NATIONAL CITY — There's a familiar face that will be missing when Lamb's Players opens its '86 season later this month.
Actress Carolyn Schade, a Lamb's regular who stole hearts last month as the endearingly awkward Nelda Watling in the Christian company's "Festival of Christmas," resigned her administrative staff position as of Friday. In a few weeks, she'll be off to Lancaster, Pa., where she'll appear in her sister Camilla's experimental piece, "Spaces."
After that, Schade isn't sure where she's headed--Minneapolis or Chicago, maybe; or home to Massachusetts. But she knows it will never be far from the "good regional theater" she's grown accustomed to with the National City company.
It's not an easy parting for the 32-year-old actress. Seven years ago, after earning a theater degree from the University of Massachusetts, Schade headed west to join Lamb's Players.
Their national reputation for professional quality productions with a Christian theme was, for the newly converted actress, a rescue from a possible career in "bathrobe dramas."
"You know . . . the shepherds wear their sandals and their bathrobes," Schade explained, "so we call it 'bathrobe drama' in the church. I just had this feeling that if I didn't continue pursuing professional theater, I'd end up just working within the church environment doing theater that wasn't quality.
"When the time came for me to come to Lamb's Players, it was so bizarre. It was like someone shot off a gun and I was off. I've never felt so positive about anything in my life but to come to this place."
Schade's local fans will probably miss her infinitely expressive face that has so convincingly captured such characters as 9-year-old blind, deaf and dumb Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker," the cool villain Dora in "A Proud Look, A Lying Tongue," the hilariously unprincessly Winifred in "Once Upon a Mattress," and, of course, the heart-wrenching character that was Schade's last gift to her favorite audiences: Nelda Watling.
When she was still in college, playing fudge nut brownies in improv classes, Schade realized that to be an actress she'd have to be willing to look "absolutely stupid."
When Lamb's artistic director Robert Smyth cast her as Helen Keller in 1983, Schade drew on this willingness to do whatever is required to make an audience believe the character.
"It was that openness and sense of humility, just letting go of everything, all pride, getting willing to grovel on the floor and grunt and groan, make any noises I needed to do, totally humiliate myself to create this true character--and it worked," Schade remembered, "because I didn't hold back at all."
She used the same lack of selfconscious technique to create the socially inept Nelda. It's one of the most distinctive qualities of Schade's acting, and Smyth is more than a little sorry to lose her.
"I wish I could clone her," he said. "I have real mixed feelings. I'd love to keep her, and yet at the same time I think it's exciting for her that she's going to try and stretch out and do some different things.
"Carolyn, honestly, will leave a vacuum, and it's not something I'm just going to put a body into. It's going to have to be somebody who really fits."
But Schade is philosophical about her need for a change.
"I love this theater. I know this space so well, I know the audience. I know they're so ready to accept us, and I feel accepted. I've gotten to the point in this theater where I can go on and do a show that needs two more weeks of rehearsal. . . . I can walk out there and go, 'What the hey, I know these people, they know me, we're going to have a good time,' and I sincerely don't feel that nervous, even when things are really shaky."
But that very feeling of comfort is one of the reasons she announced to Smyth in July, "I gotta leave, Bob."
"I had been depressed . . . and it suddenly became clear to me. It was like I was being pushed into a corner or pushed right up against a door and suddenly the door flew open. It was like I stumbled through it and it said, 'Go! You just have to go!' And there was no negative reason at all for it. It was just spirit inside me saying, 'Move!' "
Now, she said, she feels like Tony in "West Side Story," electrified with anticipation over a future totally unknown to her, but certain to mean personal progress. "I'm open to learning, and I think that cuts off the fear," she explained.
Thrilled as she is about the move, Schade still found her last performance on Lamb's stage "real hard."
"Debbie (Gilmour Smyth) and I had this moment on stage--it almost makes me cry to think about it," Schade recalled, wiping at wet eyes. "We looked at each other and it was the most intense feeling I've had in a long time. It's like we were looking at something so real--well, how can you explain it? I flew offstage and I had to do Lamaze breathing . . . because I had to go on right away and I was just crying intensely."
Schade thinks her decision to leave will be good for the whole company.
"As long as everybody is doing the same thing all the time, a lot of people have this untapped energy all over the place. People sometimes have to go through the fear of, 'You mean I have to do that now?' But it gives people a chance to grow and do things they never thought they could do."