published Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Curtain Call: Becoming more than a chorus girl

  • photo
    Fiona Battersby performs as Catherine Donohue in “These Shining Lives,” which was presented last month by the graduating students of the Professional Actor Training Program at Chattanooga State.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


Age: 20.

Hometown: Durham, N.C.

High School: Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts.

Vocation: Student, graduate of the actor training program.


Movie: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Musical: " Into the Woods."

Actor: Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor.

Book: "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky.

Song: "Hallelujah" (Rufus Wainwright cover).

Performer: Sutton Foster.

Quotation: "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." -- Steve Jobs


• Chattanooga Theatre Centre: "Hairspray," "The Producers," "High School Musical."

• Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga: "Stoning Mary," "Threepenny Opera."

• Chattanooga State: "These Shining Lives," "Aging Out," "Seussical," "Nutcracker Christmas Carol."

Fate is often a key character in a lot of theater productions. If you believe in such things, it also shows up in some of our lives.

When Fiona Battersby realized the university of Tennessee at Chattanooga couldn't give her what she wanted to continue her dream of performing, she had a chance meeting with Rex Knowles and Sherry Landrum at Chattanooga State Community College.

The husband and wife team told her about the Professional Actor Training Program they run at the school, and Battersby signed up.

There was just one complication: A few days before classes were to have started, Battersby was already enrolled in the English department at UTC and her nonrefundable fees were paid.

So she attended classes at both schools for a year: 32 hour credit hours per semester. That's almost three times the number of hours needed to be considered a full-time student.

"I got 64 hours in one year," she said. "It was rough."

Today, Battersby will graduate from the program at Chattanooga State. As a student at the Center for Creative Arts, Battersby's focus was only on musicals. Now she sees herself as a serious actress, too.

"I could always sing and dance and smile," she said. "I just always saw myself as a chorus girl."

She will spend the summer performing at Lake Winnepesaukah and getting ready to finish her studies at the University of Memphis next year. She will also be auditioning for more plays.

Q: How long were you in the Actors Training Program?

A: It's been exactly two years?

Q: How did you like it?

A: It's wonderful. It wasn't what I wanted to do initially out of high school, but it was wonderfully educational and more than I could have hoped for.

Q: How did you end up there if it wasn't something you were pursuing.

A: I was attending UTC, but I wasn't able to do theater. I was sad about it and wanted to be in a theater program. I talked to Rex and Sherry and they told me about their program and that it started in a couple of days. For a year I attended UTC and Chatt State taking 32 hours a semester. ... It was rough, but I'm transferring to Memphis to finish up my (bachelor's degree), so it's good.

Q: Why the University of Memphis?

A: They have a brand new ... musical theater program that is really good. One of my professors recommended it. It was that or a school in Dublin, where my parents are from and I'm not ready for that big a move.

Q: What do you feel like you learned in the program at Chattanooga State?

A: Some things the program stresses are telling the emotional truth and being in the moment. Being in the moment has helped me in so many other ways.

Q: I know that Rex feels that improvisational training and acting training are two different things, but that learning one helps the other. Did you find that to be true?

A: Absolutely. Rex's improv training has helped me with life skills in more ways than anything else I've ever done.

Q: I've heard actors say they were taking singing or dancing lessons, but I've not really heard someone say they thought they could only do musicals and not also act.

A: I've had other people ask me about that. When I was CCA I was a musical major. I never did a play until I started the program. I love it. Now I can do two things. I just thought I was not an actor and that I was going to be a chorus girl. I thought I can sing and dance and smile, so I thought I'd just do musicals.

Q: What is the biggest challenge or difference?

A: The realism and the emotion and trying to achieve them. Musical theater is very out there and showy.

Q: What are your goals now?

A: My ultimate goal is to be in a national tour, but I really just want to make a living doing what I love.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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