By Susan T. Hessel —
Shortly after Diane Breeser’s stage debut as a junior high school student in the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s “Jack and the Beanstalk,” she enrolled in a drama class at Longfellow Middle School with a friend.
Their teacher was not fond of either of them. When she banned them from a class trip to the dress rehearsal of “Dracula” at UW-L, the girls would not stand for it. They asked the director, Dr. Robert Joyce, for permission, which he gave.
When their teacher saw them, she was furious. “She literally chased us down the stairs to the bowels of Toland Theatre! Cornered, we explained that we had gotten permission from Dr. Joyce himself.” They were sequestered from the other students and Breeser received a D in the class.
Yes, the life of a child actor has its challenges. “We just saw it as an adventure—with lots of drama!” Breeser said. “I confess, that may have been the start of my ‘rebel against authority’ attitude.”
Four-year-old Jonathan Lamb fell in love with theatre the first time he attended a play. “It was probably the first time my mom ever saw me sit still and not move,” he said.
His first of many performances with La Crosse Community Theatre was playing Leroy Herdman in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” He was one of the delinquent Herdman kids who end up being the Three Wise Men in the play. Lamb triumphantly held up a canned ham as a gift to the baby Jesus.
Sometime later, Lamb was in a grocery store with his parents when a man held up a canned ham and yelled, “Hey Leroy Herdman!” Then a couple of decades later, that same man asked if he was the Jonathan Lamb who was in that play. Lamb responded, “Are you canned ham man? I have told that story so many times in my life.”
Breeser, who went on to major in theatre at UW-L, spent a few years in Los Angeles seeking fame before returning home. Her most recent production was the leading role in La Crosse Community Theatre’s “Wit” in 2016. She has performed at the Pump House, is a co-founder of the “Alternative Truth” Project, and directs the La Crosse County Historical Society’s Discover the Silent City.
“Theatre has given me confidence in many ways,” Breeser said. “This once-shy kid is comfortable speaking in front of others, whether it’s in a job interview, giving the announcements at church, or teaching a class.”
Lamb has a similar view. “It’s definitely shaped who I am and how I look at the world. It really felt like a place where I fit in. It helped me to be able to be more confident when I speak to people.”
Lamb has directed plays, choreographed musicals, worked backstage, and has a production company, Behling & Company. He performs with Heart of La Crosse, although he is on hiatus to help care for his mother, who has Alzheimer’s.
Both actors advise kids to continue in theatre if they love it. “Just because you didn’t get cast in the show, it doesn’t mean you can’t be involved,” Lamb said. “Learning all aspects of theatre is important, exciting and fun, and you still are a part of the show.”
As for stage mothers, both actors said it is important to support your kids—with limits. “Do not give ‘advice’ to your child—that is the director’s job,” Breeser said.
Lamb added, “Don’t try to tell them how to do it. Let them figure it out themselves.”