Take Two

Melodee Finlay returns to the stage

Before taking some time away from the stage, Melodee Finlay, known to those close to her as Mel, was wildly loved in the theatre. She made quite the impression with her charismatic personality and her ability to easily connect with the audience. Her name may look familiar to many, as she has been entertaining for years. She started singing with a travelling band by the name of Harmony Street and then moved into musical theatre, which ultimately led her to realize her knack for comedy.

Mel is thrilled to be returning to the stage as Grace Gervaise in Stage Fright at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre. This character is unlike any she has played in the past. Mel explains that Grace is a melodramatic movie star who jumps at the opportunity to be involved in a mystery. “She’s a bit of a hard nose and somewhat self-absorbed.”

In approaching new roles, many actors have rituals or pre-show practices that help them to prepare. “I like to get in my character’s shoes and embody their posture,” Mel describes. “Seeing myself in my costume helps me to gain a new sense of confidence and I have to know I’ll be comfortable on stage.” Mel admitted that in an effort to try to connect to her role, she has gone to the extent of buying lingerie that she feels her character would wear.

Preparing for a show only goes so far in theatre and Mel has countless stories about moments on stage when things don’t go as planned. “I was having a pretty intense conversation backstage, when I heard a pause on stage and thought I had missed my cue,” she remembers. After running on stage, she realized she was two pages too early and completely caught her co-stars off guard. Mel remembers the surprise. “No one could say their lines because everyone had lost their place.” They managed to recover after a few minutes of fumbling. “What a whirlwind that was!”

Rolling with the punches is a skill that Mel has had to call on numerous times throughout her career. “People underestimate actors who do comedy,” Mel expresses. “There is a rhythm to comedy and you have to be able to adopt and embrace different rhythms.”

“Comedy gives people a break from every day life,” explains Mel. “I love the idea that for however long we are on that stage, whatever kind of day people have had, they can leave it at the door and enjoy themselves.” Being engaged with the audience and enjoying the ride of a performance is one aspect of theatre that drives her passion.

There have been moments, or several for that matter, where Mel’s commitment to her performance has allowed her to take a risk or two. She was on stage with Derek Ritschel in Bedtime Stories when the hydro went out and the theatre went completely dark. “Derek and I decided to continue the scene until it became unsafe and we managed to carry it on for a while, keeping the audience in tow until it didn’t make sense.” That’s part of the pleasure of comedy, for Mel; it leaves room for actors to come together and improvise when the unexpected happens.

Actors need an incredible amount of trust in one another and must be able to accept the ebb and flow of comedy. “There is a generosity of spirit with fellow actors and this helps us to be confident on stage,” Mel explains.

Stage Fright offers Mel yet another chance to make people laugh up on stage and do what she loves. “I love it when I’m in the zone and am able to be present in the work. When all the stars align, it’s a wonderful feeling.”