Veronica Tjioe is not Brazilian. She has never spoken Portuguese in her life.
But as the lights went up on the small black box stage in the Santa Cruz Actors’ Theatre, the audience saw her as Mathilde, a 25-year-old Brazilian housekeeper telling a joke in rapid Portuguese.
Thus began the first show of the Actors’ Theatre’s 25th season of entertainment in Santa Cruz.
“I was daydreaming about being in this show one day, as a hypothetical if I [was] really lucky , perhaps,” Tjioe, a third-year proposed theater major at UC Santa Cruz, said.
Tijoe’s dream has become a reality as she plays Mathilde in the Actors’ Theatre’s current production of Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House.”
Cast by director Gerry Gerringer into the role, Tjioe has exceeded expectations and created a successful character.
“One of the real joys as a director is the discovery of young talent,” Gerringer said of Tjioe. “She was a godsend … marvelous.”
Tjioe has found the experience to be marvelous as well.
“It’s daunting, but they have totally taken me under their wing,” Tijoe said of the other actors in the show.
Although she is many years their junior, Tjioe said the members of the Actors’ Theatre have become like family.
“You won’t find nicer people anywhere … they are so warm and welcoming,” Tjioe said.
Gerringer said that many students and young artists are discouraged from coming out to auditions for fear that they are too inexperienced or cannot keep up with the veteran actors of the theater. The longtime director said that, at least for him, this is not so, and that he’d love to see more students audition for future roles.
“Talent wins out,” Gerringer said. “Experience is not one of my highest priorities.”
Michelle Carter, operations manager for the Actors’ Theatre, estimates that only 30 percent of the participants at the theater are students, and the majority of that number are from Cabrillo College, not UCSC. Carter said that if more students knew about the casting calls and volunteer opportunities, the theater would continue to grow more steadily as a community and student resource.
The Actors’ Theatre, like many arts programs in Santa Cruz, has been hit hard by the current economic state. Sixty-two percent of the theater’s income is based on ticket sales alone. Due to the economic downturn, however, the theater has not hosted full seasons for the past two years.
The Actors’ Theatre has taken to holding fundraisers and hosting smaller productions to compensate for budgetary stress, but this year they are ushering in the venue’s first full season in a few years.
“Let’s act our way out of the crisis,” Carter said, summing up the theater’s present goals.
Carter said that although the theater is small in size — just over 100 seats — the support from the community to keep the theater up and running is still evident, despite the financial crunch.
Tjioe said that working in the small theater has given her a learning experience unlike any she has ever had. Though she is just starting her career, Tjioe said she has grown immensely as an actor by taking this opportunity outside of the university’s theater department.
“The space is small,” Tjioe said. “[But] you and I are in the space together and I am going to tell you a story.”
“The Clean House” will be running Thursday through Sunday at the Actors’ Theatre until October 18. For tickets call (831)425-PLAY, or visit santacruzactorstheatre.org for more information.