BRATTLEBORO -- Annie-Elizabeth Caltrider, who has been performing for years, first as a dancer and then as an actress, likes a challenge. Playing Mama Rose in "Gypsy," this year's musical at Brattleboro Union High School, will be a challenge indeed: at the beginning of the play the character is at least 20 years older than the actress, and by the end of the play that gap has stretched another five or 10 years.
"I'm pretty used to having to take a song and make up a way to perform it and sell it to the audience and the other actors, but that's usually been with characters closer to my age -- people probably no older than 30," Caltrider said in an interview last week. "With Mama Rose it's sort of like learning a new language, with her mature mannerisms and physicality. So I have to put a lot more thought into everything instead of it coming naturally - which is a good challenge."
Caltrider started dancing when she was a toddler.
"I'd done dance performances my whole life, mostly at the Brattleboro School of Dance, and then I started to get interested in participating in musicals when I was 12," she said. "My first musical was ‘Children of Eden' at MOCO in Keene, and ever since then I've tried to do as many shows as I could -- there at MOCO, or with the New England Youth Theatre or the Vermont Theatre Company, and then at the high school. I also started going to Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills, which a performing-arts camp.
She played some of her favorite roles at Stagedoor last summer. "I was Elle Woods in Stagedoor's premiere of ‘Legally Blonde', she said, "and I've also played the leading player in ‘Pippin' and Charity in ‘Sweet Charity'." Other favorite parts locally have included roles in NEYT's "Annie," VTC's "Urinetown," MOCO's "The Wiz" and "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying" at BUHS. She said that she enjoyed dancing on television in both the 84th and 85th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades.
She has focused her acting on musicals.
"I've dabbled in plays," she said. "I was Puck in VTC's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream, for their Shakespeare in the Park. That was my first experience of Shakespeare, and plays. I liked it, but I was becoming really passionate about singing. But I look forward to studying more plays in acting class and in college."
She is applying to several theater programs and conservatories.
"I at least know that I will be majoring in musical theater somewhere, because I've already gotten into one place so far. The process differs from one college or conservatory to the next," she said. "At some places you have to get in academically before you can audition. Some places have a pre-screened video audition that must be sent in before you get a live audition, and some places weigh both your academic record and your audition to make a final choice.
"I just had five auditions in New York, and have only one left," she continued. "By April I'll finally have a decision for where I'll spend the next four years! It's all very exciting and nervewracking, but hopefully all the work will pay off and I'll end up where I'm meant to."
Caltrider explained she loves live theater, and musical theater especially, because cast and audience are in it together.
"I love that it's something that is shared between an audience and a performer, and makes the performer happy because they're making the audience happy," she commented. "I like that mutual experience."
She said that she enjoys rehearsals because they build confidence among the cast.
"I really like the process because it leads up to performances where the actors feel comfortable with each other, and can explore within their own character and find new things during the show," she said.
She said that the very first step in the creation of a show, auditions, are probably her least favorite part of the whole process.
"I know the auditioning and casting process is obviously necessary, but it can be pretty stressful for everyone involved," she said.
Now that she has been cast as Mama Rose, she is deep into creating the character. "The play starts out when she's in her 40s or so and goes until she's probably late 50s," Caltrider said. "That's a big journey from start to finish, and also a big change for me to get into a character so much older than myself. She wanted to be a performer until she had children, and then she wanted her children to become stars -- but mostly her daughter June, and Louise is usually in the background, playing a boy or a cow.
"Mama Rose is definitely the ultimate stage mother and she pushes June to a point where she can't take it any more, so she elopes," Caltrider continued. "That's really crushing for Mama Rose because she's had so many other people walk out on her already in her life.
"And then Mama kind of pushes Louise to be the star because she's all that's left, and they end up with a gig at a burlesque strip theatre," she said. "She kind of gets crazy, and she sees it as Louises's opportunity to be the star child, so she pushes her to do a ‘clean' strip -- and it takes off from there, when she becomes the highest-paid strippers in the business, leaving Mama Rose in the dust. And so Mama Rose kind of has a breakdown at that point because everyone has left her to pursue their own dreams, but in the end -- well, people will just have to come see the show."
The BUHS Music Department presents "Gypsy" on Thursday, Feb. 14, at 4 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15, and Saturday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. Tickets for the Thursday matinee are $6 for all seats; tickets for the even shows are $10 for all seats, except that tickets for senior citizens are $6.
Maggie Cassidy teaches French at Brattleboro Union High School.