by Lorie Lewis Ham
While theatre starts slowly coming back to the stage, there still aren’t many shows to cover, so we are continuing to feature some local actors who have also been acting on our podcast, Mysteryrat’s Maze. This week we chatted with Fresno actor Donna Beavers, who has been the voice of three of our episodes. Mysteryrat’s Maze features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors.
KRL: Are you from the Valley? If not, where are you from and how did you end up here?
Donna: My family lived in Contra Costa County until I was 10. My dad got a job in Alameda County, so we moved to Newark in the East Bay. In 1978, I moved to the Valley to attend Fresno State.
KRL: Current day job? And other jobs you have had?
Donna: I have worked for Key Writing Concepts since 1999. We’re business consultants, primarily grant writers, but we work on a variety of documentation projects for our clients. Prior to joining KWC, I served nine years as secretary/office manager for First Congregational Church of Fresno (the Big Red Church).
KRL: Schools attended?
Donna: I went to high school in Newark and also attended Ohlone Jr. College in Fremont before transferring to CSU Fresno where I earned my B.A. in English.
KRL: When did you first get involved in acting and why? What was your first part?
Donna: I’ll answer these two questions together. I was cast as the Scarecrow in my junior high school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, I got the flu just before opening so I had to miss all the performances. I was interested in theater in high school—I attended all the productions—but play practice was usually at the same time as softball practice, and I was a pretty good athlete, so that’s the choice I made. I sang in church and school choirs and was in marching band. Later, I decided to take a year off from my college studies and joined the Covenant Players, a Christian repertory theater company that travels all over the U.S. and internationally. After a year “on the road” I returned to finish my last year of college.
KRL: What are some of the shows you have been in, the parts you have played, and with what companies?
Donna: I was in the StageWorks production of La Cage Aux Folles and also performed with StageWorks in Urinetown (Dr. Billeaux), and Les Misérables. Good Company Players favorites include: Sister Act, Our Town (Myrtle Webb), Is He Dead (Mme. Caron), Cyrano de Bergerac (Marquise), Jane Eyre, Evita, The Sound of Music (Sister Berthe), Crazy for You (Patricia), Into the Woods (Jack’s Mother), The Secret Garden, Sweeney Todd, The Scarlett Pimpernel, The Music Man (Eulalie), and Big River (Miss Watson). For CenterStage, I appeared as Mrs. Brill in Mary Poppins. Fun fact: I played Madame de la Grande Bouche (Wardrobe) in Beauty and the Beast for both CenterStage (2016) and GCP (2006). I’ve appeared in numerous productions for GCP since 1984; my first production was Fiddler on the Roof.
KRL: Do you have a favorite type of show to perform in?
Donna: I do love musicals. There’s nothing like being in a super-complex production number with a big wall of sound coming from the ensemble and lots of great choreography.
KRL: What do you like best about acting/singing?
Donna: That “zen” moment during a song, when you’re aware of the audience, but you’re also on some other spiritual plane—it’s exactly like that moment in the movie “Soul” when the main character is so connected to his craft he is transported beyond himself.
KRL: What is the hardest?
Donna: When things go wrong on stage and there is no place to hide. I think we’ve all been there. Also, while I’ve been in countless musicals, learning choreography has always been challenging for me (I didn’t study dance in school; I was playing sports!). Fortunately, these days with smart phones, it’s great to be able to record rehearsals so that I can watch later and fix problems.
KRL: Future goals and dreams?
Donna: Someday in the not-too-distant future I do plan to retire from my “day job.” Then it would be great to audition for more productions. And travel. I’ve never actually been to New York to see a Broadway show.
Donna: Laurie and Dan Pessano. My former boss, Nancy Key. My mom.
KRL: Family (including pets)?
Donna: I have an older brother and younger sister. My father passed away in 2011. I bought a house in 2004 and my mother and brother live with me. We have two fur babies, Katniss (cat) and Ginger (dog). My brother’s children are adults and live nearby. My niece and her husband recently had a baby so I am a great aunt!
KRL: What do you feel has helped you the most in growing as an actor?
Donna: A former director helped me understand the difference between character and caricature. Approach the role as if they are a real person.
KRL: What advice would you have for someone wanting to get into acting?
Donna: Audition, audition, audition. Study voice. Take classes. Take any role offered if you can. Do tech assignments from time to time; this will help you understand how everything fits together. Be kind to the crew. Listen.
KRL: What is your dream role?
Donna: Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard.
KRL: Is it hard balancing a job and acting (pre-pandemic of course)?
Donna: I would definitely audition more if I did not have a demanding, deadline-driven job. I don’t always get enough sleep.
KRL: Was your first Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast the first time you ever did any voice acting?
KRL: Why did you want to audition for the podcast?
Donna: Another opportunity to grow as a performer. And it just sounded like a lot of fun!
KRL: How has voice acting been different from acting on stage?
Donna: Getting the chance to do multiple takes is not a luxury for live theater. And because there is no live audience, in some ways you have to focus even more to keep your energy up.
KRL: What have you liked best about it and what has been the hardest?
Donna: I like planning how the characters should sound. I write notes in my margins to remind myself as I’m reading who they are, such as “older, sweet.” Sometimes I think of a famous actor or other public figure then model my voice after that person. For one character, I actually pictured Ed Asner in my head. The hardest part can be when you think you’ve nailed the character only to be asked to walk something back—but this is just another opportunity for growth and learning!
Donna: I enjoy working on craft projects from time to time, especially if it involves a hot glue gun! As mentioned, in my younger days I was involved in sports (softball, volleyball, tennis) but I haven’t played team sports in years (these days Wii tennis and bowling are more my speed). I don’t consider singing and acting a hobby, more of an extension of who I am as person.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Donna: Shout out to all my performing friends who have thrived during this pandemic. I’ve been in awe of so many who have continued to keep creative expression alive and well here in the Valley!