Two recent Illinois State alumni are ready to delight audiences and kick off their arts careers during the 42nd season of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival (ISF).
Victoria DeLaney ’19 and Lucy Yahr ’19 are two of the 17 Illinois States students and alumni involved with this year’s performances. Their skills are very different, but both are critical to ensuring this year’s season continues the ISF’s tradition of excellence.
DeLaney auditioned for acting roles last fall and was selected to be part of this year’s acting troupe.
“I remember I was in the middle of playing a board game when I got the call,” said DeLaney, who earned degrees in acting and communications sciences and disorders. “I’m pretty sure I lost because I don’t remember going back to the game afterwards. It was a big deal for me.”
She plays Kitty Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Volumina in Caesar, and a forester in As You Like It. She also performs in Who Stole Cleopatra?, the Theatre for Young Audiences show. This program travels to the Bloomington-Normal libraries and performs every Thursday and Saturday at The Festival’s home site, the outdoor theater at the Ewing Manor Cultural Center.
Taking on four roles at once isn’t easy, but DeLaney sees it as an opportunity.
“It’s uniquely challenging to try and compartmentalize what happens in one show versus the other. We may rehearse a show three days in a row and not touch it until the week after. It’s pretty exciting. You remember more than you think you would. Muscle memory is real.”
DeLaney credits Illinois State with helping her find her voice as an artist through the University’s numerous theater offerings. She was involved with the registered student organization FreeStage, through which students put on their own theater performances. Additionally, she acted with the Illinois State Theatre Outreach Program, which uses theatre to raise awareness about community issues.
She is also grateful for her experience with the 440 Acting Company, a program led by directors who audition Illinois State students for roles in their productions. DeLaney was involved with this program for three semesters and performed works by Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, Caryl Churchill, and Sarah DeLappe.
“Each semester the directors implemented different styles of directing and allowed me more opportunities to improve my craft,” she said. “It really, truly, changed me.”
Anyone involved in theater will tell you that a show is only a good as its crew. That is where Yahr comes in. She is the stage manager for Pride and Prejudice and ensures lighting and sound cues are hit cleanly during the performance. Stage managers are also responsible for overseeing rehearsals and assisting the actors and director however they can.
“If I do everything properly, you will never know I am there,” Yahr said.
Yahr first became involved with theater in high school, working in various tech and stage management roles. When she first arrived at Illinois State, she still held her passion for theater but wasn’t sure how to make it a career. Her experiences in the School of Theatre and Dance convinced her that stage management was a viable path.
“I really didn’t know much about the business side of the theater, that you could do this as a career,” Yahr said. “I took some classes that strengthened my love for theatre and taught me more about the business side of things. The faculty here really helped guide me.”
Yahr officially began studying theater design and production midway through her freshman year. Since then, she has been the stage manager or assistant stage manager for a dozen productions. Her favorite aspect of working behind the scenes is helping others reach their artistic vision.
“I am not the kind of person who really needs a lot of attention on me,” she said. “I love stage managing because it allows me to facilitate the art of the director, production team, and actors. Helping their art be the best it can be is the most rewarding thing.”
After this year’s season, both alumni plan to seek theater roles in the Chicago area. In the meantime, ISF Artistic Director John Stark is looking forward to DeLaney and Yahr’s work being appreciated by attendees.
“Lucy and Tori are among our best ISU students, and they bring their talent and enthusiasm for the work to The Festival,” Stark said. “Each of them has chosen to pursue a professional career in theater and the performing arts. The Festival is proud to provide a launching pad for their first step along that path.”
The Illinois Shakespeare Festival season runs June 27 through August 10. Showtimes and tickets are available on the Illinois Shakespeare Festival website.