Stage & Dance

Road to Woodford stage took actors through New York

Dara Jade Tiller and Ellie Clark had to move back to Kentucky to find out they had been neighbors in Queens, N.Y.

The Kentucky natives were both graduates of the University of Kentucky's theater program and former apprentice actors for Actors Theatre of Louisville, but their paths never crossed until their parallel theater trajectories intersected in The Woodford Theatre's latest production, Crimes of the Heart.

Tiller and Clark play sisters; they are joined by Jan Hooker, another UK theater grad and Kentucky native who spent several years on the regional touring circuit before landing in New York. The trio have even more in common than their pedigrees and similar career paths: All have chosen the Bluegrass over the Big Apple.

They say there is more and better work available here, not to mention a vibrant and supportive community where one's anonymity doesn't last long.

"I don't feel like I have failed because I left New York and came back to Kentucky, which stereotypically that's what people would think," says Tiller, who plays Babe, the youngest MaGrath sister, who shoots her abusive husband at the start of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1978 play. "I'm growing more as an artist here than I ever did there."

Tiller's tenure in New York was followed by a stint in Chicago, where she helped a friend launch a casting company while working commercially as an actor.

"I came back to Kentucky unexpectedly and had not planned on staying, and they offered me part-time work here in the box office at Woodford County while I was deciding what I was going to do," she says, "I was really excited about things that were happening in Lexington.

"I feel like the arts community is really boiling here, and there is so much potential. There's such a large pool of talent and heart and drive. I feel like I can do quality work that will touch people here just as much or more than if I were in New York or Chicago."

Clark and Hooker echo her sentiments.

"I've done more work here in the past four or five months than I did in my whole last year in New York, maybe more," says Clark, who plays middle sister Meg.

"The bottom line is I really didn't like living there," says Hooker, who moved back to Central Kentucky three years ago after discovering that she had rheumatoid arthritis. She plays oldest sister Lenny in the play, which originally debuted at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

"You have to really want to make it your home," she says of New York, "and I didn't feel like that was my home, and all I was doing was working at a hotel and going to auditions, like I wasn't doing anything creative."

When she thought of returning to Kentucky, the kaleidoscope of local theaters excited her.

"There's a good strong base of theaters, and even though 90 percent of them don't pay anything, they're good people, they do good work," Hooker says.

In addition to the perfect storm of timing that provided production director Beth Kirchner with three seasoned, professional actresses to cast in the lead roles of Crimes of the Heart, the trio have even more in common.

They all are expanding their roles in theater beyond the realm of acting. Tiller staffs the box office at The Woodford Theatre; Clark is a co-founder of a new theater group ProjectSEE; and Hooker is assistant director for Robyn Peterman-Zahn in Paragon's upcoming production of Gypsy.