Embracing the unexpected

Spotlight blip sparked dedication to craft

Halee Shutt fell in love with live performance as a child. photography by Ellie Bogue

Halee Shutt fell in love with live performance as a child. photography by Ellie Bogue

Halee Shutt attributes her love of theater and performing to a very unlikely event. As a young girl living in Michigan, she attended a touring production of “Beauty and the Beast,” a memorable occasion for most kids. But it was an awkward moment, a lighting mishap, which would set the course of her future.

“The spotlight came up, and then it went down and came back up again. The audience was on the edge of their seats because we didn’t know what was going to happen. When it was over, the Beast said, in character, ‘Thank you’ and continued on with the scene. That’s when I realized what live performance is all about. You never know what’s going to happen next, and you have to stay on your toes and be ready for whatever happens. I don’t think I knew then that that was why I became interested, but as an adult and looking back, I think that was the reason.”

Although she was born in Fort Wayne, Shutt’s family moved to Michigan when she was small only to return to the city when she was 13. She began dance lessons around the same time as that pivotal “Beauty and the Beast” performance, which ultimately led to acting classes. Home-schooled, she found outlets for her talents in community theater and at Fort Wayne Youtheatre, honing her talents and growing her dedication to the craft. When it came time to choose a major at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, her parents fully supported her plan to pursue theater.

“They really thought that if I was going to go to college, I should do something that I enjoy rather than doing some ‘practical’ thing that wasn’t going to hold my interest and would put me in a job I hate. A lot of people do tell me that a theater degree isn’t very practical, but I learned so much about how to sell myself in interviews and in different situations thanks to my training. I think you can apply a lot of what you learn in theater to a lot of different areas.”

She also credits her IPFW experience with broadening her horizons, taking her into areas and major works that fall outside the more popular and well-known works favored by community theater. Shutt, who graduated this past spring, also recently married. Her husband, a fellow theater grad, has elected to pursue a career in another field while she takes an academic break before graduate school. In the meantime, she applies her skills in sales and had intended to take a little vacation from performing – until an irresistible role tempted her back into the fray.

“I had been interviewing for my job, and I told them that I was active in the theater but had no plans to pursue any roles for a while. Then I saw the call for auditions for the Civic’s production of ‘Mary Poppins.’ I didn’t know what to do, especially when I saw that the first week of rehearsals coincided with the week of training I needed to attend out of town. My husband said, ‘Why don’t you audition and see what they think?’ So I did, and when I got the role of Mary Poppins, I was really lucky that [director] Jane [Lanier] was willing to work with me.”

Having taken on graduation, marriage, employment and a practically perfect British nanny this year, Shutt plans to continue to balance it all until she tackles graduate work and the hope of sharing her passion with another generation.

“I really want to teach theater because it has had such a huge impact on my life. Whether I teach on a collegiate level or through Youtheatre, I don’t know what the future holds, but I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with others.”

First appeared in the September 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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