At just 6 years old, Madeline Calais made a guest appearance in her local high school’s production of Les Miserables as young Eponine. The experience proved so rewarding, she remembers crying for months after the curtains closed, longing to return to the stage.
Now, as a second-year student in the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House (CPH) Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Acting program, Calais has the chance to perform over and over again.
Her next role? Clarice in the program’s production of The Liar, a 17th century comedy by Pierre Corneille—translated and adapted by David Ives. The production runs March 15–19 in The Helen theater.
Calais describes her character Clarice as “spunky, fun, and extremely sick of waiting to officially set her wedding date” to her fiancé, to whom she’s been engaged for two years.
“My favorite part of this role is how natural it feels in my own body. There is a certain goofy grandeur that lives within me that I don’t normally get to express in my everyday life. When playing a role like Clarice, I am allowed to be as indulgent and over-the-top as my silly heart desires,” Calais said. “Strutting across the stage in magnificent dresses never hurt either!”
Get your tickets to see Calais and other members of the CWRU/CPH MFA in Acting program’s Class of 2024 in action. But first, learn more about Calais’ acting background.
Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
1. What drew you to CWRU and the CWRU/CPH MFA in Acting program?
The opportunity to work in partnership with Cleveland Play House was a huge draw for me. Having had some professional theater experience in my years following undergraduate studies [at University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance], I felt a program that worked closely with professionals would be a great fit for me.
I also appreciated the program’s emphasis on the discovery and development of the student’s individual artistic taste and vision. I believe finding your own artistry is key in finding your voice and artistic agency.
2. Why did you decide to pursue acting?
When I discovered acting, my imagination was sparked like it had never been before. I realized acting was the one and only thing that kept me curious day and night about whatever I was working on. I would later come to realize that acting forced me to look at others and connect with them no matter what their background. Acting requires an intense study of the human condition, and the understanding that we are all connected.
3. What is one of your favorite roles you’ve ever had?
I had the pleasure of playing Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, during my second year at the American Shakespeare Center. Puck is a sprightly goblin creature that wreaks havoc on all the humans they can. Not only did I get to run around and grunt, growl and yell, but I also had the daunting but delightful task of singing all my lines in the show. The director gave me free reign of how I could arrange my lines to song while playing the ukulele as accompaniment.
It was the biggest physical, mental and creative challenge I ever faced at the time. That being said, it was also the most rewarding. The best thing about playing Puck was that it was a character that younger audiences couldn’t get enough of. It was so uplifting to see so many young people have their eyes open to the world of theater because of their love for a character I created. Inspiring others is why I do what I do.
4. After completing the MFA program, what are your career goals?
Since I’ve done a lot of traveling for theater in the last decade, my next goal is to find a place where I can settle. One goal of mine is to become a regular company member at a regional theater. Some companies I’ve dreamed of working for include American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin; The Old Globe in San Diego; The Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and many others.
I’ve also become increasingly interested in the world of voiceover and voice acting. I’d love to continue learning more about film and TV as another means of income and exploration.
5. Have you performed with any other theater companies?
Acting as an intern at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, was my first official professional theater gig during my undergraduate years. Last summer, I had the great pleasure of returning as an official company member for their 2022 season.
The longest job I’ve ever had was at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. I toured with that company for two years right before the pandemic hit. I’ve also worked with Red Bull Theater based out of New York City, and several other theater companies based in Houston Texas.
6. Outside of acting, what are some of your other interests?
I would describe myself as a dabbler. I love trying new things and learning new art forms, even if it’s just a little bit. Singing has always been a huge passion of mine, and over the years, I’ve even gotten into songwriting, and attempting to teach myself certain instruments.
I’ve had amazing opportunities to learn certain dance forms, such as jazz, tap, ballet and modern. Although I am certainly a beginner in those areas, I find such joy in the exploration of different disciplines. I think continuing to push myself out of my comfort zone into fields that are unknown is a great learning opportunity as well as a way to appreciate other artists around me.