Singing. Dancing. Acting. Set-building. Make-up designing. If a task had anything to do with the arts, Lisa Dennett was anxious to delve into it.
“I guess I have always, to some extent from childhood, been drawn to the arts,” said Dennett, an ensemble player in the “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou” cast. Her first love was singing. But typecasting kept her from pursuing it early on.
“I was overweight. People steered me towards opera,” recalled Lisa. Not convinced opera was her true calling, she sought other outlets for her creative aspirations. “On the positive end, it [typecasting] steered me towards acting because I wanted to perform.”
A born and bred New Yorker, she had plenty of opportunity to see stage productions while growing up in Queens. She found inspiration in shows such as Beatlemania, which introduced her to Broadway productions as a teenager, and A Chorus Line.
“I remember seeing A Chorus Line. I was so moved by their [the actors’] stories,” Lisa said. But seeing that particular show also left her melancholy. She wanted to be onstage telling such stories, not in the audience listening to them.
“I had no idea how to make it happen,” she said. One way to explore possibilities was to hone her skills through formal study. She did that as a theater major at Hunter College.
“In college I did a lot of stage make-up,” said Lisa, remembering the different aspects of theater she learned while an undergraduate student. A minor in psychology also was good preparation for the theater.
“It helped me analyze character work,” she said.
However, one area remained distant for her.
“In the theater department, they only did straight plays at Hunter,” Lisa noted. “I didn’t do a musical until my senior year.” She eventually would perform not only in stage musicals, but in film and television projects as well.
“I would love to play Emma Goldman in Ragtime,” she said. “She’s outspoken and strong – like myself in some situations.”
Lisa built on her skills by earning a master’s degree in educational theater from New York University and by working in real-world specialty areas. One of her skills is sign language. She became an ASL interpreter and worked as a job coach for hearing-impaired adults, helping them transition from high school to a work environment.
“Usually [she worked with] an employer who had never had a deaf person” in the workplace, said Lisa. She helped prepare her clients for work in environments such as factories, offices and food service. Lisa discovered, however, that while she sought to help her clients, she also benefitted from her job coaching work.
“That really helped put me in places where I never would have been,” she said.
Lisa further serves and advocates for disabled and disadvantaged youth through Interactive Drama for Education and Awareness in the Schools (IDEAS), a nonprofit organization she founded and for which she holds the position of executive director.
Lisa started out in an ensemble role in“Scenes and Songs fromFannie Lou.” But an actor's illness resulted in a part being opened up. Although the role was meant for a male, Lisa's interpretation was so convincing that she will share the role with another actor, Ben Marcus (see left). Lisa will perform the part, asMrs. Bedford, for the 4 p.m. show
Lisa hopes future theater projects for her will include the kind of stage work she enjoys most, musicals.