Backstage: A Q&A with SCCT’s Traysie Amick

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Traysie Amick discovered the allure of theater when her mother took her to a production when she was in elementary school. Now as the South Carolina Children’s Theatre’s principal teaching artist, she is introducing hundreds of Greenville-area children to the world of theater.

Amick has a bachelor’s degree in theater from Winthrop University and studied directing with Omaha Magic Theatre. In college, she designed a children’s program for Rock Hill Community Theatre and was a member of Alpha Psi Omega, the national dramatic honor society. She participated in the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities’ theater program. She’s also a founding company member of the improv and classical comedy group The Distracted Globe.

Her latest role was as The Old Lady in the SCCT’s Wee Play Theatre Show “Balloonacy.”

When did you first become involved in acting, and when did you know this is something you wanted to do long term?

I started doing camera gigs (little things like ETV or industrial films) when I was in sixth grade. Although I took advantage of the sparse theater training available to me in West Columbia in the late ’80s, I thought I was only doing it to work on my career in camera and filmmaking. It wasn’t until I was in college and turning down camera opportunities to focus on stage productions that I knew where my priorities had landed.

What has been your most challenging role and why?

The reason I love this so much is because it is all so difficult. Either the lines are in rhyme, or the physical comedy is challenging, or the timing has to be just right. If it is not challenging, then it’s not worth the time to invest.

That being said, “The Cat in the Hat” has the largest array of challenges. It’s an iconic character. It has been successfully portrayed in media. Many people know the book by heart, so you cannot get away with one mistake in the lines. It is an ensemble piece that has elaborate choreography and precise timing. The recreation of Seuss-ish body positions, postures, and pace test the limits of an adult body. There are so many technicalities upon which the show hinges. After all of those considerations, I still had to keep each performance fresh and make the character my own.

What has been your most enjoyable role and why?

Aw, man! That’s tough. The Old Lady I played in our Wee Play Theatre show, “Balloonacy,” is endearing. She seems to be all of my hang-ups and joy rolled into one. It’s a sincere exchange between unlikely personalities. I love finding ways to nonverbally communicate with each audience and working my body through all of that lazzi.

Max the Elf from Jayce Tromsness’s “Not Even A Mouse” is also an all-time favorite. Max has hope and spunk that I deeply admire. The myriad of characters that I get to roll through at the Café & Then Some is also a privilege. They are a concoction of all of the memorable people I get to meet through my adventures in Greenville.

What’s your favorite play? Why?

Although Sam Shepard and Edward Albee are my favorite playwrights, Arthur Miller’s “Creation of the World and Other Business” is perhaps my favorite. I love when familiar stories are dissected in a new light. This play deals with the Judeo-Christian creation story in a way that offers an entertaining and enlightening commentary on a modern world. I love the voice and perspective Miller gives the characters. It is comfortable and disorienting at the same time.

Which actors inspire you? 

There are many actors locally whom I admire. I try to catch them in shows so I can watch how they work. Occasionally, I am lucky enough to be cast alongside them to see their whole process.

I also watch a lot of classic film and clowning. Katharine Hepburn, Bill Ives, Buster Keaton, Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and Carol Burnett are actors I return to again and again when looking for inspiration.

However, the actors that most inspire me are the ones with whom I work at SC Children’s Theatre — the kids in ADLIBeration [SCCT’s teen improv troupe], classes, and 3rd Stage.  They LOVE this! It is not a job, but a privilege. It’s not work, but play. Their ideas are fresh, and full of life, and honest! I steal so much of what I am happy with in my own work from them.

What do you most enjoy about Greenville’s theater scene?

The variety! There is something for everyone in the Upstate — whether you are a stir-crazy mom with an 18-month-old toddler to entertain or a 92-year-old hopping into a van to go see a matinee. There are theaters that offer shows to comfort and uplift; ones that will challenge and inspire; ones that let you turn off your brain and laugh off your head; and ones that hold up a mirror to the realities we face today. When you look at the seasons Upstate theaters offer, you can’t pigeon-hole our town. The scene is as diverse and vibrant as our Upstate community, and with that variety of entertainment comes a variety of opportunity for both actors and audience.

How has Greenville’s theater scene changed since you first became involved?

It seemed to me, in 1999, that each theater had its set audience and players. You would see the same faces in the audience and up on the stage. I think over time we have learned to trust and challenge our scene.

Theaters are trying new ideas and angles. Actors are auditioning for different directors. We now have groups that explore unconventional playing spaces or ways of telling a story that are refreshing and exciting. The days of the week or times of the year when shows are offered have also become more diverse. This allows people with unconventional schedules to take advantage of seeing live theater, too.

Theaters in this town can change things up as much as they like and work as hard as they can, but without a supportive audience, it would be a futile effort. The support for live theater in this town has evolved. So many more members of our community are willing to shut off the TV and take a chance on something live.

What is your hope for the future of theater in Greenville?

I hope that we continue to be malleable and adaptive. I hope audiences stay curious. It would be amazing to see this community of artists continue to grow and support one another through collaboration and “cross-pollination.” If we rest on our laurels or become afraid to mix up what seems to be working, our community risks becoming apathetic or predictable. My greatest hope is that we never forget how lucky we are to have such talent and opportunity right here in our own town.

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