From last-minute callbacks to 13-hour days on set, Cathy O’Dell understands the realities of the life of a working actress. It’s something she’s able to share with her students in West Virginia University’s School of Theatre and Dance.
Whether it’s hundreds of students in a theatre appreciation course or studio work with young actors pursuing a bachelor or master of fine arts, O’Dell believes that “making it personal helps. Students connect the abstract ideas of an actor’s life with my experiences.”
Most recently, those experiences have revolved around a recurring part on the Cinemax original series, “Banshee,” which filmed up in Pittsburgh over the summer. O’Dell will play an assistant to the sheriff of the fictional town of Banshee, Pa., in the series’ upcoming season, which starts airing in January.
While not many actors are professors, O’Dell isn’t exempt from the ups and downs of her work as a performer.
“I had been on this run of auditions for small parts for films, and it seemed like I was always coming in second,” O’Dell said. “I was thinking I would just give up acting and break out my mother’s recipes and start baking.”
Around the same time, O’Dell heard about “Banshee” moving its production to the Pittsburgh area, and her husband, Bill, told her, “Cathy, I think you’re going to get a role on ‘Banshee.’” Not long after, O’Dell’s agent called with an audition opportunity.
“It’s nice when people have faith in you when you don’t have faith in yourself,” said O’Dell.
Of course, even the opportunities can present challenges for a full time academician. At times, O’Dell will have to juggle auditions and callbacks with her responsibilities at WVU, and she appreciates the supportive culture in the School of Theatre and Dance.
“It’s a balance, and there are times when it can be stressful,” she said. “But the faculty is very supportive of each other’s creative efforts. Everybody knows that the education comes first, but we also know that it’s important for us to live as artists.”
That lived experience informs her work both in large lectures and acting studio courses. She can back up theory with experiences on from the set.
“On my first day on the set of ‘Banshee,’ I was shooting two scenes where I didn’t have any dialogue in the script, but, first thing, the director asked me to improvise. I was nervous at first, but then my training kicked in, and nerves turned to excitement.”
The experience, like many others O’Dell has had on set, has confirmed one of her core professional principles: “Be prepared for anything.”
CONTACT: David Welsh, WVU College of Creative Arts
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