Alumni Spotlight: Erica Spyres '06
Most people never get the chance to step out of their own skin, dress up in elaborate clothes, and bask in the limelight in front of a crowd for an hour or two. But for Erica Spyres that’s just a day in the life. Nowadays, Erica is fulfilling her dreams on stages all across Boston, but she got her start early on, even before she came to Drury to study music.
Erica grew up in southwest Missouri with a family that loves everything musical. Her parents and her two brothers all sing and play an instrument, and for many years, the Spyres family participated in Laura’s Memories, a musical about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Music was the natural course for Erica to take once she came to Drury. Her primary areas of study were vocal performance and violin, under Dr. Allin Sorenson and Darrel Barnes, respectively. Erica says, “Both of these professors pushed me to be a more focused, more relaxed, and better musician.” Her experience at Drury was largely shaped by such professors and other opportunities, including growing as an actor in the theatre department, where she performed in many different plays, musicals, and reviews. “Drury allowed me to be involved in many artistic endeavors,” Erica says, “while also getting an excellent liberal arts education.” All of these experiences shaped her both artistically and personally and helped gear her for success in Boston.
Erica’s move to the East Coast was partly prompted by Robert Westenberg, chair of the theatre department, who pushed her to take acting more seriously and gave her confidence to audition outside of Springfield. She moved to Boston for her husband’s (Andrew Jackson ’06) graduate school, and her auditioning began soon after. Her first big break was as Clara in The Light at the Piazza at SpeakEasy Stage Company, for which she won her first theatre award. Since 2008, she has been working consistently in the Boston scene and has been widely acclaimed.
She was recently awarded the Outstanding Actress Award by the Boston Theater Critics Association at the Elliot Norton Awards. This accolade recognizes her work in Tribes, which tells the story of Billy, a young deaf man who has never learned sign language. Erica plays the role of Sylvia (see photo), a hearing girl who is going deaf and teaches Billy more about deaf culture and American Sign Language. “I didn’t know any ASL before my audition, so I had my work cut out for me,” Erica says. She learned the language rigorously with the help of a coach and interpreters. She says that this experience has been one of the most special theatrical moments in her career thus far.
To call Erica’s resume impressive would be an understatement. She has received multiple awards for her performances and has starred in musicals including Of Mice & Men, Sense & Sensibility: The Musical, and Sweeney Todd. She has also performed in numerous commercials and films, and she is nowhere near the end of her career. Her next musical is called Far From Heaven, and she is excited to work with challenging music, a complex role, and the gorgeous 1950s costumes.
To combat boredom, Erica is constantly busy with working, auditioning, teaching, and performing. She stays connected with her Drury roots by keeping in touch with professors Carlyle Sharpe and Stephen Bomgardner and occasionally making it back to Springfield to see professors and old friends – and to reunite with Springfield’s famous cashew chicken.
Whether she is acting in a company’s instructional video or performing for a full house on a Boston stage, Erica’s days are never empty and certainly never boring. “Life is a lot like theatre,” she says. “There’s always something new to learn, there’s always a new challenge, and I think that’s what makes everything interesting.”
Written by Brooke Dacquisto ’16
Photo credit to Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo