PLYMOUTH — Some people get bit by the acting bug. And some get devoured body and soul.
The latter category includes Theresa Chiasson, 53, of Braintree, who has done community theater for the past dozen years.
The school nurse at Abington High, and drama adviser at Pembroke High School, Chiasson recently was in rehearsals for her role as Sandra in Plymouth Community Theatre’s upcoming production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” while at the same time directing “Drinking Habits” for the Bay Players in Duxbury, and starring in “The Dining Room” with the Plymouth troupe. And woven around all that, she’s in three online miniseries, shot mostly in Rhode Island.
“I never turn down a role,” she said with a shrug on a recent night at the Plymouth Center for the Arts, where the community ensemble holds its shows in the art gallery, adding with a smile: “I’m a theater whore. I admit it.”
For those anxious to show their stuff on stage — and those just wanting to help out behind the scenes — ample opportunities exist south of Boston, with the wealth of options including Nemasket River Productions in Middleborough, Hull Performing Arts, Curtain Call Theatre in Braintree, Little Theatre in Stoughton, Mansfield Music and Arts Society, and Bay Colony Productions in Foxborough, to name just a few.
One website with links to many ensembles across the state is www.masshome.com/theater.html.
I started acting five years ago at the Marion Art Center at age 53, getting the lead in an aptly named A.R. Gurney play, “Later Life.” I know what Chiasson means because, since then, I’ve been in a dozen other plays, three local TV commercials, an independent film, and two online series, playing a serial killer, billionaire, despondent Russian farmer, cuckolded British husband, atheistic ex-priest, and, in “Cuckoo’s Nest” with Chiasson, a lobotomized profanity-spewing patient (the play opens Aug. 17, by the way).
Just for the love of it. There is no money in community theater acting, just hard work and commitment, with two or three months of sometimes-thrice-weekly rehearsals.
“It is some of the hardest work you will ever do for a hobby,” said Chiasson, who in high school was told she couldn’t act. “And you have to do the work, because while theater is fun, it’s not fun to do bad theater.”
Wareham resident Jess Wilson, on the Plymouth Community Theatre board of directors and an actress, director, playwright, and stage manager, said all walks of life populate the theater ranks.
At the first rehearsal for “Cuckoo’s Nest,’’ the cast included lawyers, retired people, construction workers, tech workers, and schoolteachers, including the show’s director, Elizabeth Bettencourt, 33, who teaches English at Plymouth South High School.
“It’s a good core community,” Wilson said of the actors involved with the Plymouth troupe. “We’ve all worked with each other at least once.”
There are veterans in the show like Michael Pevzner, 70, of Kingston, retired from a 30-plus-year career as a professor and administrator in the theater department at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, who plays Dr. Spivey in “Cuckoo’s Nest.” And there are first-timers like Jon LeClair, 55, a construction worker from Plymouth, who plays Turkle.
“It’s something that’s been on my bucket list,” LeClair said. “I’d actually gone to rehearsal to support a friend who was auditioning, and they asked if I wanted to audition. So I did and got a part. It’s perfect; there’s not a lot of lines, just enough to get my feet wet.”
If you’re thinking of auditioning, relax and be free with it, advised Anne Gardiner, a freelance director and actress from Weymouth who in the past year directed five shows in the area, including “Betrayal” for Nemasket River Productions at Alley Theatre in Middleborough. Gardiner, whose husband, William, is a drama teacher at Boston University Academy in Boston, said one of her favorite things to do is ask an auditioning actor to do just the opposite of what he just did.
“Where you have no experience is where you’re least likely to censor yourself, and the less you can self-censor, the more you can allow yourself to do what comes up, and the more successful you’ll be,” she said. “Then the director sees there is so much to work with.”
She also looks for stable and generous personalities, she said, who work well with others.
“There are a lot of people, and I’m in that group, who began acting as a child as a way of getting attention. So now you’re in a room full of people trying to get attention,” she said. “The people who function best as a group are not selfish people; they’re working for a greater good on a collaborative piece.”
Lisa Caron Driscoll, a lawyer from Duxbury who has performed in Plymouth, the Alley Theatre in Middleborough, and other venues, likened acting to “a quasi escape, vacation, therapy, mixed with the thrill of live performance, knowing anything can happen. To reach people and transport them on our journey and get them to feel something is also a thrill.”
Sometimes people don’t have to come to the theater because the theater goes to the people. Play Around, a nonprofit run by Anastasia O’Brien of Quincy, puts on free performances of one-act plays, staged readings, theater workshops for children, and other programs. One popular current project is “An Evening of Neil Simon,” which has played in area libraries and in Boston.
O’Brien said she is always looking for people interested in acting, as well as singing, producing, and directing. Check it out at www.playaroundma.com.
Once the bug has bitten, actors will do whatever is necessary to make their parts come alive. For Philip M. Markella, 47, a lawyer from Duxbury who plays Harding in “Cuckoo’s Nest,” that includes wearing makeup — and paying for it.
He hadn’t performed in years, he said, but then three years ago, in the midst of a divorce, he got back into acting, playing a gay man in “Run for Your Wife.”
“One morning after rehearsal the night before, I had to meet with my ex-wife and her attorney, and in a particularly heated moment when she was yelling at me, she stopped and said, ‘Are you wearing eyeliner?’ ” Markella said, joking that in the ensuing settlement, “I think that cost me 10 grand.”