Seated on the Mill Road Overlook, Carly Weldy tries to capture what she loves most about kids. She recently accepted a position at the Missoula Children’s Theatre, a company that sends talented recent graduates around the country to perform and direct children’s theater. Weldy will be gone for a year, traveling around the United States to pursue her passion, but before the whirlwind she’s here watching the sunset, contemplating her answer.
“They’re just sponges,” she says. “They feed off of your energy. I’m a kid at heart, I mean, do I dream about my child’s playground for my own sake? Yes.” She laughs.
“How cliche it is, but they’re the future. People need to establish morals and communication skills early and they’re just so innocent. They don’t know bad yet, they only see good and maybe it’s naive to say that, but… They’re too pure for this world.”
Weldy herself began her theater career young, when she was 11. She auditioned at the Lancaster Opera House for the youth production of Annie, cast as an unnamed orphan- but she was one of the youngest there, a third grade student among thespians primarily in the eighth grade. It was the audition and her personality that Weldy thinks set her apart, with thanks to her mom, Lynn.
“I was very nervous for my audition singing ‘Happy Birthday,’” she joked, “but my mom always encouraged me and said to me, ‘Bigger than life, Carly.’ So I went ham, and added stuff into the show like sticking my tongue out and making faces, and the director remembered me from there on.”
This “bigger than life” attitude that Mrs. Weldy passed down has helped her win over many directors. As a freshman at Iroquois High School, she ultimately chose theater over beloved soccer, and it proved to be a wise decision.
“The character I was reading for has this breakdown on the table,” she said, “and other people (in auditions) were just reading the part… I rolled around on the table and started crying, and I was the freshman who got the lead role in that play. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging- I’m very, very grateful for that and for everything.”
She went on to perform in several musicals and plays for Iroquois High School and Niagara University, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Performance with a minor in General Business and graduated this past month. A critical moment for Weldy was in high school in her role as a waitress in the musical Working.
Before the musical, Weldy mentioned that her mom Lynn, a flight attendant, was skeptical about her daughter’s insistence that musical theater be her career.
“I really wanted to go for theater and my mom was like ‘No, your dad is a starving artist’ and I was like ‘Mom, this is what I’m really passionate about,’” said Weldy, speaking of her father Jim who plays in a local band, Boys of Summer. “And then she saw me in that show and we just had a sob fest when we got home. She said ‘You can go chase your dreams,’ so I did. That was the real moment of ‘Yup, this is what I want to do.’”
Weldy moved on to Niagara, a university which she applauds for its formation of the young adult.
“It’s a liberal arts studio and degree but with my major, it’s almost like going to a conservatory school,” she said. “You take so many classes, you take speech, multiple combat classes, you direct, you do Shakespeare, you have anywhere from 4 to 6 intense theater history courses on top of a theater criticism course.”
She also enjoyed the philosophy and religion requirements that rounded her out. One of her professors wryly referred to people following a herd as “sheeple,” and that stuck with her in relativity to her major.
“Theater is supposed to question humanity and think bigger than that, beg the question and answer the question and make you feel things, and that’s not what being a sheeple is all about.”
By no means is Weldy herself a “sheeple.” Again, her bigger than life mantra distinguished Weldy at a young age, this time in college. She was one of the three freshman girls (of 35 or so that tried out) cast in the university’s production of Sweeney Todd. The moment was special for her.
“I remember walking into the room for Sweeney Todd… I come from a corn field town, and I remember it being so professional- people came in off book, they were already making acting choices, and I got chills. I thought, ‘This is it, this is real theater.’”
Her favorite role at Niagara to date has been her performance of Marcy Park in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The character taught her an important lesson.
“That was fun because her character is about breaking out of this ‘I can only do what I’m supposed to do’ phase,” said Weldy, “and discovering that she doesn’t always need to be perfect. That came at the time I needed it to.”
Within her department, Weldy directed and produced mainstage shows, the latter of which brought her the most joy.
“I picked the show, found people, pieces and budget,” she said. “It’s something that happens every year because of the requirement, but I was the only one that had looked into why were only spending $500 on each show.” Weldy was the first in many years to investigate this, and realized that the group could nearly quadruple their budget, or at least double it, to accommodate for more interesting and detailed performances.
Alongside these experiences, what prepared her most for her new job was Niagara’s Kids in Art program. For four weeks, each week a new group of children, ages ranging from 5 to 9, attend summer camp every day Monday through Friday on campus. On Monday, the counselors (Weldy’s position a few summers ago) sit down with the group and, based off of the week’s theme, write a script as a group of contributing members. By Thursday, the set must be made, costumes constructed, lines rehearsed, blocking coordinated, and on Friday the show goes up.
For Weldy, the creativity aspect was an interesting challenge.
“If the kids wanted a unicorn pooping cupcakes, they can have it,” she said with a laugh. “If they want a robot named José, that’s cool. If they want to make tacos at a campfire and the campfire eats the tacos, they can do that. It’s very difficult but it’s what prepared me for my job, because it’s so similar.”
The new job is a position at the Missoula Children’s Theatre Company, touring the country as an actor for the largest company internationally of its kind. Weldy gets a Ford F-150 full of costumes and a set for Robin Hood, a touring partner, and two weeks of training in Missoula, Montana before she hits the road for a year. The pair, similarly to her Kids in Art position, will teach children around the country a full musical in one week and perform it at week’s end. For the summer, she’ll be touring Ohio and Wisconsin, but from there she’s not sure where she’ll be.
The excitement for this opportunity stems from more than just performing and travelling for Weldy, who will take turns with her partner directing the show and performing in the show each week. The opportunity to work with children has always been a motivating factor in her career.
“Part of the reason that I’ve been doing musical theater is when I was in middle school I felt… Well, everybody in middle school feels lost, and nobody in middle school feels like anybody believes in them,” she said. “I was going through some family stuff and the drama club was there for me. The adults especially, the teachers and the students who would come back to help, they believed in me when no one else would or when I forgot to believe in myself.”
Here, she gets emotional.
“Ever since then, that’s been my passion, to really pass that on, because there’s nothing that feels better than when you really change their lives.”
This opportunity means much to Weldy, who knows fellow actors whose lives have been affected by the Missoula Children’s Theatre. She recalls peers from “cornfield towns” like her who pursued theater as a profession because of the company. “It brings theater to kids who don’t have it,” she said.
In the end, her dream is to own or direct a children’s company such as Missoula’s, teaching children through theater all that the art form has to offer.
“To me, theater is the best platform to remind people of their humanity,” she said. “It brings us back, it ground us, it’s one of the oldest forms of entertainment in history, and it’s such a wonderful tool for kids, especially underprivileged kids or kids who don’t have great role models. It teachers them communication, it teaches them how to read people, it teaches them etiquette, which is huge in theater. It teaches so much, and it makes the kids believe in themselves.”
As much as children mean to her, when they grow up, she knows they often face scrutiny for their decisions to pursue the arts. She felt it herself, coming from a place “so small and quaint.”
“People tend to scoff when they say they’re going for theater or arts, when they say they’re going for something outside of the norm or even chasing their dreams,” she said, “and yet we look up to and admire those people who live that unconventional lifestyle. We admire those people and yet chasing those dreams is difficult because you have people scoffing the whole way.”
Her advice to kids chasing their dreams?
Find joy in failing.
“Be smart and do your research, visit those schools, but don’t be afraid to take risks,” she said. “You can’t grow and be comfortable, it’s just not how that works. You can find joy in failing and not getting the roles or jobs you wanted or just going out on a limb, because who’s limiting you? No one. Find joy in that journey.”
East Aurora Advertiser, May 30, 2018 | Hyperlink