By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Glenwood native Caitlin Staebell knows her passion.
“I love being able to tell the larger story, and with theater and musicals, I can do that,” Staebell said.
The 26-year-old’s love of storytelling recently led her to become one of 32 actors studying at East 15 School of Acting in London, a school rooted in political theater.
“It was started by Margaret Bury, who uses the Joan Littlewood method (of acting),” Staebell said.
Littlewood was a British theater director who worked from 1945 to 1979. Staebell noted Littlewood frequently gained ideas for plays by visiting with union members and finding out what frustrated people, then creating plays based on those frustrations.
“The training is very detail-oriented,” Staebell said. “For example, Joan once, while putting on a play where people were in prison, had her actors go onto a roof. She tied them together and had them walk around in a circle as they would have to in prison. When they got back to production, the actors had a lot more insight.”
Staebell arrived in London in early September and spent two weeks attending plays and settling into her new home. She began orientation on Sept. 23, and classes started Monday.
This wide-eyed brunette has long been involved with theater. She started acting with Mills Masquers as a child.
“When I was 10, I auditioned for A Christmas Carol with Ron Hines,” the actress said. “I was there for hours. I auditioned for the Ghost of Christmas Past, and it came down to me and one other girl. It went to the other girl, but I still got to be in the production. I was in the chorus.”
Once she started acting, she realized she loves to be on stage, and Hines loved having her on stage.
“What’s neat about Caitlin is she has a lot of spirit,” Hines said fondly.
That first production led to many others. She became involved in Leadership Through Drama in high school along with performing in school plays.
“I was lucky to be able to have drama,” Staebell said. “With LTD, we put on musicals and plays. We had a mentoring program where older students taught acting to younger kids.”
Staebell performed in classic shows such as Oklahoma!, Guys & Dolls and Lil’ Abner. Her enthusiasm for performing enabled her to shine.
“She was great,” said retired LTD board member and director Gordon Woodrow. “She was easy to direct – she could really get into a character.”
Staebell’s experiences in community theater have served her well.
“Had I not had the community theater, or so many avenues to do theater here in Glenwood, I don’t know that I would have been able to realize this is a passion of mine,” Staebell said.
Staebell graduated from Glenwood Community High School in 2005 and earned a B.A. in political science, and a minor in theater from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, where she discovered the two disciplines blend well.
“I’ve always been interested in (the questions) how do people live, and how do you make a community thrive?” Staebell said. “You really have to understand different people and cultures in both theater and political science.”
Leaning toward a career in political science, Staebell landed an internship in Washington, D.C., with Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in 2009.
“I had a great experience learning the political side of government,” Staebell said.
Harkin, via e-mail, expressed his appreciation for her.
“As the internship coordinator in my Washington, D.C. office, Caitlin played an important role in welcoming Iowans to Capitol Hill and then ensuring they had a valuable learning experience in the office,” Harkin wrote. “She was a valuable asset during her time in my office and I wish her the best of luck with her future academic endeavors.”
Staebell enjoyed working for the senator so much that when a full-time job opened as the internship coordinator, she applied, and was hired.
While working for Harkin’s office, she took a lot of Shakespeare classes and sought out local theater groups. She performed five times in the span of four years, including landing the title role in Agnes of God.
As an actress, Staebell loves giving an audience a deep emotional connection, something she experienced for the first time in spring 2008 when she traveled to London on a study abroad program.
Staebell eventually realized that while she likes politics, her true passion is performing.With this in mind, Staebell began applying to graduate school, with a goal of earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in theater. Applying to theater schools is a lengthy and intense process.
“I did an audition in NYC,” Staebell said. “There are annual auditions for the schools under the URTA (University and Resident Theater Association) umbrella.”
URTA is comprised of several schools, including Yale, Julliard and the University of Iowa. Representatives of Purdue University and the University of Washington in Seattle told Staebell to contact them, but she did not make it into acting school last year.
When the auditions came again this year, Staebell was ready. She went through the preliminary audition and was called for the second round, in which she performed two monologues for representatives of several schools.
Kyle Donnelly, head of acting at University of California San Diego, told Staebell she remembered her.
Donnelly wasn’t the only representative to connect with Staebell.
“Leon Rubin said ‘you have such a warm personality,’ ” Staebell said.
Rubin is a director at East 15 School of Acting in London who previously ran the Bristol Old Vic Theater. That warm personality pushed her to the next level.
“Leon called me to interview,” Staebell said.
Staebell passed the interview stage and was chosen to attend the school.
She is excited to have the opportunity to train as an actor.
“I’ve been in theater, but I’ve never had time to develop my craft. There really is not a right or wrong way,” Staebell said. “I have wanted this time to focus.”
The first year of this program, Staebell will primarily work in the UK. The second year, she will be exposed to more international theater.
“I could potentially produce a play about growing up in small-town Iowa, and have people in Shanghai understand it,” Staebell said. “That’s a big part of why I picked this program.”
At the end of the two-year program, she and other students from her class, will showcase their skills in both New York City and Los Angeles. At that point, Staebell hopes to obtain an agent and work as a professional actor.