Stark County Artist Profile: Stephanie Cargill

by Stephen Ostertag

Our Stark County community is home to many live performance theatres and independent theatre companies. On any given weekend you can see local actors performing at the Kathleen Howland theatre in 2nd April art gallery, the Canton Players Guild, Carnation City Players, the North Canton Playhouse, or in productions mounted by independent groups like Seat of the Pants Productions, Sima Performing Arts Studio, Gilda Shedstecker Presents or Coercion Theatre Company to name a few.

The great thing about having all this live theatre all around our community is the chance to see talented performers in dazzling musicals, classic plays, an new works created and written here in our community. One such talent is the captivating, Stephanie Cargill. Stephanie is a mainstay of the theatre community in stark county having appeared in productions at each community theatre and numerous independent organization throughout several decades.

Stephanie’s need to perform started early, she says “I was that little girl who stood on a stool, chair, or piano bench and sang anytime anyone would listen. I sang when I was swinging. I sang when I was in the bath. I sang when I was supposed to be sleeping. I was in every choir that I knew about. I can’t ever remember NOT singing.” Her passion for music was channeled into theatre after seeing a production of The Wizard of Oz at the Coach House theatre in the Case Mansion when she was a little girl. “I was blessed with parents who let me explore anything that I expressed a desire in, and soon I was in youth theater classes,” with a wry smile Stephanie added, “and dance classes, but those who know me know that those classes didn’t stick!”
When asked about her first theatre performance Stephanie shared a memory from second grade.

“My teacher, Miss Ragazino allowed me to “produce” and “direct” a production of Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I’m sure you can guess who played the title role! I wore a beautiful yellow chiffon negligée of my mother’s and sang ‘In My Own Little Corner.’ It was bliss!” One of the special things about Stephanie is how she genuinely relishes her experiences in theatre as cherished life events which add texture to her everyday life.

She added, “The first official production I was part of was Gypsy at The Players Guild Theatre. It was starring Ronnie Furman, a local radio celebrity. She was gracious and kind and I loved the strength that she brought to Momma Rose. It is a role that I am still waiting to play.”

Like many actors, Stephanie enjoys the escape theatre provides, she recalled times when “theatre was the ONE place that I could go to the door, drop my baggage, and be ‘whatever I want to be.’ That is still true for me today. The stage door is still magical.” Part of the therapeutic escape of theatre is losing yourself into different characters Stephanie recalls the late Richard (Dick) Rheam: “He was my real-life hero and mentor. He believed in me and believed in what he did. He never left the stage without leaving it all there. Every single time. In his memory, I try my best to do the same thing.”

She offers this advice to young performers, “When you make your entrance, make it with the intention of leaving everything out on the stage. Every time. It will make you a much better actor. Leap and the net will appear. And if it doesn’t, the audience will really believe your performance.”

I was fortunate enough to see Stephanie perform in two of my favorite Stephen Sondheim musicals, Into the Woods at Carnation City Players and Sweeney Todd at the Players Guild. Both performances were captivating and emotionally charged though they were vastly different characters. Listing Sondheim as a musical theatre hero, Stephanie adds “We have a love-hate relationship.” Perhaps this explains why she seems so patient to get around to playing Mama Rose and why Sondheim favorite Bernadette Peters is also a treasured hero.

Stephanie lists playing Mother in Ragtime as one her most memorable experiences, “I loved climbing inside of her for every performance and bearing witness to the transition in her life. The song “Back to Before” speaks to me and my life, especially the lyrics “We can never go back to before.” And why would we want to?” Speaking of Stephanie in the role of Mother, she is the real life mother of some very talented children (now grown.) “Without a doubt,” Her favorite familial theatre memories are of, “A Christmas Carol, the New Musical for two years my five kids and I shared the stage in various roles and I loved it. The role of Belle was written for my voice (shout out to Steve Parsons), and I loved singing those songs. As adults, all of my kids are adventurous, creative beings. I know that being involved in theatre helped to shape them into who they are today.” Stephanie said, beaming with joy and pride.

We all love seeing the sets and costumes when we see a performance and those elements can really aid the actors’ performance. Stephanie’s favorite costume was her Belle gown, “Richard Boczek, who was the costumer at the Players Guild for years, made a beautiful purple and green gown for me when I played Belle in A Christmas Carol that I adored. It fit me to a “T” and I felt like a princess when I wore it.” Stephanie’s costume for the recent Sweeney Todd production was decidedly less beautiful, but equally informative for her performance.

A few years back, Stephanie took on the challenging play Wit which chronicles a woman’s battle with cancer. “That role was life-changing for me in so many ways. I am a singer first and an actor second, so tackling a role in a straight play – particularly a role of this magnitude – was terrifying.” Stephanie shaved her head of thick curls for the production, when asked about this memory she recalls “when I auditioned for the show, I told the director, “I know that some women often choose to shave their head to play this role. I just want you to know that I would NEVER do that.” Three weeks later, I was bald. The play is just so brutally honest about the battle with cancer, that I couldn’t dishonor those who had been through (or were going through) that battle by walking on stage with a full head of hair. Also, I was playing alongside the brilliant Kathleen Howland, who was facing that demon herself. In the end it was not a decision at all; it just was. Internally it made me vulnerable and I think made my performance more honest and real.”

More recently, Stephanie took on another challenging role in Next to Normal a musical about a woman’s battle with mental illness. “Diana in Next to Normal, is a terrifically challenging role and under the outstanding direction of Amy Sima-Dirham, I think that I did that role justice.”

Stephanie credits many directors, instructors, and fellow actors with informing her craft. “Don Curie taught me that EVERY moment on stage is your most important moment – not just the moments when the spotlight is on you. As a matter of fact, the times when the spotlight isn’t on you are probably even more important that the time when it IS on you.” For anyone who saw Sweeney Todd, Stephanie credits Don as the inspiration behind her portrayal of The Beggar Woman.

Actor Greg Emanuelson has shared the stage with Stephanie on numerous occasions, and offers, “She challenges me to rise to her performance level and I trust her artistry well enough to know that, whatever happens on stage, she will make it work so that we both shine.” The two are currently appearing in Songs for a New World for the Sima Performing Arts Studio in Massillon, Emanuelson emphatically boasts “Stephanie is arguably one of the best actors I know, and not just in Stark County. Over the 20+ years in my theater career, my experiences with Stephanie are true highlights I always treasure. It’s a no brainer for me to accept a role in any show she does as I know we all will be better for the opportunity!”

While theatre offers Stephanie an endless line of characters to create, she also finds outlets for her creative nature by working with her hands. “I love beauty. I love creating beautiful things. I look at a beautiful garden and I think about how I can recreate that beauty in a pair of socks. I see the grandeur of an old mansion and it becomes inspiration for my home. I see a magnificent performance and I wonder what I can do to create the same spark inside of an audience member that I just felt. Creativity is just part of my being, and I’ve got this great guy by my side who supports me in any crazy endeavor that I can dream up. I knit and sew, and I like to think outside of the “norm.” For Christmas last year all of our family members got felted slippers – ranging from beautiful fashion items to outrageous monster feet!”

Currently, Stephanie and her husband, Michael Cargill, are in the middle of renovating a 170-year-old home, and Stephanie is in the thick of decorating it. One of her current “outlets” is upholstery. “I’ve taken a few classes (locally) and I will basically tear apart and rebuild any piece of furniture that I can get my hands on.”

As for her stage work, Stephanie confesses that she still gets those butterflies in the stomach before stepping out in front of a crowd. “Fear is the nemesis of live theatre – or at least my own personal nemesis. There are so many unknowns when stepping on the stage, not the least of which is our own brain, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have the jitters every time I step on stage.”

You can catch Stephanie on stage this weekend and next in Songs for a New World, follow the link for ticket information http://www.simaperformingartsstudio.com. Also be sure to check out what local productions are going up in your area and what opportunities are being offered to educate those interested in becoming performers.