Theater and comedy master Joyce Beauvais lived in New York City performing, directing and producing hundreds of shows for 29 years on and off Broadway.
As an equity actor, Beauvais has worked with some of the best and brightest in the theater world. In New York, she ran the restaurant and cabaret Chez Beauvais (from 1986 to 1991). With her friend Ronny Whyte and her partner, the uber-agent Jack Rollins, she brought to light the greatest talents in jazz. It featured young artists who have become jazz stars.
Nine years ago, she found a new home in Niantic, along the shore. The lights are still bright for Beauvais and it still sparkles but in a different location. She is the founder of Theater Under the Shell (TUTS) along with Parks and Recreation Director Dave Putnam and East Lyme Senior Center Director Cathy Wilson. This trio and their tribe delighted residents last year with their fifth straight season. TUTS brought live theater to the community in the charming setting of McCook’s Point Bandstand overlooking Long Island Sound.
In collaboration with East Lyme Senior Center, Beauvais writes, directs and produces murder mystery scripts. It develops the local talent of adults who have a dream or a passion for theatre. Beauvais can develop talents at all levels.
Joyce teaches rigorous acting classes to bring out the talent in anyone willing to do the job.
All fundamentals are included. Warm-ups involve stretching and tongue twisting that will tangle your tongue. Students learn to exhale with “SHHH”, horse lips or a frog face. Exercises include identifying a character’s theme song, dress, walk, manner of speaking, or emotional graphic.
Improvisation, cold readings, monologues and stage work are part of the training. Shows have included reader drama, murder mystery, romance, and drama.
Everyone is welcome, but a commitment is required. Actors should arrive early and be prepared to work rigorously during the two and a half hour lessons. Homework is provided and additional work is required. If you want to succeed, you have to invest.
Beauvais said developing acting skills is about observing and studying characters.
“Without good observational skills, one cannot be a good actor,” she said. “To be a good actor, you have to be a good listener. Articulation, enunciation and projection are essential.
“A lot of the best actors are shy,” Beauvais said. She identifies as an introvert, but one would never sit down with her for a coffee or if we saw her on stage. When she teaches, Beauvais does not hesitate to greet everyone and make them feel at home and part of her tribe or family. While performing, Beauvais said, “I become the person I play.” When not on stage, Joyce has said, “I’m a hermit.”
Being an actor is a lot of work. It’s not just about memorizing lines. A role can be played by a thousand different actors and will vary each time.
“When the character is dropped into the actor, that’s where the magic happens,” Beauvais said.
Stage work is also important because it never starts at the beginning. Something always happens before and something will happen later. This is where we look at the why and how of each character. Simply put, how did they end up in this situation?
Beauvais said that when a show lasts a few nights, it’s important that the actors know the audience. As the characters learn to hone their skills, they learn what the audience reacts to. The opening night show and the end-of-run show can actually be quite different performances. The characters evolve in the process.
Surviving the times of the COVID-19 pandemic has been brutal for all industries. The theater was particularly affected. Theaters large and small have struggled to continue their important work for those who love to play and those who love to be pumped up and transported for an hour or two into a surreal world. Zoom, hybrid courses and learning to project and speak while wearing a mask are among the challenges.
Beauvais hopes that the Under the Shell Theater will continue its sixth season this summer with a need to hire a technician for lights and sound.
“In order for us to continue, we need financial support,” she said. “Otherwise we may not be able to continue.”
Joyce Beauvais listed a number of generous donors, as well as support from the East Lyme Parks and Recreation Department and the East Lyme Seniors Centre, who made her work possible. Individuals like Bob and Nancy Harding, as well as Gary Smith and Kristine Malazo. Organizations include Habitat 4 Humanity, Ring’s End, Crescent Point, Total Mortgage, Main Brace Package Store, Niantic Baptist Church, Geico, Niantic Main Street, Charter Oak, and Niantic Inn, to name a few.
The arts are often underfunded and need more support to continue. The community of East Lyme has been supportive of Theater Under the Shell, and for that Beauvais and his tribe are eternally grateful.
Ultimately, Beauvais said, acting is about building community and she wants every potential actor to have a chance to shine.
“They should be able to dip their toes into the stage magic,” Beauvais said. “The theater must be brought to life!
For more information on Theater Under the Shell, email [email protected]
Cate Steel is a resident of East Lyme.
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