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New Canaanite makes theater debut

Published 9:33 am, Saturday, August 2, 2014

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  • Antonio Irizarry and New Canaan, Conn., resident Claire Thompson in "Love in the Wars," at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts during the Bard Summerscape festival July 9, 2014. The play was Thompson's debut as a professional actress. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / New Canaan News Contributed
    Antonio Irizarry and New Canaan, Conn., resident Claire Thompson in "Love in the Wars," at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts during the Bard Summerscape festival July 9, 2014. The play was Thompson's debut as a professional actress. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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In high school, many undecided students go through a great deal of pressure as they explore possible career choices. New Canaan's Claire Thompson was no different. When she was 16, she was "desperately trying to find" which career fit her interests.

"That was really hard," she said. "But I finally found something that I was good at, and I enjoyed it at the same time."

The answer was theater.

It all started when the teacher of a mandatory theater class Thompson was taking while a sophomore in high school convinced her to audition for a role in Thorton Wilder's "Our Town." Though she accepted the challenge and was excited to do so, she did not get the role. The rejection did not stop her.

"I didn't get in, but it was such a positive experience," she said. "I thought I had found a new skin that fit me. So I pursued it, I did theater camps, won an alumni prize at high school."

Six years later, Thompson made her professional theater debut in July playing an amazon in "Love in the Wars," an adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist's "Penthesilea" at Bard's SummerScape, an opera, music, theater, dance and film festival at Bard College in New York, where she graduated this spring.

The play, by Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville, is based on the mythical encounter of Achilles with the Queen of the Amazons.

The 2006 New Canaan Country School graduate, who went to a private high school in Concord, Mass., said she loved her first experience out of college.

"It was amazing working with professionals," she said. "I tried to learn as much as I could. I took that as an opportunity to learn, and see the differences, see how they act."

Thompson said the production, which ran from July 12 to 20, was not only a learning experience, but it was an amusing time.

"There's always a sense of fun in the room, and I'm happy that's going to continue," she said.

Because of "Love in the Wars," Thompson is now in the candidate program of the Actors' Equity Association, the union representing live theater professionals. Most professional theater auditions only accept Equity members.

The year after she was rejected from a role in "Out of Town," she attained the part of Phoebe in Shakespeare's "As You Like It."

Locally, Thompson has worked with the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, where she mentored children in two different programs last year: DramaRamas, a musical theater program for children with special needs, and the Junior Acting Company, a musical performance program just for middle school students.

She said teaching theater is something she "would enjoy greatly," and she's also open to roles on TV or in movies.

"At this point in my career, I'm just casting the net," she said. "I'm not in the position to say no to any opportunity. I'm ready and open to take on this journey."

Her role models are actresses Emily Blunt and Lily Rabe.

Asked what she does not enjoy about theater, Thompson could not name anything.

"There are bad things about theater, but they don't bother me enough for me not to do it," she said. "I try not to channel the negative because that's what I'm supposed to be doing. And I love it."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson