Theater alumna wins Barrymore Award

Leah Walton rediscovered her love for comedy in Philadelphia.

Before moving back to Philadelphia, Leah Walton hadn’t hit her stride in comedy.

“Although I always did comedic work, it didn’t really gel for me until I moved to Philly and the work kind of found me,” Walton said.

The actress received her masters in acting this year, and recently won a Barrymore Award for her supporting role as as an evil headmistress in 11th Hour Theatre Company’s original comedic musical, “Field Hockey Hot.”

As this is her second Barrymore nomination and first win, Walton’s achievements reflect her artistry in the local theater community.

Since moving to the city on a whim 11 years ago from upstate New York, Walton said Philadelphia helped her work evolve through the dozens of productions she participated in.

“This community is filled with the most talented people … to be included in this community and then to be honored by it means the world to me,” Walton said.

Before Philadelphia, Walton cultivated her skills by studying drama at Ithaca College. Her passion for performance, however, did not surface until she received training through study abroad programs in Moscow, Russia and London, England.

Not too long after graduation, Walton found herself straying from her acting aspirations.

“I think I felt a little disenchanted with some of the things I was doing,” Walton said. “But, then I just realized that my heart’s desire really lies in theater work and in speaking to an audience.”

A college friend encouraged Walton to move to Philadelphia—rekindling a purpose Walton had discovered across the world not too long before. Auditioning for shows at companies across the city, she participated in a wide scope of productions and styles like musicals, plays, comedy and puppetry.

Experimental work in Philadelphia eventually led her to perform Off-Broadway, when she was cast in FringeArts show “The Giant Squid” with the Berserker Residents theater troupe. After seeing the comedy-horror, New York based theater company Ars Nova commissioned Walton and three others to write and produce an original play “The Lapsburgh Layover.” Walton received praise from The New York Times for her comedic talent in the play.

“[The FringeArts show] really showed the power that Philadelphia performers have on a national stage,” Walton said. “The things that happen here go other places. People want to see the work Philadelphians are making.”

Along with performance opportunity, Philadelphia offered her academic opportunity—both as a student and an educator.

In 2012, she began pursuing her master’s degree in acting at Temple. As a seasoned actress, Walton was attracted to the program’s specialization for mid-career professionals. The program shifted Walton’s concentration to the script of her performance, shedding new light on how she approaches the text, vocals and speech.

“Delivering heightened language is much easier now that I’ve had a really intensive education at Temple,” Walton said.

Her studies at Temple also reignited her use of Michael Chekhov Technique, an acting approach based in working with imagination and personal life experiences.

After utilizing the method during college, she stopped working with it for a while until she was reintroduced during a course with David Ingram, the head of theater studies and an associate professor of film and media arts.

“One of the first things Chekhov’s says is, ‘Everything you do on stage, you should do with a sense of ease,’ and to be reminded of that was very helpful for her,” Ingram said. “She found the inspiration in it again.”

The master’s degree would not only refine her practice of theatrical text and speech, but also provide her with credentials to teach in higher education. In her inaugural semester, Walton is teaching a course on Michael Chekhov Technique to sophomore theater students at the University of the Arts.

Although Walton has experience in many theatrical genres, she said she shines in comedy and depicting characters like the evil headmistress in her Barrymore-winning role.

“I love to hear people laugh,” she said. “It feeds me.”

Grace Maiorano can be reached

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