Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with actress Martha Mills.
Q: How many plays have you been in, anyway?
A: I believe this ("Independence" at the Station Theatre) is the seventh at the Station I've been in as an actress. I've been involved in I don't know how many more at the Station as a stage manager, assistant director and producer. But I was in many, many more in Charleston and in high school.
Q: So how and when did you get into theater?
A: Probably if we want to go back to the very beginning, it was in church plays as a small child. But I really got involved in musicals and plays in junior high and high school. I always loved singing, and I was always in choirs. I think my eighth-grade year was the first opportunity I had to be in a musical. But I didn't get involved in community theater until after college.
Q: Where did you go to school and what was your major?
A: I went to Eastern Illinois University and started out as a vocal performance major. I realized it wasn't really the career and life I wanted, so I switched and got my degree in communications studies.
Q: You often portray troubled women in plays at the Station. Why do you think you're cast in those roles?
A: I hope it's not typecasting. I don't know. Those roles just kind of seem to come easily for me. I like doing comedies and musicals, too, but the dramatic roles and quirky women — I feel I'm able to tap into those. Maybe it's a little bit of purging of my own demons on stage.
Q: In real life, you don't seem screwed up.
A: I don't feel screwed up. It's kind of a nice outlet to act that way and not really have that sort of stuff in my real life.
Q: Do you work outside the home?
A: I did for a little while. I actually worked for Shawna Smith (coordinator of graduate programs at the University of Illinois School of Molecular and Cellular Biology) at her office, very part-time, and then the school year ended, and I knew I was going to take the summer off. I felt it was better to stay home with Alba (2-year-old daughter), so that's what I do now. I also nanny for some friends a couple of hours a day.
Q: What do you like about theater and acting?
A: That's a tough question on tech week. I've made a lot of friends, kind of a core group of friends at the theater. I like the community aspects of it. I like all these people who come from different backgrounds and careers and areas coming together to create art to entertain other people and themselves. You really create a lot of strong bonds with people when you do a show with them. No. 1, you're working with them for hours and weeks. Especially a show like this ("Independence"). You really have to open up to the cast members and let them see inside you. You end up having a lot of raw conversations. You learn a lot about people, and you really create good friendships.
Q: What's been your favorite character to play so far?
A: That's a tough one. I really enjoyed playing Tzeitel, the oldest daughter, in "Fiddler on the Roof" at Charleston High School. I really liked Becky Shaw in "Becky Shaw" last year at the Station.
Q: Which character did you play that's most like you?
A: Gosh, I really don't know. There are aspects of a lot of characters I played that have aspects of mine, but there's not really one I really would say is like me.
Q: What do you like doing best in theater and why?
A: I like acting best. Really, it's the easiest because all I have to do is remember lines, remember where I'm supposed to be and basically do what I'm told. All the other aspects — producing, stage managing — I have to organize everything and make sure everybody else is where they are supposed to be. Many people in theater say that's like herding cats. I prefer being one of the ones being herded.
EDITOR'S NOTE: "Independence" by Lee Blessing continues through Dec. 15 at the Station Theatre in Urbana.