The Life Fantastic, Question Two

Liza, why are you so interested in theater?

Ever since I was young, I have loved theater, music, and dance. The arts were an essential part of our family life, growing up. Music was always playing on our living room turntable, and our parents sang in the car with us on long drives. When our Nashville cousins came for summer visits, with their guitars, ukuleles, and their wonderful collection of songs, we sang for hours. 

My brother and I made up stories about our stuffed animals when we were young, and my friends and I invented characters and put on small plays. With the Ransom family—six boys whose mother loved theater—we put on plays (such as “Winnie-the-Pooh”) and played charades late into the night. I also liked dance, as this picture shows. I have no memory of the story behind it, but I recognize the dance studio in Vermont, where I spent childhood summers. I must have been about seven. 

Liza Ketchum dancing in Vermont

Here I am, dancing in Vermont. I’m the dancer on the left.

In "Ghost Train," I'm the actress seated on the chair.

In “Ghost Train,” I’m the actress seated on the chair.

In Junior High, I sang the lead of Mabel in “The Pirates of Penzance” (Gilbert and Sullivan), and in high school, I performed in the melodramatic play, “Ghost Train.”  (My most vivid and embarrassing memory of that performance was hearing my father’s laugh ring out from the front row of the audience. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized the play was a farce.) During my senior year, I was head of the Drama Club and often went to see theater in Boston, some of it experimental. I had a minor role in Shaw’s “Major Barbara,” probably the most difficult role I would ever play—because I was onstage for the entire play, but only had four lines. I had to act without speaking.

After high school, I attended The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City for a summer, and there I was introduced to Method Acting. In a funny way, that eight-week course—where I had to improvise and inhabit roles of people totally different from myself —was excellent training for writing novels. Just as in fiction, I had to imagine what it would be like to inhabit the body, mind, and emotions of another person. I had to invent that person’s history, family, and experience—not easy for a young adult who didn’t know much about the wider world. (Just out of high school, my fellow students were all adults working day jobs while trying to break into the theater.)

I was a camp drama coach for three summers, but by the end of my first year in college, where I took a terrific writing class, I knew I would become a writer. I’ve never lost my love for live theater and I’m lucky to live just outside Boston, a first-class theater city.

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