Theater is a business for people with a certain flair for boldness.
Carlisle High School senior Fran Bixby has that flair.
A longtime fan of the Broadway musical “Wicked,” Bixby wrote to the stage manager of the show to say she was interested in what she did.
“I figured if I’m going to go into theater, I can’t just sit around,” Bixby said.
Bixby, the daughter of Sheila and Kevin Bixby, ended up backstage at the musical on a show day. She talked to the stage manager and the technicians who do their jobs every day with little or no recognition from the audience.
“It’s a whole different aura backstage for a Broadway show,” Bixby said. “I thought I was an expert on this show, and then [the stage manager] showed me all these little things.”
Bixby’s love of theater started with a typical elementary school musical. She so enjoyed the experience that she told her mother she wanted to continue doing musicals, to which her mother replied that she would have to make opportunities for herself in a difficult business.
Bixby has done just that.
She started making calls that resulted in serving as a stage manager at Carlisle Theatre, and most recently, as an intern at Gamut Theatre in Harrisburg.
Bixby said she was at Gamut auditioning for a role in a show when she mentioned to the stage manager that she thought that job was “cool.” The stage manager replied that the theater had an internship open.
Bixby got the internship and a part in the show.
“I bounce in between all the different departments. Recently, I was sewing costumes and I helped with painting the set for ‘Streetcar,’ and just yesterday I was sitting in on a rehearsal of Macbeth,” Bixby said.
Gamut was also the site for the role that Bixby has found most interesting to date. “As She Likes It” was an original show based on the works of William Shakespeare in which local playwrights wrote pieces centered around the women in the plays. Women comprised the entire cast, and the director was a woman. Bixby played a role in a variation of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Her admiration for Shakespeare has grown through her activities at Carlisle. Bixby said she initially participated in the Shakespeare Troupe in the fall of her freshman year with no interest in Shakespeare whatsoever. She thought the experience would be good practice for the musical. Once she found Shakespeare, the musicals faded into the background.
“Singing and dancing are not my strong suits, and I recognize that. So I student direct the musical,” Bixby said.
Recently, Bixby served as a senior reveler for the Fall Shakespeare Festival at the high school. The festival features student-directed scenes from the works of Shakespeare in which comedies run back to back with tragedies. Bixby directed two scenes, and as reveler, performed between the scenes to provide a segue.
“It’s such a special group of kids, and everyone is able to put on these amazing shows, so I climbed through the ranks there, and I’m a senior reveler today,” she said.
Bixby’s acting skills led to two second-places finishes in the Regional English Speaking Union Monologue Competition in which students prepare a sonnet and a monologue to recite for the judges. It also earned her a place at the American Shakespeare Center Theater camp last summer.
Actors from the company teach lessons during the camp, and the students perform on stage at the end of the camp. Bixby was able to learn from one of the actresses she admired, and even gave a speech onstage prior to one of the center’s professional shows.
“I’ve always wanted to perform on that stage, and I thought this might not happen or might not happen for many, many years,” she said.
After high school, Bixby plans to attend a four-year college, possibly Ithaca College or Muhlenberg College, to study theater with a concentration on either acting or stage management.
“I like the acting aspect because you get to be on stage telling that story, but I also really appreciate stage management because you can’t tell that story if all the pieces aren’t in place,” Bixby said.