“She just, I feel, is able to really embody the character that she’s playing,” said Kimmy Schofield when discussing her greatest influence, Angelina Jolie. “And there’s some actors who I watch, even actors who I love, like Robert De Niro for example, I watch a film with him and the entire time all I can think is this is Robert De Niro. I Know he’s playing a character, but I can’t look past the fact that he’s Robert De Niro. With Angelina, I just see her as the character.”

It is a bit interesting that Schofield would mention these particular attributes when discussing Jolie, as much of the same can be said about her.

For the past two years, her performances have been quite the constant in Champaign-Urbana’s theater scene. From her willingness to take on complex characters to her penchant for heart-breaking stories, she has shown the extraordinary ability to embody a character and bring the rawness of that character’s emotions to the forefront—always with roles that truly show off her talent.

Director Mikel Matthews, Jr., regarding working with Schofield, described her as “eager to explore roles she hasn't before and will both use her instincts and shape her performance to the director.” Friend and fellow stage actor Jace Jamison mentioned that “she always finds her place in any role she's given. I love having her as an acting partner. She really plays well off of other people, no matter if she's worked with them before or not, and that's a real asset in acting.”

Her story — a story about more than great performances — is emblematic of how theater, and art as a whole for that matter, can bring out the best in us. As one that questioned her place in theater early on, Schofield learned that performing offered experiences that helped her grow in her courage to pursue her passions; that all she had to do was take the “confidence and talent I had, and bring it to the auditions and performances.”

And did I mention that this incredibly talented and dedicated actor works two jobs and attends school on top of theater?

But perhaps I should leave the storytelling Schofield, as she recently spoke with Smile Politely about her experiences in theater and acting, her influences, what theater means to her as an artistic expression, and her dream roles.

Smile Politely: I know acting has been a more recent artistic endeavor for you, but was there a moment that you can look back to throughout your life where you knew you wanted to be at least a performer?

Kimmy Schofield: Yeah. I remember starting out when I was just little because I grew up in a house where my grandmother lived with us and she sang, and I just remember always singing with her when playing songs on the piano she wanted to hear; that she liked singing. And I remember loving that because pretty much no one else in my home performs, and especially doesn’t sing. And I mean, there’d be random little fairs and things when you’re, you know, four and they’d pick people out of the crowd. And I remember just being very eager to do it. In high school, and I don’t really know where this idea came from, but I took drama class. And I did choir for just two semesters. I loved drama class, and I don’t know why I didn’t just equate that to being on stage, but I didn’t. I saw people who had been doing community theater or theater since freshman year, and I felt like I didn’t have a right to be there also, I guess, or I didn’t have enough experience to back me. But I remember really enjoying it and really enjoying being in that atmosphere and being around the people doing it. They were very encouraging, and wanted me to keep doing it. I loved the acting portion, and loved the singing.

Then one day during college [freshman year] I wandered into the music building, and they happened to be doing auditions for the acappella groups, so I ended up auditioning for a bunch of them. And got called back to two different ones. The one I said yes to [No Strings Attached] was a jazz group, and I had never sang jazz in my life; I never sang acappella before, and again, I remember being really nervous, wondering how and why I was even going to do this. But I continued doing it until I graduated. So from the time I was little, it was just knowing that I liked it, but I think the moment I recognized that I really really loved it and wanted to get back into it was after I graduated.

I was just working and I didn’t know there was a community theater world here. I was bartending, and Mikel Mathews, Jr. was performing at a comedy night. We just happened to begin talking, and I learned he directed when we spoke about the shows he was doing, and where he taught. He began explaining that, yeah, there was a community theater scene, and he was directing this show called She Kills Monsters, which I ended up auditioning for. I remember him calling to ask if I’d accept this role, and I was just like, “Yeah. Okay.” I didn’t know the show very well, and wasn’t super excited. Then I remember the show ending, and being super sad, and kind of getting addicted to it. Theater and singing and performing have never really left me. Now that I have an outlet for it, I think I’m learning to appreciate it a lot more.

SP: Now that you are addicted to theater, and enjoy performing, what is it about theater as an outlet that you love?

Schofield: I guess I would consider it a hobby, I guess, but a hobby that I’m outrageously dedicated to. It is one of those things that I always kind of expect to be doing. If I’m picking up a bartending shift or family vacation or whatever, I immediately think of whether I’ll be doing a show at this time or not. Everyone has a different outlook on what theater will bring to the table for them, but for me, I feel very comfortable performing, whether it’s acting or singing or dancing — which I’m not a dancer, but I can do dances in musicals. I just find it very comfortable. I really like the people I’m around in the shows I do. I find that I build really, really genuine relationships with them pretty much from the start and I’m one of those people where if I go into a new environment I’ll act as though I’m comfortable. But when I get into a theater with whatever show, I’ll always take a step back and assume these people know each other, and I’m going to turn into this outcast. Not even in a negative way, but in a way, I’m thinking: ‘Have these people already been doing theatre their whole life?’ ‘Are they already established?’ And then everyone is so welcoming, nice, and encouraging. When I think about sitting down and watching live theater, it doesn’t matter the show; I get emotional watching live theater. For example, I saw The Nutcracker and there was this little girl and she must be so excited. She’s 7-years-old and on stage performing in front of these people, doing something she absolutely loves. And these people are here for her and applauding for her. It’s making their day, it’s making their night, and I love that. I love how it brings the community together, and I love how people use it to express whether they’re happy or sad. Theater is a place where they can either escape, or channel whatever emotions they’re feeling that day into it. Or they can just do it because it’s a fun time. It doesn’t have to go that deep. It’s just such an open place for everyone.

SP: What are your dream roles? Other than playing Angelina Jolie..

Schofield: [Laughs]. In a biopic… [laughs]

I would absolutely love to play Cathy from The Last Five Years. I’ll see if I can do top 5 or something. So, Cathy would be amazing. I would love, I can’t decide between Eliza or Angelica in Hamilton. First, it was Angelica. Then I heard “Burn,” and my best friend told me I had to be Eliza, and I trust him. And then, because I think it would be fun, I’d love to be Veronica in Heathers. I hear the script is not good, but the music is so fun, and just based off that cult classic movie. And her songs are so cool in that show. Next to Normal is definitely one. I think in Next to Normal I would have to play the daughter right now based on my age, but I would be absolutely anyone in that show. I mean, God, the mother in it is so powerful. She just breaks your heart in that show. But I love the Dad’s songs. I love the son’s songs. I love the male love interest’s songs. I would do anything of those, so, I’ll do those, I’ll do those four. That’s what I’ll stick with. But I think Cathy from The Last Five Years is probably right now at the top of my list.   

SP: What has b​een your favorite role so far?

Schofield: So, I think in straight theater I really liked Kaliope in She Kills Monsters. It was just so fun, and the story was just beautiful. It was, again I keep using the word heartbreaking, but so many shows are. It was about this sister who is trying to understand her sister who has passed away, trying to understand her life through this D&D module. And the sister who has passed away, her friends are portrayed as these D&D characters, so it could just be seen as this ridiculous — I remember reading the script and wondering how is this going to carry over. And then there was all these people crying in the audience. And Kaliope had a sword and got to wear a really cool outfit, but she was also this really supportive force in the main character’s life. And that was really fun. But people were relating how I talked to Spock in Star Trek, not really understanding the human emotions really but very intelligent. I really loved Whatshername, but that was outrageously fun. And I found some of my closest friends in that show. I also had no lines because it was all music, except for the lead, and that was just something I’d never done before. I also loved Meredith, the mother in Bat Boy, because for me it was a challenge. I had never played a character that was a mother. God. She had such a difficult life that character, Meredith. So it was really interesting for me to find a balance between her being in control and caring for her children while keeping the peace with her husband who hated this Bat Boy. And her not going away from her role as the mother and the wife.

SP: What about your most challenging role then?

Schofield: I think that my most challenging role would probably be Meredith not because of the music, because you just have to do it. I never got bad reviews from Mikel [Matthews, Jr.] by any means, but I remember just being afraid I wasn’t going to live up to the role because in my head, and in reading the script and listening to the recording of the off-broadway version, Meredith just sounds older. She is typically played by someone that is older than me, and I was afraid I was going to portray her immaturely. Or that I would sound too young, and people wouldn’t be able to use their suspension of disbelief in watching it. Again like everything else I had to overcome it, and embrace the character for who she was. And I knew if there was a problem with it, Mikel would tell me. She was emotionally draining for sure.

SP: If you were to give any kind of advice to someone on the cusp of wanting to act and participate in theater and is unsure, what would you tell them?

Schofield: The first thing, I guess, that I would tell people is to just go and do it. Either you do it or you don’t do it. Those are your only options. Kind of like with anything in life. If you’re on the fence about something, you’ll never know what it’s like until you do it, so you might as well do it. The second thing is definitely don’t be afraid to reach out, and use the resources we have in this community because there are a lot. I would start asking friends that have scripts or dumb shows they’ve used in the past to use [for auditions]. It takes a lot. If you feel insecure about it or nervous about it, you’re allowed to feel that way. It is a big thing to put yourself out there for the world to see, especially if you’re just getting into it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. There is ridiculous amount of people in this town who are more than willing to help people get into the community theater or short film world.

Photos courtesy of Scott Wells.