Lexington theater artist Tonda-Leah Fields, well known for scene-stealing character roles on stage and inspired direction of popular productions including Studio Players’ “Always … Patsy Cline,” died Saturday.
“She had a great gift for comedic timing onstage and as a director to help encourage performers who didn’t have it naturally,” said Marty Wayman, a fellow actor and director. “All theater companies enjoyed working with her.”
Fields, who lived in Versailles, died on her 52nd birthday. Friends said Sunday that she had faced medical challenges since having kidney and liver transplants a few years ago.
In addition to being a champion of theater in Central Kentucky, Fields was a highly regarded theater educator.
“Her greatest joy was directing young people, and the last piece she did was ‘The Amish Project’ at Tates Creek High School,” said Karyn Czar, a longtime friend.
When her students won a statewide theater contest, “she was so proud of them, she cried her eyes out,” Czar said. “She tried to see every show her kids were in. She loved them dearly, and they adored her. The impact she made on young artists was a true gift.”
“Tonda was a supporter, I think, of every artistic endeavor in Lexington,” said Joe Ferrell, a friend and fellow director. Ferrell said Fields also was a thoughtful friend who, from the time his daughter was born, took on a big-sister role.
She just picked up on everything that was funny out in the world.
Trish Clark, director of The Woodford Theatre
As a director, Fields was especially adept at Southern-fried comedies and musicals, including “Honky Tonk Angels” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” for Studio Players. But she also excelled at Shakespeare and dramas, including a 2011 Kentucky Conservatory Theatre production of Tracy Letts’ harrowing “August: Osage County,” directed by Ferrell.
Fields also had a tremendous impact on the the Woodford Theatre in Versailles and on the theater program at Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, said Trish Clark, director of The Woodford Theatre.
“She loved to laugh so much. She just picked up on everything that was funny out in the world,” Clark said.
“She was more than theater,” Wayman said. She loved country cooking and the music of Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline. “She loved to host parties at her house.”
She also had a love of butterflies and cats, Fields’ obituary said.
“She loved her cat Lungie so much and Lungie loved no one but Tonda,” Wayman said.
According to her obituary, Fields was born July 29, 1965, in Cincinnati, the daughter of Homer Deskins and Clara Ann Fields.
She earned a master’s degree from Louisiana State University, and for the past 22 years she had been a program supervisor in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. She was a member of First Baptist Church of Mount Vernon and enjoyed traveling, her obituary said.
Fields, according to her obituary, is survived by several aunts, uncles, and cousins, including a special aunt, Shelia Marconi of Greenville, S.C., and a special uncle, John Kelly of Nancy.
Her visitation is 11 a.m to 1 p.m. Wednesday at Dowell and Martin Funeral Home in Mount Vernon. Services are at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home.
Entertainment writer and editor Rich Copley contributed to this story.