From suburbs to Chicago storefront stages: Three actors discuss the transition
A former Yale University a cappella singer in his first leading role, an actress who shares her passion for theater with her twin sister and a former dancer/choreographer making a midlife career change. They are among suburban natives set to appear on Chicago storefront stages in the coming weeks.
If he hadn't seen "The Muppets Take Manhattan" as a child, Brian Fimoff might not be an actor today.
The 1984 film about Kermit and company putting on a musical had a lasting impact on the Hoffman Estates native, who first appeared on stage as a child playing Tigger and Owl in a "Winnie the Pooh" production with the Creative Children's Academy in Mount Prospect.
Now, Fimoff is making his debut as a leading man in Black Button Eyes Productions' "Amour," a little-known fantasy musical by French composer Michel Legrand and lyricist Didier Van Cauwelaert.
Fimoff plays an unassuming office clerk in post-World War II Paris who discovers he can walk through walls. The show begins previews Sept. 2 at The Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago.
"The play is about breaking free of one's inhibitions and exploring all the possibilities life has to offer, and the risks and rewards that come with those possibilities," Fimoff said. "I can identify with that."
That's because Fimoff, 34, wasn't always sure about pursuing an acting career.
At Fremd High School, he did theater and sang in the choir. As a music major at Yale University, he sang with the famed a cappella group the Whiffenpoofs and pursued his interest in theater.
After college, however, he returned to Chicago and entered the corporate world. But he continued to study voice on the side, unwilling to abandon entirely the idea of a career in theater.
A few years ago, he got involved with the Actors Training Center in Wilmette. From there, he went to Towle Theater in Hammond, Indiana, before landing the role in "Amour."
Through it all, he tried to balance financial stability with a love of the stage.
"It was all a matter of deciding where it would fit into my life," Fimoff said.
Theater has been Brittany Stock's passion since first grade, when the St. Charles native played an urchin in a community theater production of "Scrooge."
As a youngster, Stock performed in school and in St. Charles' community theater No Center Aisle, both under longtime theater educator and director Ronald Koeppl, who passed away earlier this year.
She shares her passion with her fraternal twin sister, Lindsay, and an older sister. All three majored in theater in college, and Brittany and Lindsay perform professionally in the Chicago area.
As children, they auditioned for the same roles. Sometimes Brittany got it, sometimes Lindsay did. Whatever the outcome, they supported each other -- and they still do. Brittany saw her sister perform five times in Goodman Theatre's production of "Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976" earlier this year.
"That's part of the industry. You watch and support your friends," Brittany said.
Her own credits include Piccolo and Underscore theaters, The Right Brain Project and Fox Valley Repertory, where she was part of the vocal trio channeling the Andrews Sisters in "Sisters of Swing."
Stock, who balances musicals and plays, is currently in rehearsal for AstonRep Theatre's world premiere of "The Black Slot," Warren Hoffman's satire on racial politics in regional theater. The backstage dramedy, which begins previews Sept. 1 at Chicago's Raven Theatre, is about a dramaturge for a theater company whose proposal to produce a challenging new play by a young African-American writer is rejected in favor of reviving an August Wilson drama in the season's "black slot."
"It's a play that will get people talking, and it's certainly pertinent to what we're talking about now," said Stock, referring to charges of "whitewashing" surrounding recent productions at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and Porchlight Music Theatre in Chicago.
Although "The Black Slot" is industry-specific, Stock says the issues it addresses resonate beyond the theater community.
"It's a window into someone else's experience," she said, and "it's surprisingly funny."
Todd Michael Kiech
Todd Michael Kiech has flirted with theater all his life.
The Barrington native performed in plays and musicals beginning in Kindergarten and continuing through high school. But when it came to picking a career, Kiech initially chose dance.
Then, during the 1990s, as he was wrapping up his dance career, he began "toying with the idea of doing theater."
The discipline and physicality he developed as a dancer served him well, but switching to a new performance medium in midlife required training.
"When you're dancing there's the physical component," said Kiech, 52. "But it's not the same as the emotional commitment you make as an actor. You don't have to drill quite so deep when you're dancing as when you're acting."
To that end, he studied improvisation at iO Chicago and acting at Black Box and Steppenwolf Theatre where he learned the importance of the ensemble.
"Everybody has their part in the collective. Everybody's voice is valuable and no one voice is more important than another," said Kiech.
The transition from dancer/choreographer wasn't entirely smooth, he said, referring to a scathing review he received in 2011 following his graduation from the Steppenwolf school.
"I was mortified," he said.
Persevering, Kiech found success. He performed with Remy Bumppo, Step Up, Red Tape and Vitalist theaters among others.
He's currently in rehearsal for Akvavit Theatre's world premiere translation of Swedish playwright Sofia Fredén's dark comedy "Hand in Hand," which begins previews Sept. 14 at The Den Theatre in Chicago. Kiech plays one of six roommates living in a Stockholm apartment.
"These are people who are really fighting to get the things they need and make connections," he said. "I think that's something everybody can relate to."