone running around a backyard barnyard doing a lot of frantic and farcical yelling among animals who are throwing worried looks back and forth – Melanie Calderwood fits the bill!

You can experience Melanie Calderwood’s pratfalls and funny girl entrances first-hand during the upcoming production of “Expressing Willie,” which opens Friday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m.

Select your preferred seating at this online box office .

— Emily Hill

  1. If laughter is the best medicine then we have the Mayo Clinic at the Phoenix Theater in FIrdale Village! Melanie puts us all in stitches (and I mean all – last production I sat behind a young man, maybe 17, who laughed with abandon like the rest of us).
    If you get Season tickets, you’ll also get to watch Director Christine Mosere in action as she helps each of the talented actors find their unique and spot on way to deliver their lines. Thanks Emily and Melanie for the special interview – and thanks Phoenix Theater Company for all the hard work so we can have such a fun and funny night out – just up the street! The plays are even better when you preface them with dinner at Caravan Kebab – just have to park the car once!

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