“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.” With those words, Grace Marshall made her southern theatrical debut on the stage of Slidell Little Theatre in 1986.
Photo by Don Redman
Audiences have been known to laugh before Grace Marshall walks on stage, in the simple anticipation of what shenanigans she may pull. Her characters are often larger than life providing audience members with a magnified reflection of their own inner child.
Grace began acting in high school in her hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. When she stepped onto the stage at that young age, she knew she was home. At the age of 15, Grace became an apprentice in summer stock at the Carriage House Theatre in Little Compton, Rhode Island. That was the beginning of her professional career.
Since her SLT debut as a Shakespearian witch, Grace proceeded to other roles and other stages throughout the region including Playmakers, Mandeville Playhouse, the Northstar, Skyfire, Luke’s Brisket & Broadway, Le Petite, and Cutting Edge.
With well over a hundred productions to her credit, it is difficult for Grace to choose a favorite. Among those in the running however are Nunsense, A…My Name is Alice, the female version of The Odd Couple, Steel Magnolias and Greater Tuna.
In 2014, she received the St. Tammany Parish President’s Performing Artist of the Year Award in recognition of her theatrical contributions.
Grace also spent many years working with children’s theatrical workshops and productions. It is common to have adults, eating out with their children, spy her in a restaurant and call out “Miss Grace! Miss Grace! Remember me!”
Grace shared a few moments with us to talk about her involvement in our community theatre.
Q: What brought you to Slidell in the first place?
I married a sailor from Picayune, Miss. A true Yankee from Newport, Rhode Island, the South has been my home now for more than 40 years. I guess that makes me a Damn Yankee – no, that’s the name of a musical…
Q: What were your initial impressions when you came to SLT for the first time?
I was surprised to see how small SLT was when I first saw the theater. I was auditioning for the first time there, the “M” Shakespeare play, and I was very warmly greeted. Then Margaret Rennie and Christine Barnhill hit me with the Getting to Know You questions… wait – that's a song from a musical….
Q: How did you become involved in SLT’s young actors program?
Rita Stockstill was running the Children’s Workshop single handedly. Beth Gendusa and Lonnie Haas were the administrators, but Rita was dealing with 100 kids in one show. Tracy Nugent and I were friends of Rita’s and the three of us teamed up to break the group down into more work able numbers, do multiple plays and designed training workshops of varying levels to be worked throughout the program. We did this for some 15 or so years. We learned as much as we taught those years. There is still great pride and pleasure when a Children’s Workshop graduate from years past runs up to you with their kids in their arms, yelling Ms. Grace, Ms. Grace – you gave us such a great experience, Thanks. Lesson: Be careful what you say: Children Will Listen. Oops – I’ve done it again….
Q: How did you get involved in the annual Christmas show for STARC?
In 1999, the American Heart Association has a fundraiser that included an unusual auction item table for silent bid. I was something on the board at that time – can’t remember what – and I was asked to supply something from SLT for that bid table other than just season tickets. So I made a certificate for a “staged play reading in your home.” Almost a year past when Kathy Jones contacted me. She was the winner of the bid that included that certificate. She told me she would like to donate the play reading to STARC. Wow!! What a concept. An individual donates to a nonprofit, then takes the spoils and donates to another nonprofit. We performed Leroy and the Ark that year to what we thought was a one shot gig. At the end of the season, STARC surprised us by joining our Ginny Award Celebration and presenting us with a plaque of appreciation for the event. In a very emotional acceptance by me, something like “as long as I have breath in my body – this will be an annual event” came out of my mouth and the rest, as they say, is History. That was 14 years ago and the beat goes on – is that from a musical?
Q: What role does community theatre play in the larger community?
If a community could be seen as a living entity, then community theatre could easily be seen as the heartbeat. There are many activities families and individuals can be part of in Slidell. They can get involved in organized sports or join church groups. That is fine for those who want to learn the rules of the game and follow it endlessly, or remain in a group of spiritually like-minded people. But if you color outside the lines, or like the unexpected, community theater might be the place for you. Plays are constantly changing, artistic need continue to evolve and the need to engage the community to support our ever growing advances in technical feats has never been greater. The opening of the new shopping center has really exposed SLT to the community in a wonderful way. Now people know where SLT is and the can enjoy a meal across the street before going to the theater. Easy Street! Oh no, I’ve done it again.
Q: Why does live theatre matter?
Live theater matters because there is no other venue like it. Everyone enjoys a good movie – but when you can physically see the performer up close and personal, feel the emotion in a live setting, laugh freely and know a good actor will time his pacing to let you get it out, and then you get to meet with them after the performance – there’s no business like show business….groan…