Theatre of Western Springs Spotlight: Denise Marie D’Asto

Denise Marie D'Asto | Submitted
Denise Marie D'Asto | Submitted

Get to know the community of Western Springs with our Theatre of Western Springs Spotlight feature!

This week, we meet Denise Marie D’Asto of Darien. She joined TWS in 2008.

Q. How did you find out about TWS?

A. It was the chosen venue for my husband’s Christmas party some years ago – for the Holiday Show – with hors d’oeuvres beforehand in the Cattell.

Q. Why did you join TWS?

A. I had been looking for a community theatre nearby where I could just become “part of the family” and get back into acting onstage, which I had been away from for 17 years. I had been bringing up my daughter Kate who was now exhorting me to get back into it. When I met and talked with one of my favorite stars, Patty Duke, at a reception and a talk-back for ”Blue Yonder,” my husband asked me what was stopping me. I took the plunge into the next Studio class.

Q. Go back in time. When did you discover you had an interest in theatre/drama?

A. Although I did play a stationary, non-speaking Mary in a Christmas tableau in both sixth and eighth grade, it was not until high school, when I did a complete one-act in French, no less, that I realized, ‘Hey, this is fun!’ My French teacher, Sister Marilyn, later urged me to audition for the high school musical that she and Father Calvert, our music director, were planning for what would be my junior year. I was cast as Eliza and I could have danced all night, I was so happy in that role. I had just begun professional singing lessons, and my singing coach helped me tremendously. My senior year I was Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and in between and into college days, I did summer community theatre productions of “Hello, Dolly,” and “Fiddler” where I played Golde, Hodel and Yente. I also directed a summer Children’s Theatre Workshop and directed “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” in my first teaching job. Acting in college was limited by not being a drama major, being in a major choir and by class load. In the 1980s when I was first practicing law, I joined the Grand Forks Firehall Theatre performing in “Hayfever” and “The Dining Room.” Then I relocated to the Chicago area.

Q. At TWS, do you work on crews, backstage and/or front of house? 

A. I don’t feel I’m much help backstage except perhaps with props or “newbies” or kids — showing folks the ropes or reminding them what good theatre etiquette is — especially toward other actors and crews. I probably like assisting directors in workshops more than anything else, contributing ideas for props or offering some of my own things. I also enjoy Assistant House Managing. Stage Manager might be on the horizon, but I know I need some training. I like doing little things like distributing posters and telling others and other communities about our wonderful theatre.

Q. At TWS, do you act on stage? Name some roles. Point out your favorite or most challenging role and tell why.

A. Yes. Wish I did more. However, life and health have a way of interfering with the best laid plans for auditions and shows. I was pleased to make my first onstage steps in 17 years in “Who am I this time?” which was a lot of fun and helped me feel a part of the TWS community even more than Studio. My second time on the TWS stage was in the Holiday Show, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” when I filled in last-minute for someone who could not take one of the adult roles. It was my first time working with that many young people since teaching days — a supreme test of patience and a reminder of what Christmas can be like through a child’s eyes. Next came “Losers.” I was Hanna in an Irish play for Directors’ Workshop – a treasured role for me. Our small cast became quite close, and I so enjoyed “becoming” my mother for a few hours of an evening. My dear mother, you see, was born and raised in Waterford, Ireland, and she never lost her Irish brogue. That was the easy part. I also happened to have many of the Irish and Catholic staples necessary for certain scenes such as holy statues, rosary beads and lace-embroidered “hankies” which I could incorporate into my character and the show. It was a joy to bring Brian Friel’s sweetly sad drama to life. Also it was the only show I ever “made out” with another actor in front of an audience — something it seemed I should have prepared my family members for when they attended.

Q. What do you love about TWS? What is it about TWS that motivates you?

A. I love the “acceptingness” of our theatre community. Even when I’ve been away for family matters, illness or another show elsewhere, I still feel welcomed and that I belong when I can join in again to support TWS in my small way.

Ed Barrow motivates me to edit the programs by his wittiness and genuine interest — and by guilt.

Judy DiVita motivates me to assist her directing, and thereby I do a better job as an actor who can see the director’s vision for a show and help her achieve it.

Many of our Actives – especially our plethora of talented, more mature actresses – through their interpretation of a role - inspire me to better myself in the craft, to let go of boundaries and let more of myself go into a role to make it mine and to make it unique. I thank everyone I have worked with or been directed by that. Good directors – whether in Directors’ Workshops or on our Mainstage and especially in scene work, motivate me to be more and achieve more. I have gleaned invaluable insights about myself from feedback from every director with whom I have had the pleasure to work.

Q. Tell about something at TWS that was, is, or will be a really big thrill for you.

A. Well, it was to be being part of the cast of our 500th show, “Slaughterhouse-Five,” this fall, but plantar fascitis in my right foot had me on crutches and in a boot right before rehearsals started. In other words, I would love to be cast and to appear as a principal player in a drama on our Mainstage, probably in a character part as that suits my age and taste and is, I believe, a bit more of an artistic challenge. It is always a thrill to be cast, but I want to play to the big house.

Q. Are there traditions at TWS that you believe in?

A. Saying “that Scottish play” in reference to — well, “that Scottish play” — which is one of my very favorites. Sandwich Sunday is a lovely tradition. I was delightfully surprised by it the first time. Studio classes are a great tradition for us “actor Actives.” It certainly gives both the artistic director and new actor the opportunity to see what they can do together.

Q. List three things you have given TWS.

A. Costumes – mostly beautiful dance costumes from my daughter’s 10 years of ballet and jewelry for Taste of the Arts; Money for raffles, Taste of the Arts raffles, and membership. Oh did I mention raffles? Talent – I feel it is the best thing I have to give. I care deeply about understanding and performing a role to the very best of my ability, no matter what it is, and once I commit myself to a show, I remain fully committed until the end.

Q. List three things TWS has given you.

A. The camaraderie and fellowship of like-minded artistic types; The opportunity to be involved in something bigger and collectively better than myself; and the encouragement, appreciation, friendship, even love, of human beings who intuit that community theatre is “community” in the purest sense. Thank you, all of you, from my heart.

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