Natalie Wilder never quite got the positive reinforcement she was looking for growing up in Memphis, but that never stopped her from doing exactly as she planned.
“I always knew what I wanted to do with my life,” said Wilder, who along with her husband, Patrick Ellison Shea, will star in Ken Ludwig’s “The Fox on the Fairway,” opening Friday at Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington. “Acting was always the thing I was passionate about. But when I was a little kid, my teachers would try to talk me out of it.
“I had good grades so they wanted to scare me into doing something else, something a little more responsible. But I ultimately did what I wanted to do and I’ve never regretted it.”
‘The Fox on the Fairway’
WHERE: Oldcastle Theatre, 331 Main St., Bennington, Vt.
WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Friday and runs through Aug. 25; performance times are 2 and 8 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
HOW MUCH: $37, $10 for students
MORE INFO: 802-447-0564 or www.oldcastletheatre.org
“The Fox on the Fairway” is Ludwig’s story about competing golf clubs preparing for their annual grudge match when the best player decides to switch alliances. The play opened in the fall of 2010 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va.
A native of York, Pa., who now lives in the Houston area, Ludwig earned Tony Award nominations for “Lend Me a Tenor” in 1989 and “Crazy For You” in 1992. He has also had great regional success with works such as “Moon Over Buffalo” in 1995, “Shakespeare in Hollywood” in 2003 and “Leading Ladies” in 2004.
“I’ve been a fan of Ken Ludwig’s other plays for quite a while, so it’s nice to be doing something relatively new of his,” said Wilder. “This play is a comedy, and I think comedies are right in our wheelhouse.”
Wilder first showed up at Oldcastle seven years ago for a role in “Hard Times,” and she returned in 2007 for a production of “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.” It was in Bennington where Wilder and Shea first met, Shea having been a regular for troupe founder Eric Peterson as far back as 1997.
While Shea did call Bennington home for a while, the couple now live in New York City. Wilder has performed at various regional theaters in the New York area as well as the Orlando Shakespeare Festival, the Civic Theatre of Central Florida and New Jersey Rep, where she is a company member and in 2011 originated the role of Rachel in the world premiere of Gino Dilorio’s “Apostasy,” a play about a terminal cancer patient being cared for by her daughter. She has also portrayed Babe in “Crimes of the Heart,” Beth in “Dinner With Friends,” Mistress Quickly in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth.”
Shea has performed with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Utah Shakespeare, Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre and Ford’s Theatre. He has acted in more than 10 plays with Oldcastle, including “Raising Kane,” “Mornings at Seven,” “I’m Not Rappaport” and “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.”
“I met Eric at an open audition in New York City, and I was nonunion at the time,” said Shea, remembering his first experience with Peterson. “It was a lot cheaper for him to get me up here that first year, but then he just kept on bringing me back. I actually liked it so much I moved to Bennington for a while.”
Unlike his wife, Shea didn’t settle on a career in the theater at a young age.
“I had a lot of adventure on my mind as a kid, like being an astronaut or an archaeologist who finds dinosaur bones,” said Shea, who grew up just outside Niagara Falls. “I don’t have those stories about childhood desires of wanting to be an actor. I didn’t really get the bug until I was in college.”
Shea, who majored in business, graduated from the University of Alabama.
“Yeah, I have a business degree but I never use it,” he said. “Once I got into the theater, I never wanted to do anything else. I landed the lead in ‘Godspell,’ and that was a pretty interesting experience. My parents had taken me to see a production of ‘Godspell’ when I was like 5, so I knew something about it. When I saw the audition notice in college, I said to myself, ‘Well, if I’m ever going to get into acting now is the time.’ ”
Christine Decker is directing the Oldcastle production, while also in the cast are Nick Piacente, Meredith Meurs, Peter Langstaff and Sophia Garder. Earlier this year, Decker played the title role in “Shirley Valentine” at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge.
When Wilder completes her run at Oldcastle, she’ll be heading back to New York City to begin preparing for a production of “The 39 Steps” at the Sundog Theatre on Staten Island in September. Shea, who guest-starred on an episode of CBS’ “The Good Wife” last season, has nothing on his schedule yet.
“I’ll be watching ‘The 39 Steps,’ ” he said, laughing. “That will take care of September, and then hopefully something else will come along.”