Blithe spirit

Actress Anna Harvey-Sheeley '76 to play Madame Arcati in “Blithe Spirit" at 7 p.m. April 15 in Launer Auditorium.

by Leon Stevenson III

The adrenaline rush of being on stage is not for everyone — in fact, most people are afraid of speaking in public, let alone acting. But for mild-mannered Anna Harvey-Sheeley '76, being bit by the acting bug transforms her into whoever she wants to be.
You can see for yourself April 15 at 7 p.m. in Launer Auditorium as she plays Madame Arcati in “Blithe Spirit.” The classic Noel Coward play of ghostly shenanigans is just one of dozens of activities during Reunion Weekend 2011.

Harvey-Sheeley is looking to have fun with the role of Arcati. "She’s just so quirky and you can do so much with how you want to portray her. When I first read it, I said, ‘There’s something wrong with her — I love it; ’ but then I saw the movie version, and the actress did it much differently than I originally planned; so it gave me the mindset to play with her as much as possible because you can take her in so many different directions.“

Born and raised in Hannibal, Mo., her first taste of the arts came in first grade when she was given the lead in a small play, “Spring.” “That was my first time memorizing something,” she said. “The teacher put the lines on note cards and sent them home with me. I was spring, and I got to wear this pretty garland and sparking white dress — it was marvelous. I still have the picture of my dad and me the day I performed next to my nightstand.”

From there, Harvey-Sheeley was hooked. Although there were little to no opportunities in junior high, she went out for every role she could find in high school. “I did all I could — I played in the “13th Chair” about a séance gone wrong, I was Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and I was the lead in “Carmen.””

Anna Harvey-Sheeley

After graduating from Hannibal High School in 1972, she decided to pursue her music career at Columbia College. She studied vocal music under the direction of Elaine Grev and Don Lester. She auditioned and was accepted into the Columbia College Double Sextet (now the Jane Froman Singers) and in 1974, had the honor to go on a six-week USO tour of Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland and Labrador, performing for the servicemen stationed there, which continues to be a lasting memory.

“Overseas was wonderful," she said. "An experience I’ll never forget. We did all kinds of things — song and dance groups and solo acts. I played up the crowd and would sit on laps in the audience. They treated us like royalty over there — after shows we were invited to the officer’s area of restaurants and had the most extravagant meals. Because we were near the Arctic Circle, it was 24-hour days and 24-hour nights, so that was the weirdest part. I will never ever forget that experience.”

Because of her love of the theater, musicals in particular, Harvey-Sheeley’s senior vocal recital was a one-woman show of songs from the Broadway stage. Not wanting to leave Columbia during the summer, she became involved with Capt. Louis' Dinner Theater and landed the female leads in “The Fantasticks,” “You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Barefoot in the Park” and was Queen Aggravain in “Once Upon a Mattress” and was even double casted as Amy and April in “Company.”

Which genre does she prefer?

“It used to be musicals,” she mused. “As I’ve gotten older, my voice changed from a soprano to a tenor and roles diminished — both for that reason and opportunities in general. I enjoy doing drama, and I LOVE comedy. If I had a choice now, I’d do more comedy.”

When asked what keeps her drawn to the stage, she replied that the answer was two-fold. “One, I enjoy becoming the characters. Getting down and dirty in the character’s head to see what makes them tick,” she said. “And second is to entertain the audience. There’s something about hearing the audience applaud you that is absolutely magnetic. Believe it or not, I am normally shy and introverted. But when I get into character, I can be whatever I think the character is and not worry about me.”

Harvey-Sheeley moved back to Columbia in 2004 to be close to her son and grandson, but it took her almost two years to discover that Columbia had great opportunities to perform in theater.

“I hadn’t been in Columbia since I graduated from CC back in ’76, so everything was different. I actually got lost here. I finally looked on the Internet and found Columbia Entertainment Company (CEC), but I originally questioned myself because I hadn’t acted in about three years. I also didn’t know many people. A friend of mine ended up dragging me along to an audition, and I got the role. I’ve been active ever since.”

That show was “She Loves Me,” which led to her being cast as Clemma in “Proposals,” Vicki Nichols in “The Full Monty,” General Cartwright in “Guys and Dolls,” Jacqueline in “La Cage Aux Folles” and most recently as one of the priests in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” She has also done lighting, been stage manager and had her first directing experience with “Seussical: the Musical” while at CEC. This past fall, she got her first taste of the big screen when she was cast in a local movie called “The Normal.”

If Harvey-Sheeley has truly been bitten by the acting bug, she’s not seeking medical attention saying, “If I didn’t have theatre, I don’t know what I’d do.”

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