Studio Visit: Chris Taber
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with actress Chris Taber, 49, Mahomet.
Q: How and when did you first get interested in theater?
A: Junior high. It's a horrible age. I was tall, taller than all the boys, with acne, braces, glasses and a Dorothy Hamill haircut. It was just awkward. I felt everybody was looking at me all the time.
I don't know whether it was in seventh or eighth grade, and I got this silly little part in a play. I think Mrs. Scrooge.
We must have put it on for two classes, but it felt like the student body. For the first time, the other students were laughing at my comedic acting talents, if you will, versus me and my awkwardness. It was amazing and I realized, "Yes, I could be other people."
I did every play I could when I went to Tuscola High School.
Q: Did you major in theater after that?
A: Yes, at Indiana University. After two years, I transferred to Eastern Illinois, and then while I was there, I asked myself, "What will I really do with theater?"
I ended up with an education degree, with a concentration on mathematics, of all things. I have a minor in theater and another in speech communication. I was in college for 5-1/2 years.
Q: Then what?
A: I taught math at Arcola High School for 11 years. I was really good at it because of my theater background. I had fun with it and making them understand it. I would have songs with trigonometry.
Q: What did you do after that?
A: My husband and I lived in Denver for three years and had two kids, and I was lucky enough not to have to work outside the home.
Q: Did you do any theater there?
A: I didn't. I thought about it. I went to see shows, but I just didn't have the time.
Q: When did you move back here?
A: In 2003. Thom Schnarre, whom I'd known because we did an EIU invited alumni show in '97, was teaching at Parkland College, so I contacted him. He said, "Be in my show. I'm doing 'Angels in America.'"
Q: Did you do it and a lot of shows after that? How many?
A: I did. Oh, my gosh, I should look that up. I need a bio because I start shooting in March a movie by Johnny Robinson called "The Garden of Chloe."
Q: Do you have a big role?
A: I do. It's about two sisters. I'm the older sister who's very similar to this character I'm playing in "Good Boys and True." She's affluent and very set in her little town.
Her sister, who's kind of a hippie, comes back, and she's in a triad. My character at first is "Oh, my God." So she goes through quite a change and realizes what she would like to have — which is permission to be more free.
Q: When did you start teaching at Franklin Middle School in Champaign? You're drama director there, right?
A: This is my sixth year. I teach sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders drama classes, sponsor the speech team that goes to contests in the fall and direct the spring production, which is usually a musical. This year, we're doing "Fame Jr."
Q: Do you teach anything else at Franklin? Would you want to teach math again?
A: Nope. It's awesome because I get to see happen to some of my students what happened to me in junior high.
Q: What's your favorite role so far?
A: Probably Lil Bit in "How I Learned to Drive." Just before that, I always felt I was cast as the comedic character. Don't get me wrong. I love that. But that was the first time I got into what makes people tick.
I love straight comic stuff, though. I did a musical show a couple years ago with my daughter and it was fun. I grew up watching Carol Burnett. I loved her, and getting to channel her was a lot of fun.
I also enjoyed playing the Hollywood agent, Diane, when Mathew Green directed "Little Dog Laughed" here at the Station. That was my first foray into the Station Theatre.
Editor's note: Chris Taber's most recent stage role was as Elizabeth Hardy in "Good Boys and True" at the Station. That play ended Feb. 8.